The Ramayana Ballet – Beautiful, Graceful but yet, subliminally Racist!

It is difficult to express in words the awesomeness of the illuminated 9th century Prambanan Temple.  The temple was so awe-inspiring that I didn’t attempt to capture it with my camera because I was afraid it would take all night or I would mess it up.   Leslie and I both just sat there giddy and with our mouths open gazing as we ate an outdoor dinner in front of the Prambanan Hindu Temple.    The temple serves as the back drop for the world renown Ramayana Ballet.

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The illuminated back drop is of the Prambanan Hindu Temple buil in 856 AD.

If you are not well versed in Indian, Balinese or Hindu culture, you may not have ever heard of the ballet (by name).  But, we’ve all seen some facet of Balinese or Indian women dancing (not belly dancing).

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The beautiful loyal wife, Sita.

Leslie and I were both surprised when our host escorted us to our front row V.I.P. seats.  The ballet was an awesome display of culture and grace.  The costumes were elaborate and magnificent.  With a ballet there were no words spoken, so we didn’t have to deal with any language translation issues.  But, I will admit that we saw 3 different interpretations (unintentionally) of this ballet before we really knew what was going on.  The story of Rama is recreated in almost every restaurant or temple in Bali.  Therefore, it seemed every time we sat down somewhere they were giving us their interpretation of this story.

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Rama with the “Golden Deer”.

IMG_2624The end of the story is the part where the story loses it shine and luster for me.  The monkey god, in every interpretation we saw in Indonesia, Hanuman is portrayed as a great “white” monkey (although in ancient Hindu text and in temples he is reddish orange) who defeats the bumbling, buffoonish  black and brown monkeys.   One interpretation had red, yellow and blue monkeys defeating the brown monkeys.  I’m not sure when or much more importantly, why there was a change in the color of the hero monkey.  I’m curious to know if the change in Hanuman color occurred after the colonization periods of the British and Dutch of India and Indonesia respectively.  One more observation from the 3 distinct interpretations of the Ramayana is all of the women and Rama were of fair complexion.  The monkeys and village men were of a darker hue.   I would guess Indonesia, as open, exceptive and tolerant they appear to be on religious practices have some deep-rooted issues when it comes to ethnicity that have yet to take center stage.  I hope my perception is small, skewed and incorrect, but I wonder.

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70 men make up the orchestra, trees and all the extras in this adaptation.

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The “Kecak Dance” is performed at dusk at the 11th century Uluwatu Temple on the top of a limestone cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean.

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The buffoonery of the dark monkeys boarder offensive in character considering the intellect of the “Great White Monkey”.

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The story ends after the “Great White Monkey” tricks the dark monkeys and Rama is able to save his fair-skinned loyal wife.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the shows.  I just recognize the dichotomy involved in enjoying the pageantry of the cultural presentations and the subliminal (probably unintentional) racist subplot.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Ramayana Ballet – Beautiful, Graceful but yet, subliminally Racist!

  1. Devon Clark

    Cousin Rodney I found this post so interesting! I remember your enthusiasm when you were telling me about the ballet and taking Cousin Leslie. It looked beautiful and I love the picture with the temple in the background. Its fascinating that the history of colonialism and racism experienced within the country shines through in an art form that you described as being highly prestigious among those living in the region. I wonder how aware the people are of the underlying historical context represented in this story?

    Cousin Rodney, I must apologize for not getting in contact with you sooner, but I must say your blog looks professionally done! Congratulations :)

  2. Devon, I am glad that you got something out my journey. I can’t wait to here some of the interesting things you will be doing this fall! Hopefully, you will create a blog too.

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