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Home » Religion

Onying: Sacred Trance Dance  

by on Tuesday, 31 July 2007One Comment | 1,712 views

In a ceremony to celebrate temple anniversary, one will likely has a chance to witness a singular and very striking form of Balinese religious expression which is known as Onying, in which the temple congregation, usually young men and elderly women, sometimes a few male priests are ‘visited’ by the gods and dance in a ecstatic ‘trance’ state, while carrying heirloom kris daggers, and spears. The entranced dancers often inhale quantities of incense before becoming possessed.

There is no exact pattern or movements in this dancing but the men dance orderly enough at the beginning with the steps and gestures somewhat resembling ceremonial war dance (Baris dance). Suddenly one of the dancers starts crying, then several, and then all the dancers shout; their bodies taut and shaking with tension. Their daggers or spears are extended high in their right hand and brandished. Then the dancers press the daggers into their chests; use all their might to stab themselves. Some dancers hurl themselves to the ground as they try, uselessly, to pierce their throats with their spears.

The temple priest and older female attendants move calmly among the entranced dancers with a glass or a bowl of holy water, sprinkling those who possessed by the gods or demonic attendants of the gods. Groups of men help to control particularly violent dancers. Then one by one, the dancers slump limply as the gods or their attendants leave the dancers body. They are carried to the front of the main shrine to pay homage to the gods which is given the anniversary ceremony and be brought out of trance by additional holy water.

This dance is a strictly sacred dance and has no dramatic content in it. The self stabbing is believed to both test and demonstrate the strength of the god or god’s attendant who possesses the dancer. Once possessed the dancer are invulnerable to harm and proves it. The dancer reports to feel a rush of ‘hot’ emotion, and an itching of the skin during the rite. The self-stabbing has no particular story in it and is not necessarily connected to any other performance.

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