We saw many different types of performances that highlighted different gamelan ensembles in a variety of ritual and non-sacred performance venues.
Bali Arts Festival (Pesta Kesenian Bali, or PKB in Indonesian)
One of the highlights of the 2013 program was attending the Bali Arts Festival, an annual, month-long festival of all Balinese performing arts. We saw the best traditional gamelan groups perform in the festival, as well as our teacher Alit’s group, which specializes in new, experimental Balinese music.
Watch one of the top gamelan groups on the island perform in the classic gong kebyar style, playing a new composition, or tabuh kreasi. This group is from the Gianyar regency, which is the area that contains Ubud, Bali’s center for visual and performing arts.
There are many types of gamelan in Bali, and one of the older styles is called gambuh, named after the long bamboo flutes that are played in it. Like other styles of gamelan, gambuh typically accompanies a dance drama performance. The video below shows the beginning of a gambuh performance of part of the Prince Panji epic, a story that is part of Balinese cultural history.
Ngaben - Traditional Cremation Ceremony
The Balinese funeral is actually a ceremony that ushers the deceased, in a sarcophagus, to the site where it is to be cremated. Being Hindu, the Balinese believe in reincarnation, and the only way that a soul can be safely released from the body to be reincarnated is through cremation.
However, on the perilous journey that the body takes to the cremation site, the soul is vulnerable to being stolen by evil spirits, who will take it down into the underworld, preventing it from reincarnation.
Therefore, the Balinese play music during the processional from the deceased’s home to a location out in a field, where the entire sarcophagus and ceremonial cremation tower are burned, after a series of offerings are made. The music is intended to scare away evil spirits, and the tower and sarcophagus are also spun around in crossroads, places where evil spirits are said to lurk, as a means of disorienting them.