The March of the Barongs

December 27, 2016 Life on the Island

Those friendly, loveable Balinese Barongs get up to all kinds of tricks. This lion like creature holds a most important place in the pantheon of Balinese gods, sacred spirits and mythology and is held in great reverence by every Balinese. For a banjar to own a beautiful barong is a sign of status and much work goes into making them beautiful before giving special ceremonies to bring them alive.

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The barong symbolizes the good, in that endless struggle between good and evil while his adversary, Rangda the demon queen, represents all that inhabits the dark side.

Cousins of the Singapore lion dancers and Tibet’s adorable versions, (they all hailed from China, originally) the barongs are well regarded by all. Children love them, and every week between the holy ceremonies and holidays of Galungan and Kuningan, troupes of young boys parade through Ubud and nearby towns dressed in mini Barong outfits, collecting money and delighting the passersby. Tourists often witness the “Barong Dance” in special performances where a kind of truncated swished up version makes it more palatable, while in temple ceremonies, the Barong will often hold pride of place.

During different times of the year, special ceremonies are held to celebrate and honour the barongs, especially this one in the tiny district of Puakan near Taro. Right on Manis Galungan, the day after Galungan, the Pura Puakan comes alive as barongs are brought from the security of their temple homes. One of Bali’s oldest temples, it is hidden away in a cool forest and still retains a secretive, magical air.

Barongs arrive from the surrounding areas to attend the festivities. After being trucked up to the site, they are taken down and reassembled and walked to the secret place in the forest for blessings. No one is allowed inside once the ceremony has started so tourists and a lot of Balinese well-wishers wait outside before the amazing procession before going to the main temple for a bigger ceremony.

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Even though the ceremony is secret and sacred, it doesn’t stop a few interested observers from joining in the fray. To see the Balinese, all dressed in white, filling the narrow roads as they escort their barongs to the next temple is something to witness. Appearing to be in a slightly tranced state, they just walk, focused perhaps on something others may be unaware of. As they reach the main temple, the barongs are brought in and placed on stands where they are received by priests. Around the barongs, the crowds sit patiently, some resting at the edge of the forest awaiting blessings and enjoying the energized atmosphere.

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