by Diana Darling
“I hit a barong driving home from the supermarket.”
“Oh my God!”
“There wasn’t much damage. It was only a small barong.”
Heaven forbid that Ubud’s traffic congestion should ever come to this. In Ubud, small barongs appear on the street at Galungan—that holiday that starts on a Wednesday once every 210 days and spreads out over the day before, the day after, kicks up again ten days later, and doesn’t entirely disappear until Day 42 when you’re finally allowed to take down your desiccated penjor.
You hear them first. Little gongs and then the shrieks of little kids, out parading their little barong—a mythic animal that looks like a blanket with the head of a tiger or a boar and two pairs of shoes.
The children’s barongs are thanks to the initiative of Puri Ubud’s Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa in 1977. In those days, there wasn’t a lot for young people to do in Ubud. Tjok Raka revived the practice because he remembered it as a child and it had somehow died out. It has been alive ever since, appearing like clockwork on the afternoon of every Galungan, in the strange cyclical memory of Bali’s pawukon calendar.
Tour guides will tell you that the children are chasing evil from the village. Actually, these small barongs—called barong-barongan (“pretend barongs”)— are built for fun, in imitation of the big, real barongs: magnificent, intensely sacred effigies who, it is believed, really do chase evil from the village.
In Ubud, the real barong goes out on patrol, not during Galungan, but sometime in January, in the sixth month of the lunar calendar (Sasih Kenem, or “flu season”). This barong is more politely referred to as Ratu Lingsir (“exalted elder”) or Bhatara (“god”) and sometimes God (“Tuhan”, as a young Balinese girl once told me).
The Barong and his consort-nemesis Rangda are the superstars of Bali’s cultural galaxy, and most tourists have seen some sort Barong & Rangda battle in a tourist performance. In Ubud the real thing is performed in the Calonarang mystery play on Redite Kliwon Pujut—the Sunday two weeks after Kuningan (or 25 days after Galungan)—at the Pura Dalem Puri (the temple with the huge parking lot in the graveyard). This is different from tourist performances in several important ways: it takes place at night; it goes on for many hours; it is attended by throngs of Balinese; and it is free. It’s coming up on 21 April.