With the arrival of Hinduism to the Indonesian archipelago came the great epics from the India Sub-continent, which also served as a vehicle to spread the Hindu teachings. The epics, which have been passed down from generation to generation, have influenced the Hindu moral standards about good and bad as well as giving an understanding of reincarnation. The great stories of Mahabaratha and Ramayana may have little twists in storyline and character, with single characters having dozens of different names depending on the region in which the story is being told, but the fundamentals remain unshaken. The Mahabharata, the longest poem ever written, is a great epic from ancient India that has also inspired people in Indonesia in creating various forms of art works.
Bali, being the centre of Hinduism in Indonesia, is a place where the great epics are often told in various ways, including through the form of dance. Every Thursday evening at the Ubud Palace, located in the heart of Ubud town, The Ballet of Bimaniu is performed. The performance, which is inspired by the life of Abimanyu, a character from the Mahabaratha epic, is a harmonious combination of dance and storytelling.
The show begins with a group of female dancers performing authentic Balinese classical dance routines. Then a character of an old man enters the stage and narrates the story’s outline. This character, called penasar, also acts as the attendant of Prince Abimanyu, who is presented as a strong and graceful man through a bold Baris dance. The performance continues with the arrival of the beautiful princess, SitiSundari.
Prince Abimanyu meets SitiSunari and immediately falls in love with her. Sateaki, the guard of the princess, gets angry and attacks Abimanyu. As he cannot beat the prince, Sateaki tells the prince to go to Suralaya to meet Gatotkaca who will surely accompany him to the Dwarawati Kingdom to propose to Princess SitiSunari.
With his attendant, Abimanyu walks to Suralaya. As night falls, they stop to rest. Unfortunately, they don’t realise that they have paused at a graveyard where Kalika and her servants are practising witchcraft. Watching her sleeping ‘prey,’ Kalika attempts to eat the prince alive. But she fails so she asks the help of Durga, the goddess of death. Due to the prince’s wondrous magical powers, Durga’s attack is thwarted. Finally Durga finds out that the prince is the son of Arjuna and the goddess shows the road to Suralaya.
The Ballet of Bimaniu is a performance that presents several different dances in one special performance. Admire the strong gestures of the Baris dance, the mystical mask dance through the performance of celuluk, the witch character, and the graceful opening dance.