An Evening Ablaze: Attending the Kecak Fire Dance at Bali’s Uluwatu Temple

Spectators watch the kecak fire dance at Bali's Uluwatu Temple.

The setting for the Balinese Kecak Fire Dance was dramatic. First, we passed a swarm of mischievous macaques that spiriting away visitors’ sunglasses, water bottles, and sandals before our very eyes. We’d read warnings about these cheeky monkeys prior to arriving at the Uluwatu Temple, and the guidebooks advised visitors to stow away any removable accessories before entering the monkey zone.

(Conspiracy theorists maintain that some of the locals actually train the monkey to steal visitors’ belongings so that the robbed individuals will then pay the banana-toting locals to coax the monkeys into returning the items.)

The baby monkeys were particularly cuddly and one tourist allowed one to hop on her lap.The little macaque played with the laces of the woman’a dress; she giggled as her husband snapped pictures and tourists looked on. Mama monkey, who was not far from her little one, became concerned that her baby was in danger. She latched her teeth into the woman’s tricep, causing the woman to shriek in pain and panic and the little monkey to return to its mother. As show time was quickly approaching, we bid farewell to the monkeys and headed to our seats.

The seats and stage were perched at the end of a cliff, nearly 200 feet above the Indian Ocean. The water glimmered dramatically as the sun’s slumber approached.  Overlooking the performance area was one of Bali’s most sacred temples, the Pura Luhur Uluwatu. Situated on Bali’s southwest tip, the temple is reputed to protect the island from evil spirits.

Hundreds of visitors crammed into the circular seating area. Shawn and I, along with the attendees, wore sarongs of various colors – most were the glitzy grape hued versions loaned out by the temple.

Not long after we sat down, approximately 40 bare-chested men, donning black and white sarongs, red sashes and crimson flowers tucked behind their right ears, began the trance-inducing chak, chak, chak chanting that would continue for almost the entire duration of the Hindu Ramayana performance. The men’s choir would be the performance’s sole soundtrack as no instruments were played.

Ramayana’s plot features various characters – a wise prince named Rama; his beautiful wife, Sita, who is coveted and soon taken away by an evil king, Rahwana; and the monkey king, Hanoman; whose assistance is sought in retrieving Sita. Hanoman is eventually captured.

The performance culminates in Hanoman’s dramatic escape from the evil forces, as Hanoman dances and kicks through the fiery circle. It’s incredible that those dancing feet were able to withstand the flames!

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All rights reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

13 thoughts on “An Evening Ablaze: Attending the Kecak Fire Dance at Bali’s Uluwatu Temple

    1. Victor, it’s been a month since we attended the Kecak & Fire Dance, but now the Indian Ocean vistas and dancing into the flames seem somehow even more dramatic!

      Wishing you a happy holiday season!

  1. Tricia- I am glad that the macaques didn’t steal your camera ;) Merry Christmas to you and your husband, wherever you will be spending it, and here’s to 2012 being an incredible year!

    1. Hello, Marina, and belated Christmas greetings to you and your husband as well! Did Santa bring you any shutterbug accessories this year? Was it a white Christmas in NY?

      I’ve been away from the internet these past days, as we were in one of Cambodia’s beautiful rural provinces. We had an extraordinary visit with a family there and I look forward to sharing the tales of the beautiful people we met very soon.

      New Year’s is just around the corner – here’s wishing you a wonderful 2012!

      1. Tricia!! I’m about to read your blog posts though wanted to return the New Year wishes to you. Have a wonderful time seeing in 2012. My camera was actually an early Xmas present so I received perfume as a supplementary gift as well as an e-tablet! What about you? Best wishes on your travels for the upcoming year!

      2. Thanks, Marina, for the wishes for 2012! We’re wanting to stay out late and ring in the new year here in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon, however, since we have an early-morning trip booked to the Mekong Delta tomorrow, we must turn in early. The atmosphere is already so festive, even at 8 PM! I feel like a party-pooper. Will you go to watch the apple drop?

        How fun that you got an e-tablet – should be a perfect way to share all your great new snapshots! We didn’t do a traditional gift exchange here yet – that’s partially because this trip is such a big present to ourselves and also because our luggage is already bursting at the seams! :-)

        As we’ve been saying here in Vietnam, Chúc mừng năm mới – happy new year!

      3. Tricia – the days go on and you’re traveling on an amazing adventure. Don’t feel like a party pooper! You’re having more fun daily than others may have, monthly! We’re going to enjoy a dinner in a restaurant under the Brooklyn Bridge this year. We may see the Statue of Liberty fireworks from there. Times Square and the ball? Been there, done that – once. No more!! Haha! HAPPY NEW YEAR!! In Russian for you: s novim godom!

      4. Did you catch a glimpse of the fireworks? Sounds spectacular! I’ve never been to NYC for New Year’s, but can imagine how crazy the ball-drop can be… sort of like experiencing Oktoberfest – once is enough! And, how did you acquire your Russian greeting?

      5. Hi Tricia! We did see the fireworks at Statue of Liberty – you’ll laugh at how far away we were when you see my pics (on the current post called Turning to a New Year). My parents are Russian and I learned the language from a young age… So, there you have it! Russian Orthodox Xmas is on Jan 7th, so there’s still more celebrating for me yet :) How was your New Year?

      6. Marina, Lady Liberty is rather petite and far off in the distance :-) , nevertheless, what a beautiful and fun way to ring in the new year! From what part of Russia do your parents hail? We made it to St. Petersburg this past July. Peterhof was lovely and I’d love to return to see the Golden Ring and the countryside someday. It’s great that you acquired the language at a young age! Hope your second Christmas festivities are enjoyable!

      7. Yes, i wish i had a larger lens! It was a great start to 2012 and I have the weather to thank in large part for it! My family is from Vladivostok and Moscow. I adore St Petersburg (I think you told me about the matryoshka doll on the cement truck?) and agree about Peterhof. The countryside is literally intoxicating – with its fresh air and picturesque landscapes. My mum is a Russian School teacher so Saturday school meant a 6 day school week! I’ll post on the Xmas festivities if I can manage to get some decent shots!

      8. Yes, I mentioned the creative cement truck in St. Petersburg… Do you go back to Russia often to visit? You have such a fun, multicultural background spanning three continents! We could use your Russian translation assistance here in Vietnam to communicate with the Russian travelers and to help us to decipher many of the local signs and menus, which are in Russian. (The coastal areas of Vietnam seem to be very popular with the Russian tourists.) We’ve been impressed that many of the Vietnamese shopkeepers appear to converse quite well in Russian.

        I’ll look forward to seeing your Eastern Orthodox Christmas images from tomorrow… Enjoy the celebration!

      9. I wish i visited Russia more Tricia! I went 10 years ago! Mum went a few months ago and had a wonderful time, of course! How could you not love the history and architecture there – especially in St Petersburg. That’s so interesting about Russians in Vietnam – why is it such a popular place for them? Off to midnight mass tonight – I hope I can capture some images!

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