Sometimes I witness something crazy and I think to myself, “that’s going in the novel for sure.”
This weekend I got to see the Kecak Fire Dance. The “Kecak” is a popular performance across Bali. “Kecak” is the sound that the men yell and chant with hip-hop enthusiasm.
While the men provide the A Cappella soundtrack, a costumed cast of heroes and villains re-enacts the basic storyline of the Ramayana, a sacred Hindu text.
It was a trip for me to watch this performance. Because I really did fall in love with the Ramayana when I read it back in college. When I signed up for the fire dance I just thought I’d see some guys tossing flaming sticks around. I didn’t know what I was getting into. Then as I watched the performance I started to recognize some of the scenes and characters: Prince Rama shooting the golden deer, the Princess Sita being lured out of safety by a demon disguised as an old beggar, and later placing a flower in the hair of the monkey god Hanuman.
I did more research as soon as I got home, and I learned that the performance itself was created by a German artist in the 30’s. Apparently Walter Spies traveled to Bali and he said, “Holy Scheiße” this story’s got money-making potential. What he saw was the original Kecak trance ritual performed in the Hindu tradition by the local Balinese. He took the chant and the themes and adapted them into a dance performance.
Today the Kecak is performed all around bali. If you visit an old temple you can usually pay $5 or $10 for the one hour show. This is a fascinating example of what is referred to as the “modern art-culture system” – when Western Culture adopts non-western cultural elements and transforms them into art.
Also known as the “when white guys monetize non-western shit instead of inventing their own stories” system.
I went full Nerd on this performance because these days I’m in story writing mode. It was strange, mystical experience for me to watch a Hindu myth re-enacted in a language that I couldn’t understand, and realizing that I could still identify with the universal themes and tropes: the hero, the mentor, the princess that symbolizes innocence, the demon in disguise (wolf in sheep’s skin), the “all-is-lost” moment, the climactic battle, the “hero-at-the-mercy-of-the-villan moment.” Just to name a few. It’s time to re-read the Ramayana.