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Balinese Dance: From Sacred to Profane  

by on Friday, 20 July 2007One Comment | 2,409 views

Development of tourism has penetrated into all aspect of Balinese life. And of course Balinese dance as an icon of Bali is among the first aspects of Balinese culture that are reshaped by the tourism. Balinese dance is reshaped from a performance for God sake to a show for amusement of tourists.

Sanghyang Dedari; source: Nadi; Trance in the Balinese Art;1999

The best example for profane-ization is the commercialization of Sanghyang Dance. Sanghyang Dance is a genre of sacred trance dance which is performed in the inner courtyard of a temple. There are nearly two dozens varieties of Sanghyang, most of them found only in remote northen and eastern mountain villages. All involve putting one or more dancers into trance by means of incense, chanting, and prayers, in order to receive possessing divinities. Inhabited by either by demonic or heavenly spirits, the entranced dancers then interact with the audience, and occasionally with each other, dancing like nymph or mimicking the animal movements and in some areas, speaking as oracles. The performance invariably involves improvisation by visiting spirits, which takes place along pre-established lines.

These possessions differ greatly in kind and content according to locality and the particular type of Sanghyang. They range from the celestial nymphs of Sanghyang Dedari to the horse spirits of Sanghyang Jaran, the pig spirits of Sanghyang Celeng, and the monkey spirits of Sanghyang Bojog. In all varieties of Sanghyang, there is an element of ritual purification and exorcism.

Sanghyang Jaran; souce: Nadi; Trance in the Balinese Art;1999

Extraordinary movements which are performed by the entranced dancers such as dance on the top of burning charcoals make Sanghyang dance an interesting performance for the visitors to behold. These astonishing feats are exploited to wow-ed the tourists and to show the extraordinariness of Bali. Of course, the commercial performance of Sanghyang Dance has no spiritual or exorcism value, it is just a secular dance as profane as Kecak dance; performed purely for entertainment of audiences.

Some say that Balinese dance undergoes a transition from the spiritual realm to the commercial zone. Balinese now realize that their sacred dance is worth outside the inner courtyard of the temple; there is a demand on the performance and Balinese are more than happy to fulfill it. I hope that this commercialization does not degenerate the spiritual value of this sacred dance.

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