Balinese Expressions is a blog series containing stories from and about Balinese people and culture.

Baris Tuggal was created at the beginning of the 20th century. Usually it is the first dance learned by young boys in Bali.

Mr Tjokorde Raka Kerthyasa modelling Baris dance costume Costume - Front, Bali, Indonesia, Southeast Asia. Image: AM, Photography Dept - John Fields
© Australian Museum

An old Javanese poem Kindung Sunda, composed probably nearly 500 years ago, reports that seven different types of ritual Baris were performed at cremation ceremonies in East Java. At least 30 varieties of ritual Baris are known and performed by Balinese in our times. Ritual dance involves several lines (baris) of performers. Groups of male dancers mime a dynamic battle scene with spears, bows, arrows and other weapons, using abstract and realistic movements, sometimes borrowed from martial arts’ movements.

The non-ritual Baris is a dramatic dance form, where solo dancers perform in succession as an opening to an enactment of episodes from the Hindu epics Mahabharata or Ramayana.

The outsiders are most likely to see a Baris version where a single (tunggal) dancer enacts secular performance, sometimes as an introduction to dance drama. Baris Tunggal is usually performed by a young boy or even a young girl. The dancer moves around his surroundings searching for enemies in all directions and showing off his bravery.

It is a demanding routine, as the dancer is required to hold his shoulders close to his ears and arms often bent and upright for the duration of the performance, typically about 15 minutes.

The costume for this dance includes multiple layers of coloured cloth stripes (awiran) which hang from the dancer’s torso. They seem to envelope him as he twirls around on one foot. The white, pyramid-shaped head dress, made of many small pieces of white pearl-shell (cukli), signifies virtue, dignity and valour.

Further reading:

I Wayan Dibia, Rucina Ballinger and Barbara Anello, Balinese Dance, Drama and Music. Tuttle Publishing 2004.