Did you hear about the bird that pecked out an elephant’s eyes?
The blind and thirsty elephant heard a frog croaking near a cliff and thought that water was nearby.
It ran towards the sound and fell into the ravine, killing itself.
Sad, I know, but the tale demonstrates how the small and weak can use their wits to defeat the big and powerful.
It’s not a new idea. Most people know the story of David and Goliath. What makes this one fascinating is that it is one of the rich and colourful tales of Bali, each with a moral just as clear as any of Aesop’s Fables.
Take, for instance, the story of a monkey who asked the Hindu god Indra to make her into a beautiful woman. The transformation was possible by bathing in a magic pool, which she did. Dissatisfied, the vain woman thought she could become prettier by bathing again. This angered Indra, so he caused her to become a monkey again. Clearly vanity and greed can get you into a whole lot of trouble.
So can making your mother mad. In another story, the Hindu god Shiva asks his wife Uma for the milk from the sacred cow. He disguises himself as a cowhand to test her loyalty and gives her the milk after he makes love to her. Uma refuses to admit this to Shiva and gets angry when her son Gana (Ganesha) is about to reveal the secret. She transforms herself into Durga (goddess of death) and burns his book of knowledge.
MORE BALI STORIES
The story of the tiger and the monkey explains how a helpless monkey in the middle of the sea was rescued by a turtle. When they reached land they met a tiger. The tiger and the monkey killed the turtle and made it into sate.
Gruesome? Yes, and also familiar. It sounds a lot like the story of the scorpion who asks a frog to take him across the river only to sting the frog when they reach land. The moral? A leopard doesn’t change his spots and it was in the scorpion’s (and the monkey’s and tiger’s) nature to do so.
In the story from the Mahabharata epic of India, the priest Wasista is forced to give his sacred cow, Nandini, to King Wismamitra. The cow gets very angry as a result and attacks the king and kills him.
It’s amazing how gruesome many of the Balinese stories are, considering the gentleness of the people.
Krishna, one of the most revered of the Hindu deities, takes on a demonic transformation in the story of Bomantaka (the Death of Bomo). Krishna transforms himself into Butasiu (Demon of a Thousand Heads) in order to kill the menacing Boma, son of earth. His death is possible only after the eagle-like Garuda bird steals the magical Wijaya Kusuma flower from Boma, which is the source of his power.
Everywhere you look in Bali you are reminded of their philosophy and tradition – in the offerings to the gods and the temples and shrines you see everywhere, in the artwork and in their performances and ceremonies.
The Museum Puri Lukisan is the oldest art museum in Ubud, Bali. It has a mission to preserve, develop and document Balinese art.
The amazing collection of art is housed in four different buildings, depending on the era in which it was created.
It is here you will find some of the most amazing Bali stories, and the art to go with them.
I particularly like the story of l Belog (The Idiot). It is about how a simple man becomes king because of his honest character and with the assistance from the mythological Garuda bird. All the men in the village were in love with the princess and wanted her to be their wife. They all courted her but laughed when this simple man also admitted his love for her. In the end, he outwitted them all and was the successful suitor. The moral? Don’t judge a book by its cover.
BALI STORIES IN DANCE
Another wonderful way to enjoy the passion and colour of Balinese stories is through their many performances.
The Barong is probably their most well-known dance, telling the story of the fight between good and evil.
Rangda,(the demon queen and mother to Airlangga, the King of Bali in the 10th century) was condemned by Airlangga’s father for practising black magic.
When she became a widow, Rangda sought revenge and wreaked havoc on the kingdom. She summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle and a fight occurred. Rangda and her black magic soldiers were too strong for Airlangga, who sought help from Barong.
Barong joined the fight with Airlangga’s soldiers but Rangda cast a spell to make them want to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned kris (daggers) into their own stomachs and chests.
Barong cast another spell to make their bodies resistant to this and won the fight, making Rangda flee.
The dance is very dramatic and can even be harmful to the participants who risk getting caught up in the story and unable to resist Rangda’s spell.
The masks of Barong and Rangda are considered sacred and must be blessed before being used in a performance.
Another amazing dance is the Kecak Dance where it is the voices of hundreds of men that provide the music.
It is another dramatic interpretation of the fight between good and evil.
It has many twists and turns but the story is of Rama, a warrior and rightful heir to the throne of Ayodya.
He and his wife Sita are exiled to a faraway desert.
While there, an evil king sees Sita and falls in love with her. He sends Rama a golden deer to lure Rama away.
Sita is captured but Rama gathers his forces to defeat the evil king and rescue her.
You can listen to the Kecak chant below. Forgive the dark picture, I thought it would be distracting to video this with the flash on.
This dance is usually followed by the Fire Dance where the dancer bravely dances on the fire made from coconut husks.
I hope you enjoyed this mythical, magical journey through some of Bali’s wonderful stories. You may also enjoy this beautiful Turtle Tale.
Wishing you fantastic stories where good always triumphs and a gleeful week, Tamuria.