Romancing the Rejang – Bali’s Dance of Enchantment
One of Bali’s most beautiful dances – the enchanting Rejang, is a slow stately offering dance most often performed in the inner sanctums of the temple. It is one of Bali’s three truly indigenous dances (barisgede, rejang and mendet, for those interested) and what it lacks in vibrancy, is compensated with great costumes, most of all the headdresses. Traditionally performed by beautiful young virgins, it is a group dance and a visual spectacle, not to mention, a magnet for keen photographers.
In the backwoods of Karangasem, in remote villages that follow traditional ways, these dances are part of the sacred offering ceremonies, which all happen around about the same time on Bali’s ceremonial calendar, and which all include the holy Rejang dance. Young and beautiful girls made up like beauty queens sit by, waiting for their turn at immortality, (gods aside), which comes by way of the hordes of photographers who descend like locusts to the sites.
The dance is performed without real choreography, a long, beautiful line of dancers, far from the precision of a Busby Berkely set, and without the complex and intricate moves of a Legong. Girls as young as two or three can be included in the procession and while they don’t have the moves, they certainly add even more visual appeal and cuteness factor that cant be
ignored. Usually performed within the temple complex, it is more of a dance for the gods, a sacral offering rather than an entertainment for the crowds.
Discovering the whereabouts of these dances is no easy task but it is always worth the hunt. Down country lanes, through thick forest and rice fields, discovering tiny hamlets that few knew existed we travelled, along the bumpy roads. Each village or banjar is different. Every temple and compound is different and each group of costumes is different, yet they are all incredible. In some villages the intricate headdresses are almost a metre high, sometimes the girls are decked out in gold, others use huge amounts of fragrant fresh flowers to decorate, which brings the performance to a higher, headier dimension.
The Rejang has a sacred side and the very word “Rejang” means “offering”. It is basically a sacrificial dance in which the girls offer themselves to the gods. In some cases it can be a transcendental experience as they lose themselves in the ceremonial offering and reach a higher state of consciousness. Stories abound that once, in earlier times, there would be an actual human sacrifice involved, but that is too far back in the mists of time to know.
Photographers came from far and near to seek their perfect photo. There are mostly Balinese in the know, with a small sprinkling of us foreigners who are lucky enough to hear about it. As one performance drew to a close, the whisper went around that the nearby village was about to start their performance. Quickly and quietly the droves disappeared only to regroup at the next village.