The dance explores themes of life and tranquility and how best to balance external forces. (The Peak Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Balinese and Indian Culture Dance Together

AUGUST 20, 2015

Jakarta. Balinese Legong dance master Ayu Bulan Djelantik epitomized serenity, as she recreated Arjuna’s meditations during his time in the wilderness in the Tourism Ministry’s Sapta Pesona Auditorium in Medan Merdeka Barat, Jakarta.

Unflappable and immovable, she showed how the Mahabharata hero shut out the worldly temptations that the god Shiva sent to distract him from his contemplations at a sacred mountain, which are needed to learn the secrets that he and his brothers Yudhisthira, Bima, Nakula and Sadewa — better known as the Pandawa — will need to fight their epic war to regain their kingdom from their evil cousins, the Kurawa.

Taking on the form of a raging boar and seductive nymphs, the spectacle of sound, noise and movements is a vivid metaphor for how the outside world intrudes on one's tranquillity and equilibrium.

“The sequence of the boar is derived from the Balinese Barong. This is obvious from its its swaying, vigorous movements,” says Ayu, who is the granddaughter of the last king of Bali’s Karangasem kingdom.

“The boar is perhaps a Balinese touch, as I don’t recall seeing it in the script of the original ‘Mahabharata.’”

A narrative in traditional Balinese accompanied the action. While its meaning is oblivious to much of the audience, it enlivens the sequence and gave it an authentic touch.

The meditation sequence is part of “Arjuna Dibiasakti,” a collaborative effort between Ayu’s Bengkel Tari AyuBulan dance workshop and a group of Indonesian students from the Jawaharlal Nehru Indian Cultural Center or JNICC, led by their dancing teacher Sindhu Raj.

Held as part of festivities to mark Indonesia and India’s independence days as well as both countries’ close ties, the recital juxtaposes the classic Legong dance from Bali with the age old Bharata Natyam dance, which traced its origins from the Indian province of Tamil Nadu.

Portraying excerpts from the Mahabharata, namely the winning of Princess Drupadi by Arjuna in an archery contest, the game of dice between the Pandawa and their Kurawa cousins which resulted in the former’s banishment from their kingdom, and Arjuna’s meditations, the dance mostly focuses on Arjuna, as its title “Arjuna Dibiasakti” implies.

“[‘Arjuna Dibiasakti’] highlights many similarities between Legong and Bharata Natyam. For one, both dances are performed by girls from an early age of five or six and portray both male and female characters. They similarly gave a sense of continuity and timelessness, as Bharata Natyam dates back 3,000 years, while Legong as we know it is about 300 years,” she says.

“Many of the techniques, like the hand or eye movements, are also similar, as are the way of moving to the music. But most of all, both dances do wonders for young people as it allows them a respite from smartphones, the internet and other gadgets to get in touch with themselves and their heritage,"

Moving to drum heavy beats reminiscent of bhangra and other Indian music, the Bharata Natyam dancers made an impression with their colorful costumes and movements. The latter poignantly conveyed a range of emotions. These range from disappointment among Drupadi’s suitors upon failing to shoot the bow at its designated fish eye target and exhilaration.

Despair is also vividly shown in the fateful dice game against the Kurawas, as was anguish at Drupadi’s humiliation by the deceitful victors, as well as the Pandawas’ exile.

The more ornately dressed Legong dancers danced with their hearts on their sleeve, as their graceful, fluid movements conveyed their closeness with nature.

“Bharatanatyam and Legong have similar roots, but they evolved into their respective styles as they branched off. Legong is marked by swaying and flowing movements that evoke Bali’s tropical winds and seas, as well as how the latter moves the coconut trees on the island,” says Ayu, who will perform at an international dance festival in New Delhi, India, next October — a date that coincides with Indonesia’s Youth Pledge.

“Bharata Natyam, on the other hand, is more earthy in its movements and is more rooted to the soil. This perhaps reflects India’s vast mainland and its standing as a subcontinent.”

Legong’s ethereal effects is also accentuated by the lingering echo from the xylophone heavy sounds of the Balinese gamelan, which contrasts from the drum heavy Bharata Natyam beats. However, both dances are similar by their symmetry and sense of ritual, a characteristic highlighted by the finale.

“Legong and Bharata Natyam’s similarities extend to more than its roots or spirituality. Both are joyful celebrations of life and a shared classical heritage of culture and dance” says Raj, who hopes to hold further collaborations or take it to the next level in the near future.

“Like life, dance is also an ongoing process for novices and masters like Ayu alike, which makes the dances or collaborations inspiring.”

The Peak