The Kecak Fire Dance of Bali, Indonesia

The Kecak Fire Dance is a Balinese Hindu ritual that is now more of a performance for tourists than it is a sacred dance performed in temples.

For that reason, I was a little hesitant to attend what is now more commonly called the Balinese Monkey Chant. But my tour guide, who became a friend, actually lives among the villagers that you see beautifully dancing and joyfully chanting in the video below.

Men chanting during the Kecak Fire Dance
Chanting during the Kecak Fire Dance in Ubud

He encouraged me to go; so I did. And I do not regret that decision.

Kecak Fire Dance Video: Ubud, Bali

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Bali is a primarily Hindu island in the middle of Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.

Sunrise at Mount Batur in Bali
Watching the sunrise after trekking Mount Batur on Bali

Balinese Hinduism is part of every aspect of life on the island, which is full of spirituality and ritualism.

A Woman Performs a ritual in Ubud
Making an offering to the Gods in Ubud, Bali

The island runs on rituals. When I was there, I joked with my Balinese friends that on Bali there are rituals for rituals. The reason I was there, in fact, was for the most sacred of all the rituals: the Day of Silence or Nyepi Day.

An Ogoh-ogoh monster on Nyepi Day in Gali
An ogoh-ogoh monster on display during a pre-Nyepi Day parade
Rama and Sita in the Kecak Fire Dance
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The Legend Behind the Kecak Fire Dance

The Kecak Fire Dance is an adaptation of the epic Sanskrit poem from ancient India, Ramayana.

You know the one: the tale of Rama and Sita – a love story for the ages. Even if you don’t know this legend, you’ve likely seen, carved into the walls of temples around the world, tributes to this tale of good versus evil and of love conquering all.

Angkor Wat and the tale of Rama and Sita, which is part of the Kecak Fire Dance
The walls of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat depicts the tale of Rama and Sita
The Kecak Fire Dance in Ubud began with lovebirds Rama and Sita banished to the forest by Rama’s father the King and, who else, the Evil Stepmother, a character that has been thickening plotlines for centuries, it seems. Click To Tweet

Deep in the forest, Sita is enchanted by a golden deer. She sends Rama after the deer who, by the way, really did give an audience-stealing, enchanting performance during the Ubud Kecak Fire Dance (see video above!)

But that cute little deer was a trick. Just a ploy to separate Rama from Sita by the demon King Ravana who lusts after Sita and kidnaps her.

But fear not! The monkey warrior Hanuman is a friend of Rama and he can help. In fact, all of the forest seems to get involved in some way. There is searching and there are magically-inspired battles. Evil magic causes a dragon to attack Rama and his fighters.

Hanuman Monkey God in the Kecak Fire Dance
Hanuman

But with the help of the King of all Birds, and the King of all Monkeys, Rama wins back Sita, rescuing her from evil and they return to their kingdom.

Love having vanquished lust; good having defeated evil.

Rama and Sita in the Kecak Fire Dance

Sanghyang Jaran Dance: Walking on Coals

The Kecak Fire Dance was loud and lovely and my heart was beating as fast as the drums. And that’s when the dance circle was cleared out and they started stirring the coals.

coals at the kecak Fire dance
Preparing to walk through coals

There is a tradition of a trance dance that goes along with the Kecak Fire Dance. The Sanghyang Jaran is performed by a male dancer who circles the coals while riding a hobby horse. He dances and kicks much like a horse and then tramples through the hot coals, stamping and stomping repeatedly.

He seems unfazed by the heat and the belief is that he is, indeed, unscathed. The trance brought on by the chanting men around him and the spirit force within him is believed to protect him from pain.

The Kecak Fire Dance and the Sanghyang Jaran date back to a time when the Balinese believed that dance and song and a cacophony of noise would keep spirits and sickness at bay. (This is why there is so much noise during the Nyepi Day parades.)

It was powerful. (See video at the top of this post for the coal dance.)

Boys laughing during the Kecak Fire Dance
Joyful dancing during the performance

I did a lot of really cool things in the month that I spent in Ubud. Despite my initial hesitation, the Kecak Fire Dance sits right at the top of the list of things I really enjoyed.

I would recommend checking out this village’s Kecak Fire Dance if you are ever in Ubud.

Just the Facts on the Kecak Fire Dance

Where to see the Kecak Fire Dance:

There are performances all over Bali and the Bali Tourism Board keeps a list. As with many things in Bali, it’s easier to ask around than to try to find anything online.

The Kecak Fire Dance that I attended in Ubud was an easy walking distance from the famed Monkey Forest Road.

Location: Jl. Suweta No.4, Ubud, Kecamatan Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia

How long is the Kecak Fire Dance?

It was about an hour long and there was a man selling water and cans of beer from a cooler.

How much does it cost to see the Kecak Fire Dance?

It was just under $5 USD. I bought my tickets at the front desk of the Ubud Bungalow where I stayed and where my friend, who lived in the above village, worked as a guide.

If you liked this post, you will also enjoy my collection of posts on Indonesia as well as my collection of posts on Asia and maybe even stories about seeking more and traveling deeper.

Some of those stories are here:

When an Island Goes Dark

I didn’t plan it, exactly, but I am somehow following New Year’s celebrations around the globe. I joined old friends in Florida to ring in 2019 over champagne and laughter in January; lunched with new friends in Chiang Dao to celebrate the Chinese New Year…

Continue Reading When an Island Goes Dark

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    6 Comments on “The Kecak Fire Dance of Bali, Indonesia”

    1. I visited Bali during my Singapore exchange back in 2016. I hope to come back once the pandemic is over… I totally agree with you, it is way better to ask around than to find everything online.

    2. The Kicak Fire Dance is so exotic and unique. It’s amazing that a man, living in a remote Bali village, posses this extraodinaty abilty and can go into a trance. The legend of Rama and Sita is very interesting and the performance of the dancers is captivating. The magic deer is adorable. Thank you for sharing this beatiful video and your experience of visiting Bali.

    3. I’m so glad you checked out the video, Lizz! I think you would really enjoy the Fire Dance. It is definitely more of a performance BASED ON tradition rather than a sacred tradition, but the joy it seems to bring the performers was enough for me! Please let me know when you go. I would love to hear your thoughts!

    4. Like you, I usually try to avoid the touristy attractions when I’m traveling. However, you’ve convinced me to see the fire dance when I go to Bali. Your video showed me it’s a legit ritual that visitors are lucky enough to witness, rather than a tourist trap just trying to make a buck. Thanks for sharing!

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