With the coming of sunset at Uluwatu, a crowd starts to gather at the open theatre near the temple or pura at the peak. It is time to find a good spot to sit, in order to view the highlight of the evening – the famous Tari Kecak and fire dance of Uluwatu.
The exact origin and development of Tari Kecak is not known, but there is some agreement that it was a song or music produced by a series of sounds, combined to form a melody, used to accompany the sacred dance Sanghyang, and first developed into a performance in the village of Bona, Gianyar. Historically, Sanghyang could only be staged in a temple.
In the 1930s, artists in Bona developed a kecak dance based on the Ramayana, focusing on the part of the story where the Goddess Sita was abducted by King Rahwana. This dance was eventually staged for the general public.
By the 1970s, other villages had also developed their own tari kecak, and the dance groups congregate at kecak dance festivals.
In tari kecak, the music is generated from a combination of ‘cak’ sounds from about 50-70 people in a cappella, which is choral music sung without accompaniment from musical instruments.
A person will act as a leader who gives the leading tone early, while another person will be in charge of changing the tone to high or low. Someone else might act as a solo singer, while another will be in charge of delivering the story.
The dancers in the kecak dance do not have to follow the beat of the accompanying ‘cak’ music strictly. Therefore, the dancers are more relaxed, because the main priority is the telling of the story and the choral sound mix.
The story told by the tari kecak
The story from the Ramayana featured in the tari kecak goes like this:
Prince Rama, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Ayodya, and his wife Sita, were banished from the kingdom by King Dasarata. The story started with the arrival of Rama and Sita in the forest of Dandaka. They were accompanied by Rama’s brother, Laksmana.
Unbeknown to them, they were being observed by the demon Rahwana, King of Alengka, who wanted the beautiful Sita for himself.
Rahwana sent his prime minister Marica to try to isolate Sita to enable Rahwana to kidnap her. With his magical power, Marica turned himself into a golden deer. When Sita saw the golden deer running in the forest, she was so enchanted by it that she asked Rama to capture it for her. Rama chased after the deer, leaving his brother Laksamana behind to protect Sita. Then, Sita thinks she hears a cry for help from Rama. She forced Laksamana to go after Rama by accusing him of cowardice. Reluctantly, he goes off after drawing a magic circle on the ground around Sita. He told her not to step outside the circle for her own safety.
Sita, left alone in the forest, becomes vulnerable. Rahwana disguised himself has an old priest, who was cold and hungry. He begged Sita for some food. Sita fell for his trick, and stepped outside the circle to give him some food. Rahwana kidnaps her and takes her to his palace. Back in his palace in Alengka, the demon Rahwana tried all kinds of tricks to seduce Sita without any luck.
In the palace of Alengka, Hanuman appears to Sita, telling her that he is Rama’s envoy and proved it to her by showing her Rama’s ring. Sita gives Hanuman a hairpin to show she was still alive and sent him back to Rama with a message to rescue her.
Meanwhile, Rama and Laksamana are searching the forest for Sita when Meganada, Rahwana’s son, appeares and starts a fight with them.
The giant bird Garuda, king of all birds, a good friend of King Dasarata, observed Rama was in trouble from high up in the sky, and came to the rescue.
Rama and Laksamana continue on their way to rescue Sita. They are joined by the Monkey King and his monkey army.
The story comes to a climax with the battle between the Monkey King and his monkey army, and Meganada and his demon Army, which ends with the defeat of Meganada.