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uluwatu, kecak performance, fire dance, performance at temple, bali, indonesi (6)

Bali’s Kecak Fire Dance

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Uluwatu Temple, Bali, Indonesia

“Chark-a, chark-a, chark-a, chark-a”, and on… the chant goes. Almost hypnotic, trance-like, the thirty or so barechested Indonesian men sway with the rhythm. They’re sitting on the ground in a circle – and in the middle the drama is unfolding. Two young princes; a demon king; a damsel in distress; a mischievous monkey. They all play their parts in the ring of unceasing cantillation.

The nightly performance is very popular here at Uluwatu. Buses bring the tourists from the resorts of Bali down to the southern tip of the island in time for sunset, when the show begins. Through the paths of the temple and past the clifftops with their views across the ocean, everyone walks, until you finally get to the stage.

The performance is called a ‘Kecak dance’, an onomatopoeic title for the sound of the chant. It’s based on a traditional Balinese ritual but was actually created by a German man in the 1930s and based on the famous epic Hindu story of the Ramayana.

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It’s complicated plot, with enough twists and turns to be worthy of a television series. But in essence it is the story of a woman who is stolen from her husband (a prince) by a demon. The narrative follows the challenges and tasks the young prince and his brother must overcome to rescue her.

As the sun sets during the performance, and the sky darkens, the story builds to a climax – a moment when a monkey king sets fire to a castle. With the orange flames and embers in the middle of the stage, it’s a dramatic moment.

Here, in these photos, you can get a sense of the performance (just imagine the chanting sound in your head as you look at them). You’ll notice how the light changes through the hour. Enjoy.

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uluwatu, kecak performance, fire dance, performance at temple, bali, indonesi (8)

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Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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16 Comments
  • Maria | Dec 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Got to love the dragon adorned centerpiece – and the female costumes – fantastic!
    Maria recently posted..Head TiltMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Yeah, it’s a real spectacle. There’s a lot of detail in the design of the stage and the costumes.

  • BlogDaz | Dec 17, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    Sure sounds enchanting, and dramatic. You mentioned the photos giving you a sense of the performance, the second photo down, what can you say, it just oozes drama.
    BlogDaz recently posted..Bang Saen Festival of Speed Coming SoonMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      It’s almost as good as being there, isn’t it? :)

  • Shalu Sharma | Dec 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Ramayan and Mahabharat, the two epics are really big in Bali. In fact bigger than in India itself. The dance is amazing, would love to watch in action. Thanks for mentioning this amazing piece of Bali culture.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Funny Indian picturesMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      Yeah, I saw two different versions of it when I was in Indonesia. It seems to have really taken off there. As you say, more so than in India probably!

  • Jennifer | Dec 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    It sure looks like an enchanting festival! The more I see from Bali, the more I want to go!
    Jennifer recently posted..Santa Claus’ Main Post OfficeMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      You would love it there. If you manage to get these this year, I would recommend seeing more of the island than just the tourist areas… or try to do a bit more of Indonesia if you have time too.

  • Deb | Dec 22, 2012 at 2:41 am

    Wow! That’s a huge crowd! We were there in 2003 and I think there were about 40 people at our fire dance. I love how they time it perfectly for sunset. By the time the star comes out and dances through the fire, it’s pitch dark and it looks insane! I remember him kicking up embers and fire was flying through the air. So powerful. Great photos Michael. Thanks for sharing.
    Deb recently posted..Best of America – Our Top StopsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 1, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      Thanks, Deb.
      These days the performance is packed! Although it’s still authentic, it’s obviously done just for the tourists and they flock there now. The car park is full of buses around sunset of people who have come to Uluwatu for the views over the water and the Fire Dance.

  • Vinay | Jan 4, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    This is Ramayana being performed through a mystical and spiritual dance, the way this great epic needs to be told. I just hope this dance lives and future generations of Bali and people who get a chance to visit the place are enriched by it.

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Thanks, Vinay.
      I hope it lives on as well. It’s a wonderful story and the performers tell it so beautifully.

  • ANGLO/Dale | Jan 5, 2013 at 1:12 am

    Honestly Michael, I don’t know how you manage such great shots.

    I am forever envious.
    ANGLO/Dale recently posted..Artful Adoption for Abandoned Houses in NaoshimaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      I don’t know either. My trick is to keep the camera on automatic, point it at something and press the button. Then, the most important step… cross your fingers and hope it worked out better than the last one :)

  • Travel Photography – Tip Ten : Be in the moment | littlegirlstory | Jul 20, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    […] Bali’s Kecak Fire Dance by Michael Turtle […]

  • Visiting The Mulia, Mulia Resort & Villas and Experiencing Bali » Aviators and a Camera | Jul 25, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    […] it has become so popular. It’s a temple and monkey habitat where you can catch the unusual “Kecak Dance” and fire show. I highly recommend the show. It’s not like anything else I’ve seen elsewhere […]

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