Role of Music, Dance and Art in Bali

Kecak Dance (Picture from Wikipedia)

Javanese gongs (Picture from Wikipedia)


Gamelan is the national music of Bali. It is described as a jangly clashing of syncopated sounds, hence rendering an extremely complex, distinct, and vibrant character. For music samples, please click on link You will be able to hear sounds produced by the most important gamelan instruments – metallophones, gongs and xylophones (which may be made of bronze or bamboo), set against an elaborate rhythmic background supported by cymbals, bell rattles, and drums. The classic sounds of the Balinese gamelan are produced mainly by bronze instruments, but there are also a few orchestras composed entirely of bamboo instruments.

Music and dance play an essential part in daily Balinese life. Like dancers, musicians are acutely conscious of their role as entertainers of the gods. They dress up in the ceremonial uniform of their music club, and make appropriate blessings and ritual offerings to the deities.


The very essence of Balinese culture is dance and drama, which is performed during temple festivals and in ceremonies. Balinese dance is closely intertwined with religion. The dances performed in hotels for tourists are usually a small fraction of what Balinese dance has to offer.

For those who are interested in watching the Kecak dance performance at Uluwatu on 23rd Feb, Kecak is a form of Balinese music drama originated in the 1930s and performed primarily by men. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece, performed by a circle of 100 or more performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak" and throwing up their arms, depicting a battle from the Ramayana* where the monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. For a sneak preview of a Kecak dance, please click on link

The typical posture of Balinese dance has the legs half-bent, the torso shifted to one side with the elbow raised and lowered in a gesture that displays suppleness of the hands and fingers. Dance movements are closely associated with the rhythms of Balinese music. Multiple levels of articulations in the face, eyes, hands, arms, hips, and feet are coordinated to reflect layers of percussive sounds.

*Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahabharata. It depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king. (Source: Wikipedia)


Since the late 13th century, Ubud and its neighboring villages have been the center of Balinese art. Ubud and Batuan are known for their paintings, Mas for their woodcarvings, Celuk for gold and silver smiths, and Batubulan for their stone carvings.

Painting, sculpture, carving and music have traditionally been the province of men, while women channeled their creative energy into creating lavish offerings to the gods. Although a religiously regarded practice, Balinese art does not serve religion solely.


Balinese painting is classified into certain groups and styles.

1. Kamasan or classical painting, which is also named the wayang style. This style can be traced back to 9th century Javanese sculpture that features wayang figures, rich floral designs, and flame-and-mountain motifs characteristic of classical Balinese painting.

2. Pita Maha, which literally means 'great vitality'. This group was formed when painting was dying out as an art form and in a serious decline due to styles becoming stagnant.

Wood Carving

Wood carving is a craft practiced all over Bali. Any visitor to Bali is likely to be exposed to wood carving in all forms, be it the traditional ornate carved doors, the carved figures of gods, or the countless carved items in craft shops.

For quality wood carving, head to Tegallalang, Pujung, and Sebatu, which is north of Ubud. It is a great area to meet woodcarvers. For those who are interested, there are wood carving lessons in which you can learn to carve your own mask in about three weeks.


Balinese jewelry is almost always handmade, thus rarely involving casting techniques or the usage of imported silver. The village of Celuk is known for its rings, bracelets, necklaces, pins, and other objects of silver. Kamasan remains the center for traditional gold and silver jewelry.


The first kind of textile that you will find in Bali is batik, which is popular among tourists and locals alike. It is interesting to note that batik is actually produced in central Java and then shipped to Bali.

Bali's own home-produced cloth is a weft ikat called endek. Ikat is made by tying the weft threads of a cloth before it is woven and then dying them so that the tied areas do not absorb the dye. The cloth is then woven and the pattern, created by the tying of the threads, emerges. This cloth is not very popular with visitors but is indispensable to the locals. Authentic ikat is made of silk but cotton and synthetic yarns are also widely used. Also, keep a look out for kain prada, fabrics woven of silk or cotton and decorated with silver or gold threads or gold leaf. These colorful kerchiefs are worn by temple girls during festivals and take three weeks to a month to weave.


Research done by : Mae Ng, Margaret Huang


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