Secret Bali:: Behind The Tourist Facade by Jill Gocher with Jean Couteau
Published by Now! Bali Publication 120 pages (Courtesy of UWRF)
People who are in Bali, either seasonal tourists or contented expats, may eventually realize that the island has partly turned superficial — with the growing presence of lavish restaurants and shops, luxurious Bali hotels and villas and glittering nightspots gradually transforming the once pristine island.
The traditional life, however, continues as it has for centuries, becoming more secret, hidden behind doors, behind walls, behind the buzz of the ever-growing tourist industry.
As Australian photographer Jill Gocher simply puts it, ”Before, when tourists came here, one thing they would like to do was to see, learn and enjoy the culture, but now it turns into like ‘which party will we go to tonight?’, ‘which restaurant should we dine in?’, or ‘where’s our villa?’”
In her new book Secret Bali, Gocher records Balinese culture with her captivating words and images, to bring it to the attention of people and make them see what the real Bali is about.
Behind all those modern facades, Bali remains a place where “spirits permeate every single corner of the island. They are kept peaceful and placated with daily offerings and prayers that create harmony and special energy for which Bali is renowned”.
In modern buildings, like hotels, “all those statues and temple buildings are not just architectural decoration”. Beautifully made offerings in open doorways are part of the daily spiritual routine to appease the gods in the visible world and the spirits of the invisible underworld (sekala and niskala).
Gocher takes us on a journey in one “mystic evening”, the evening before Galungan — one of the biggest religious celebrations in Bali, as well as visiting the ancient temple complex of Gunung Kawi, the holy spring of Yeh Massam, Ubud’s sacred monkey forest and other places.
Readers will also find it interesting to get a glimpse of the island’s rituals — a-once-in-200-years celebration at Gunung Raung Temple, a Balinese royal wedding, the house-blessing ceremony melaspas, tajen (cockfighting) and ngaben (cremation).
“If one can see only one part of Balinese culture while in Bali, the most spectacular and important of all Balinese rituals is ngaben — the culmination of a person’s life and the sendoff to the next life or afterlife.”
Having moved to Ubud — the island’s artistic and cultural heartland, nine years ago, Gocher has witnessed the changes brought about by the dynamic tourism industry.
Early in the morning, she would head to the traditional market and capture the images of locals’ daily activities, as described in the chapter on Ubud Market.
“Even a visit to Ubud Market reveals much that is Balinese. Try a visit in the early hours before 9 or 10 a.m. when the tourists start to arrive and the ambience changes to a big bazaar,” writes Gocher, who has delighted in photographing the market since she was a student.
Historian and art critic Jean Couteau writes three stories for the book, one of which is titled Food for the Gods, where he complains that Balinese culture, down to its food — not to mention its arts and music — is more and more ‘fabricated’ to suit tourists’ expectations.
Published by NOW! Bali Publications, the work of Gocher and Couteau has been hailed as a “marvelous combination of talents and creativity [that] came together to bring the ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’ elements, the sekala and niskala of Balinese life together in the pages”.
(c) Desy Nurhayati, The Jakarta Post, Ubud, Bali | Feature | Mon, December 15 2014, 10:48 AM
We’ve Got Rhythm!
The iconic Kecak dance, performed by large groups of shirtless men chanting in rhythmic counterpoint as other dances presents scenes from the ancient Mahabrata, is a staple of the Balinese dance repertoire that is enjoyed by thousands of Bali visitors each day.
, – oftentimes numbering as much as 150, each segment of the kecak is punctuated by choruses of chanted “cak…cak….cak” (pronounced as ‘chak,chak, chak’) .
Dance aficionados in Bali argue endlessly that the haunting sounds of the kecak represents the sounds of an army of primates in the service of monkey-like warrior Vanara; duplicates the percussive sounds sounds of the drums and gongs of a gamelan orchestra (gamelan suara); imitates the sound of the household gecko lizard or, at its most basic level, draws its inspiration from the “cak” singing of farmers heard in the evening from roadside arak stands across Bali.
When we sat all these alternative descriptions before an aged Bali dance master, the old man scratched his chin and suggested that each explanation of the unique sound of the Kecak, considered individually or severally, might well be true.
The earliest reports of the Kecak predate the Dutch occupation of Bali when, according to local folklore, the village of Bona in Gianyar was besieged by a deadly epidemic that claimed a large number of lives. Prayers for salvation were offered in a local temple when a Sanghyan medium, deep in trance, delivered a message from the resident deities demanding a new form of music and dance unaided by the bronze instruments of a traditional Balinese orchestra.
More contemporary chronicles claim the dance was rejuvenated and reworked in the village of Bedulu by German-born artists Walter Spies and Balinese dancer Wayan Limbak to support a film project in the 1930s or, alternatively, was reborn in Bona under the supervision of I Gusti Lanang Oka and I Nengah Murdarya.
The most recent revitalization of Kecak is credited to I Made Sija of Bona who helped organize and train Kecak cultural groups who eventually traveled the world promoting Balinese culture starting in the mid-1960s.
Not subject to debate is that the fact that Kecak dance presents a scene from the ancient Ramayana tale of the battle between good and evil within the context of the abduction of Sita and the ensuing battle by Vanara against the evil King Rahawana.
Setting aside the hour or so to attend a Kecak dance during a Bali trip should form part of every visitors “must do” list. Village-based dance groups present dances on an almost daily basis across Bali, with one of the most popular presentations found at sunset each evening at the Uluwatu Temple in South Bali.
Those contemplating taking in a kecak might find the follow plot synopsis useful in following the story line.
Rama, Sita and Laksmana enter the dance area where the Kecak chorus of men, sitting in concentric circles have literally “set the stage” by singing a mesmerizing chanted prologue. As the three dancers circulate a golden deer appears, begging capture by Prince Rama. In pursuit of the golden deer, Rama leaves Sita and Laksmana alone on the dance floor.
Suddenly a scream for “help” is heard, prompting SIta to insist to Laksmana that the voice in distress must be that of her husband Rama. Sita implores a reluctant Laksmana to investigate the screams, snidely suggesting Laksmana perhaps seeks advantage in the death of her beloved Rama. Insulted at Sita’s insinuations, Laksmana departs the stage leaving Sita utterly alone in the forest.
The evil King Rahwana appears, intent on kidnapping Sita. His initial attempts are unsuccessful causing him to transform himself into Bhagawan – an elderly man begging water from the Goddess Sita. When Site returns with the old man’s water she is kidnapped by Rahwana still posing as the aged Bhagawan.
Sita’s screams for assistance are heard by the mythical Garuda bird flying nearby who responds by trying aid the captured Goddess. The Garuda’s efforts to assist, however, are thwarted when Rahwana shoots the bird’s wing with an arrow. The dastardly Rahwana then brings Sita to Alengka Pura – his personal palace.
Meanwhile, Rama, his loyal servant and Laksmana have become lost in the forest of the Ayodya Palace. Longing for his beloved wife Sita, who is now in the palace of the evil Rahwana, Rama seeks the assistance of the White Monkey Hanoman to deliver his ring to the captive Sita as sign of their enduring love.
Accompanied by the demoness niece of Rahwana, Trijata, Sita now spends her days lamenting the absence of her husband Rama.
Later, at the Alengka Palace, the White Monkey Hanoman appears, declaring himself the Emissary of Prince Rama and presents Sita with the ring of her husband. Sita, in turn, presents flowers to Hanoman to be given to Rama, together with a message imploring for urgent rescue. Wasting no time, Hanoman wreaks havoc on the Alengka Palace, destroying much of Rahwana’s princely estate. In retaliation, the guards of the palace capture Hanoman who is bound and prepared to be burnt at the stake. Calling on his considerable reserves of magical power, Hanoman escapes and rescues Sita to be returned to Rama.
© Bali Discovery Tours.
Bali Hotel Ubud
“Villa Sabandari, Bali Hotel Ubud?”
Not a day goes by without a taxi driver calling me to ask for directions to Villa Sabandari.
In Bahasa Indonesia of course.
In the beginning I used to ask ‘Maaf Pak, bisa bicara pelan pelan ya? Saya tidak bisa bicara Bahasa Indonesia baik baik’, meaning ‘Sorry Sir, can you speak slowly? I do not speak Indonesian well’.
As soon as the driver hears the ‘Maaf Pak’-part, he switches to overdrive and starts speaking at double the speed.
I am now very well trained to notice the word ‘Alamat’ (Address) though and give him my standard ‘Location Speech’.
It goes like this:
“Dari ujung Jalan Raya Ubud ke timur, ada patung besar Arjuna.
Dari sana, terus ke timur, Jalan Gunung Sari.
Dan di ujung Jalan Gunung Sari ada rumah makan Prabanan dicat oranye dan hijau.
Lurus ke timur kira- kira 100 meter ada restoran Warung Mina, dan di sebelah timur restoran Warung Mina ada balai banjar Ambengan.
Disana belok kiri ikuti terus jalan itu menuju Pura Masceti dan di depan pura ada jalan paping kira-kira 200 meter menuju Villa Sabandari dengan papan nama dari batu putih. ”
If you happen to read this before staying at Villa Sabandari, please do me a favour and show the above to your driver.
It will save me from having to give my “Location Speech’ for the nth time 😉
Terima kasih = Thank you
p.s. You can also show the map below to your driver.
Spectacular New Balinese Dance Performance Presented Four Nights Per Week at Bali Culture Center in Nyuh Kuning, Ubud
Adding to the growing number of spectacular dance and stage performances available to Bali visitors, the Bali Culture Center (BCC) in Nyuh Kuning Ubud now presents a rare and mesmerizing presentation of the Tektok Dance four nights per week.
Taken from the epic Mahabrata story of India, the Ubud presentation tells of a struggle between King Yudhistira and his brothers and his archrival Duryodhana (Kurava). Lured into a game of chance, Kurava manages to persuade Yudhistira to wager and lose his entire Kingdom.
Claiming the defeated Yudhistira and his brothers as slaves, Kurava seeks the ultimate humiliation of forcing the losing King to undress his Queen and offer her to his nemesis.
A battle of the demi-gods proceeds with Truth and Goodness eventually triumphing over the evil Kurava in the end.
Originating from Lombok, the Tek Tok Dance has been reworked by celebrated choreographers I Made Sidia and I Gusti Gde Jelantik. The music that accompanies the dance is produced solely by syncopations and harmonies from a chorus of human voices.
Working with the seminal influence of a traditional dance form found in Lombok, Sidia and Jelantik have created an entirely new addition to the Bali-Lombok dance repertoire that is now presented every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening at 6:30 pm.
Presented on a colossal scale, tickets are only Rp. 190,000 for adults and Rp. 140,000 for children.
For information and reservations telephone +62-(0)361-978144 or +62-(0)82144735658.
© Bali Discovery Tours
I Wayan Juniarta, The Jakarta Post, Ubud Bali | Archipelago | Sat, June 21 2014, 11:17 AM
The first-ever comprehensive book on I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, the late Balinese painter, sculptor and architect, was launched Thursday night at the Agung Rai Museum of Arts (ARMA) in Ubud, with poet and journalist Goenawan Mohamad drawing a parallel between Lempad and Spanish legend Pablo Picasso.
“Lempad is one of two painters in the world who were able to present the erotic subject-matter in a profound and meaningful way. The first was Lempad, the second was Picasso,” Goenawan said.
Goenawan recalled that he first met Lempad in 1968, during which the great maestro showed him a series of his paintings on Jaya Prana Layon Sari, a local tragic love folklore story.
The paintings touched Goenawan not only because they spoke about the struggle between the common people against an oppressive king, but also because they underlined Lempad’s mastery in capturing the beauty of human body.
“The paintings mesmerized me of the respect and appreciation of the human form. In his works, erotic subject matter transcended mere eroticism and the human body rose above its physical properties,” he said.
Lempad was born in 1862 and died in 1978 was an undagi, a Balinese term for a respected multi-talented artist, well-known for his black and white paintings, masterful lines and his enduring love for folklore.
He was also an accomplished architect of ritual paraphernalia, including cremation towers and wooden sarcophagi. His sculptures and carvings decorate important temples in Gianyar and Ubud and he also played an important role in the design and construction of Ubud’s Puri Lukisan Museum and Pura Taman Saraswati , a temple famous for its lotus pond.
Lempad, a Timeless Balinese Master is a weighty 312-page hardcover, which is richly illustrated with his work, including those displayed in museums abroad and in private collections.
It was co-authored by Jean Couteau — a French scholar who has lived in Bali for decades and played a pivotal role in deciphering the island’s contemporary arts to the Western audience —, Ana Gaspar and Antonio Casanova.
Gaspar and Casanova are wealthy art collectors that specialize in pre-modern arts. The couple first encountered Lempad’s works seven years ago when they visited the Lempad Pavillion at the Neka Art Museum.
“The works instantly gave me goosebumps,” Casanova recalled.
“I was instantly aware that he must be a very powerful artist, one that was still connected to nature and lived in accordance with the old ways,” he said adding that he had tried to find information and books on Lempad but was unsuccessful.
“It was then that I decided to write a book on Lempad.”
(c) The Jakarta Post
Bali Chairman of Tour Operators Association Explains Why the Island’s Most Sacred Besakih Temple is Absent from Local Tour Activities
The Jakarta Post quotes the chairman of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies (ASITA-Bali) Ketut Ardana who admits that many tour and travel agencies avoid or limit offering Bali’s Mother Temple of Besakih due to poor service, inadequate infrastructure and the resulting negative customer experience.
Ardana said that, like many destinations on Bali, Pura Besakih need a revamped focus on visitor satisfaction in order not to be blacklisted from tour itineraries.
Ardana acceded that although Besakih was of keen interest to tourists, aggressive and coercive free-lance guides and parking attendants who charge high fees have taken the shine off the “Besakih experience.” He also noted large quantities of trash and debris at Besakih that is left unattended after the frequent ceremonies held at the temple complex.
“We’ve took Besakih off our list several years ago. We’ve actually filed complaints about these issues, but the management (of the complex) has not done anything significant,” Ardana explained.
Adana said it was always possible for local communities to take the necessary steps to redeem a destination’s reputation, citing Kintamani and Sangeh where services have recently improved.
The hilltop location of Kintamani was plagued by boat operators offering trips on lake while charging illegal fees, an abundance of trash and insistent beggars and street vendors that were a vexation to tourist visitors. Over the past three years, however, steps by local and the government to improve services and the designation of the area as a World Geopark has done much to restore Kintamani’s reputation of the regency of Bangli’s top tourism destination.
Similarly, the Sangeh monkey forest has seen the number of complaints from tourists decline following clean-up efforts and the introduction of steps to control contact between visitors and the site’s monkeys.
Said Ardana, “We consider Sangeh a safe and comfortable place for tourists.”
Hoping that improvements could be also introduced at the Besakih Temple complex, Ardana called on the Karanasem regency administration to control local tour guides and their aggressive behavior towards visitors could be addressed.
© Bali Discovery Tours.