Everything about Barong, the Divinity of Bali (Mask, Dance, Origin)

Barong is a mythological creature well present in Bali.

He is the king of spirits, the leader of the armies of good and the enemy of Rangda, the demon queen.

The battle between Barong and Rangda is depicted in the Barong dance, believed to symbolize the eternal battle between good and evil.

Every year millions of tourists attend a performance of this now famous show.

In fact, Barong is considered a deity originating from the island of Bali predating Hindu influence.

The Balinese also wear a Barong mask during some of their ceremonies.

Others will prefer this kind of Barong deity ring.

Proud of their heritage and their culture, they follow this tradition dating back hundreds of years with disconcerting assiduity.

Contents :

Origin of Barong

Aspect of the Barong

A Balinese mask, yes... but a Barong mask!

Barong dance

Different deities linked to Barong

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Mysterious landscape of Bali island with fishermen in the mist

Origin of Barong

The term "Barong" is believed to be derived from the local word bahruang, which today corresponds to the Indonesian word beruang meaning "bear".

In the Balinese imagination, this refers to a good spirit, which took the form of an animal in order to become the guardian of the forest.

In Balinese mythology, the most benevolent spirit of all is known as Banas Pati Raja.

Banas Pati Raja is the fourth “spiritual brother” who accompanies a child throughout his life.

This concept of “spiritual brother” could, for example, be compared with the Christian notion of guardian angel.

Well actually, Banas Pati Raja is the spirit that animates Barong.

Magnificent Barong disguise with his mask and a dancer in front

Aspect of the Barong

Barong is usually depicted as a red-headed lion, covered in thick white fur and wearing golden jewelry decorated with mirrors.

The general appearance of the Barong is somewhat similar to that of a Pekingese dog.

To find an explanation for its appearance, we would have to go back in time...

Barong is an ancient lucky symbol and, as such, a veil of mystery surrounds it (and will surely always surround it).

According to some, it may come from an ancient animist cult, before the emergence of Hinduism, when villagers still believed in the supernatural protective power of animal deities.

Indeed, many Balinese lucky charms, some of which you can find here, have a thousand-year-old origin.

A ring with Balinese inscriptions, a statuette of an Indonesian deity and a Barong mask

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by the deities and lucky charms of the island

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A Balinese mask, yes... but a Barong mask!

While most tourists may first be captivated by the beauty of the stalls or the shows, others will rather linger on the Balinese masks.

Often hiding deep spiritual meanings beneath their particular aesthetic, the animist roots of these Balinese lucky charms are particularly interesting to study.

This is particularly true for the Barong mask.

And among all the cultures that give pride of place to masks (we could cite African tribes, or even the masks of the Day of the Dead in Mexico), well Bali stands out.

The island is indeed one of the rare places where the art and making of masks are not only still alive, but actually flourishing.

No doubt, the Balinese mask has something special.

Some, including the Barong mask, are designed to house spiritual energy.

By following customs, traditions and specific instructions during manufacturing (particular material, manufacturing time, manufacturing methods, etc.), these masks receive a certain vibration.

Balinese temples dedicated to Barong

The traditional representation of the Balinese mask

When the Hindu religion entered Bali, its interacting influences adapted to the ancient pre-existing belief system.

Masks and other ritual objects have retained their role and function, while the content of the teachings has expanded and developed to adapt to Hinduism.

The Hindus of Bali have actually created their own interpretation of Hindu mythologies and teachings through their Balinese dance, music and good luck charms.

The Barong mask is no exception to this rule.

Performers also play an important role in traditional sacred performances.

Dancers, for example, are considered messengers or even representations of deities.

In this context, the Balinese mask plays an important role in housing the divine energy which can later be manifested through the dancer's body.

Balinese students dressed in white clothes

The Balinese mask today

Nowadays, the Barong mask is used during various processions, rituals and ceremonies celebrating important stages of life in Bali, such as weddings or funeral rites.

As the functions of the Barong dance and mask evolved, so did its meaning.

Today used during shows or entertainment, the Balinese mask sometimes tends to simply serve as an element of folklore or as a simple disguise.

Many tourists therefore know the Barong mask more as a pretty souvenir to decorate the walls of their house...

Although this kind of practice is considered very inappropriate for such a sacred object (normally, a Balinese mask must be carefully stored and kept inside a temple), some masks are now made for decorative purposes, and are not therefore do not require the same processing time as religious masks.

Either way, let's hope that Barong's mask continues to remind us of Bali's rich past and exceptional culture.

Balinese dancers in traditional dress preparing the Barong dance

Barong dance

This tradition is very old in Bali.

According to local belief, it is downright a sacred art involving great mystical powers.

In addition to having artistic value, this dance also has a spiritual background.

This spectacle is a wonder not only for tourists but also for the local community.

Due to its mystical weight, Barong dance is practiced with the greatest seriousness, even in a very ritualized sacred way.

Please note, however, that the different “acts” of this performance are often interspersed with smaller, lighter and more amusing scenes.

Smiling women participating in a ceremony on the island of Bali

Origin of Barong dance

The origin of this dance is not yet known with certainty, but there are several versions which tell the story of the formation of this custom during the early days of Balinese civilization.

The first, we have already spoken to you about. Barong would be taken from the word “Bahruang” and would therefore be an animal considered to have supernatural powers.

Another plausible origin would be that it was a form of manifestation of the king of spirits in Bali. Originally, the Balinese people would have used this dance to repel certain supernatural beings.

Rather scary wooden Barong mask

The myth around this custom in Bali

The Balinese believe that the spirits are complicit with Queen Gede Mecaling.

She would be the mistress of the invisible nature of the sea south of Bali.

In ancient times, a powerful priest advised the community to make a statue that would honor Queen Gede Mecaling.

He was very precise in his instructions: the statue should be large, black and have terrible fangs.

It was then necessary to parade it throughout the village.

Apparently, this trick worked, and the spirits were afraid to see their leader in such guise.

Since then, many dances involving giant costumes of Balinese deities have emerged.

The Barong dance is one of them.

Bali dancers performing for tourists

A real spectacle

During the Barong dance, dancers wear costumes and masks representing incarnations of animals or deities considered protective.

In fact, there are several types of Barong in Bali, all with their own particular dance.

Among these we can notably cite the Barong:

  • ket
  • bangkal
  • elephant
  • knew
  • brutuk
  • peasant
  • tiger
  • kedingkling

However, it is clear that the one that is most often shown to tourists is the Barong ket (notably because it is the one whose costumes are the most impressive).

The Barong dance sometimes tells a folk tale or part of the country's history.

Most often, however, it is the struggle between good and evil that is staged.

Despite the seriousness of the issue, Barong dance is often tinged with humor and good humor in order to further entertain the audience.

Bright red Balinese Barong mask used for certain magical rituals

The Barong disguise: a delight for the eyes

The costumes used in each type of Barong dance are different because each of them has its own character.

For example, the Barong ket costume is a combination of a lion, a tiger and an ox.

This costume must generally be worn by at least two dancers due to its imposing size.

The Barong's body is decorated with leather ornaments, pieces of mirror, feathers and a whole bunch of other Balinese lucky charms.

At the level of his head, you can (without too much surprise) see a wooden Barong mask.

Giant Barong disguise used for the famous Balinese dance

Barong dance, Rangda and kriss dance

In the calon arang (that's what the natives call this representation), it is actually the fight between Barong (the benevolent divinity) and Rangda (the queen of the evil spirits) which is mimed.

The dance opens with two monkeys teasing Barong in peaceful surroundings.

The next scene is known as " the dance of the kriss ".

The character Rangda appears there… and wreaks havoc.

She casts her black magic on the dancers, whom she orders to commit suicide.

In a trance, these men then stab themselves with their own kriss (a traditional knife).

At the last moment, Barong and the priest cast a protection spell on these men to make them invulnerable to sharp objects.

The dance then ends with the final battle between Barong and Rangda, and (as you can probably imagine) the victory of Barong over Rangda.

Rangda runs away. Evil is defeated. The celestial order is restored.

Obviously, this show has a very strong sacred connotation for the Balinese. Special music is therefore played there, and water blessed by a priest is used.

Balinese monks practicing local martial art

Development of Barong dance in Bali

You have now understood: this traditional dance is quite famous in Bali.

Initially reserved only for local populations, it is now more and more open to foreigners.

The main tourist attraction in many corners of the island, numerous performances have flourished all over the country.

Some will see this as a distortion of a mystical tradition, others will tell you that the Barong dance and the lucky charms associated with it have thus been preserved forever.

Traditional Barong mask used in shows.

Different deities linked to Barong

You should know that Barong is such an important character in Balinese mythology that he influenced others, to the point that many other deities were linked to him.

Concretely, we are talking here about several lower “barongs” that we find in the legends, dances and all the folklore of the region.

Here are the main ones:

  • Barong Ket : we designate by this name the original Barong, the one we spoke to you about throughout the article
  • Barong Bangkal : with its head similar to that of a wild boar, Barong Bangkal is particularly popular with children with whom it likes to play during ritual dances.
  • Barong Macan : halfway between the dragon, the cow and the tiger, this character is known for his clumsy appearance and his great wisdom
  • Barong Landung : similar to a human, Barong Landung however reaches 3 to 4 meters in height, making it an impressive disguise to wear
  • Barong Gajah : this one looks more like an Asian elephant, and is considered one of the most sacred characters in Balinese folklore

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Lucky charm featured in this article:

Barong Deity Ring

Barong Deity Ring

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author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.