Why You Shouldn’t Miss The Ramayana Ballet @ Prambanan, Yogyakarta

If you’re big on culture and the arts, then the Ramayana Ballet @ Prambanan is a MUST-SEE when visiting Yogyakarta in Indonesia.  A unique blend of Javanese dance and Hindu mythology, the performance is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana – and chronicles the tale of Rama, the Hindu prince on a quest to save his wife Sita from the clutches of an evil demon king. The show is held in an open-air amphitheatre against a gorgeous backdrop of the Prambanan Hindu temple – a UNESCO World Heritage site – which adds to the mystery and exotic allure of the entire performance.

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The majestic Prambanan temple complex dates back to the 9th century and is dedicated to Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator, the Preserver and the Transformer (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). There are hundreds of smaller shrines within the compound, but the main one towers over 47 metres into the air and features intricate reliefs and carvings – one of which is the epic Ramayana, of which the ballet is based on.

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The 2-hour show is divided into two parts, with an intermission. Although it doesn’t have dialogue, there are screens explaining the ‘scene’ on both sides of the amphitheatre.

The massive production features over 200 actors, all of whom are skilled in the art of Javanese dance, which emphasises precise yet graceful movements that are spellbinding to watch.

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Synopsis: 

The story starts with Rama Wijaya, the prince of Ayodya Kingdom, winning the hand of a beautiful princess named Dewi Sita, through an archery competition. However, the evil ruler of Alengkadiraja, Prabu Rawana, is eager to marry Sita himself. The scene transitions to Dandaka Forest, where Rama, Sita and Rama’s younger brother, Laksmana, are out on an adventure. Rawana sees this as the perfect chance to capture Sita, so he orders one of his followers to change into a golden deer to attract her attention. Sita is awed by its beauty and asks Rama to catch it, which he obliges. After waiting for a long time, she grows worried and begs Laksmana to look for him. Before leaving, he draws a magic circle to protect her. As soon as she is left alone, Rawana disguises himself as a beggar and lures the innocent, kind Sita out before capturing her and flying off to his own kingdom.

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Rama eventually realises he has been tricked when the deer transforms back into an evil giant. He manages to kill it, and upon rushing back, realises that Sita has gone missing. The brothers set off to search for her.

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Meanwhile, Rawana carrying Sita meets a mystical bird, Jatayu, who realises she is being kidnapped. There is a fight to save her but ultimately, the bird falls prey to the demon king. As he lay dying, the brothers arrive and find out that it is Rawana who has spirited Sita away.

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Moments later, a white monkey named Hanuman arrives. Hanuman is searching for heroes to help kill Subali, a member of his tribe who has taken his uncle’s woman by force. Rama decides to help, and after helping the monkey kingdom solve their problems, Hanuman is sent to help Rama in his quest.

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In the kingdom of Alengka, Sita is being held against her will. Rawana’s niece, Trijata, comes to comfort her in the garden. Rawana arrives and asks Sita to be his wife, which she refuses. This drives him into a fit of rage, but Trijata convinces him to spare her, after which he leaves. As Sita laments her predicament, she hears a song sung by Hanuman, who explains that he is there on the orders of her husband. Hanuman destroys the garden, but is no match for Rawana’s son Indrajit, who captures him and sentences him to be burnt alive.

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Just before Hanuman is set on fire, he escapes and turns the tide, burning down the kingdom.

(This was one of my favourite scenes in the production! The actors were using real fire, and even seated at a distance, I could feel the heat coming from the stage)

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A large statue of Hanuman rising up from back stage, flanked by burning ‘buildings’ (straw structures that represented houses)

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Hanuman makes his way just outside the burning kingdom, where Rama and the rest of the ape troops are waiting. After receiving the report on troop strength, Rama commands Hanuman and other monkey generals to lead the troop on an attack on the kingdom of Alengka.

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The war results in the deaths of both Rawana’s son, Indarjit, and his younger brother Kumbakarna. Rawana finally leads his troops to face Rama and a battle ensues. Of course, the hero triumphs, killing the evil demon king with an arrow, before Hanuman drops a mountain (yes, a mountain – Mount Sumawana) on Rawana’s body.

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Sita is finally rescued, but Rama refuses to accept her (kinda lol since he came all this way to save her and all, wut) until she proves her purity. To show her innocence, Sita burns herself, and with the help of the God of Fire, walks out unscathed. Her proof makes Rama happy and the pair lived happily ever after.

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I was truly awed by the grace and beauty of the dance, as well as how they recreated the Ramayana epic into such a mesmerising show. It’s something I admire greatly in Indonesia – they work hard to protect their culture and keep it alive, unlike in Malaysia where rising religious conservatism has resulted in some authorities ‘banning’ traditional arts, deeming them “against religion” (like the Mak Yong in Kelantan, a pre-Islamic Malay dance).  A majority of Yogyakartans are Muslim, and they have two of the grandest ancient Buddhist and Hindu monuments in Southeast Asia, which are well maintained and kept as national treasures. I believe carrying on tradition and being proud of your heritage has no bearing on what you believe in, if you are truly a follower of the faith.

The Ramayana Ballet at Prambanan is held every alternate day. Tickets start from 125,000 IDR (RM35 – USD8 ) USD to 400,000 IDR (RM113 – USD27) depending on seating.

For the full schedule and to make reservations, go to visitramayana.com  

 

*Photos not watermarked are courtesy of PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur

Gorgeous Architecture @ Pura Puseh Batuan Temple, Bali

Here’s the next part of my Bali trip!  After our morning Barong dance show, we moved on to Pura Puseh Batuan Temple,  which is close to the Ngurah Rai International Airport. This 11th century temple is a perfect example of ancient Balinese architecture, with lots of beautiful, elaborate carvings. While obviously not as popular as the famed Tanah Lot, it is a great place of visit located near the city centre.

The exterior of the temple. Most of the temple is decorated with intricate stone carvings and little shrines with statues dedicated to different deities. Orange is a recurrent colour on the walls of the temple.

Once a visitor enters, they are greeted by a spacious square courtyard, with a ten-foot tall facade facing the entrance. Lots of smaller shrines and stone carvings line the perimeter. Smaller gates lead into the inner courtyards, which contain separate small shrines and platforms. Apparently it is the Balinese tradition to have their temples/homes this way. While our houses basically have everything under one roof, Balinese homes have separate smaller ‘houses’ in their courtyard for different chambers in a home.  This means that a toilet is a stand alone building, a kitchen is in another building, the bedrooms are all separate, etc.

Anyway. Picture time!

A shrine, with wordings in Indonesian and Indic.Indic is an ancient subcontinental Indian language, since Bali is heavily influenced by the Hindu religion.

Moss has grown over most of the statues, giving it a very ancient-like charm. Otherwise, it’s very well-kept by the residents of Batuan village.

Gold, red, orange and blue motifs add splashes of colour to the grey stone granite. You don’t need to be a genius to know that Bali is an island of very skilled craftsmen

These Balinese prayer boxes are a common sight around the island – outside house shrines, at temples, even at the side of the streets. The woven leaf trays often contain colourful flowers, candy, dry biscuits and incense. Forgot to ask Toto about it ( I don’t think he would know it in depth anyway coz he’s actually Javanese Muslim), but the prayers are supposed to be part of the balance between good and evil, as the Gods receive them on the family shrines, while demons receive theirs on the ground. As mentioned in my previous post, the Balinese pray three times a day, and this is an everyday act of devotion.

The process of Balinese prayer is sacred and full of meaning, so it’s hard to summarize everything here. A good reference would be this article here.

A raised platform with traditional gamelan instruments for tourists to play with. They are kind of like an ancient xylophone. It’s very soothing to hear the steady, high tinkling of the bell-drums.

As a form of respect, visitors will have to wear a sarong covering over the waist if you’re wearing shorts.

If you’re looking for a dose of culture and a taste of this island’s rich history/religious background, then the Pura Puseh Batuan Temple is a good place to go that’s not too far from the city. The architecture is beautiful and if you come at the right time, you’ll get to see the daily rituals performed at the temple too.