©Courtesy of Instagram account @rama_mardhayiska

Barong sai  is another avatar of chi-ling, the Chinese mythical creature, which can be seen on the wooden doors of the Pancering Jagat Temple in Trungen, an ancient village that still exists at the foot of the dormant volcano, Abang, on the banks of Lake Batur in Kintamani.  Some claim that the word Barong originated from ‘Baruang’ meaning bear in Malay. But this term can be traced back to a much earlier period in history, according to Lee Khoon Coy*. He claims that there were no bears on the island and hence this reference to bear is erroneous. That the word ‘rong’ is from the Chinese word ‘long’ which means ‘dragon’ and ‘ba’ being either from ‘Bali’ or meaning ‘crawl’.  Chi-ling, which belongs to the family of the dragon, is also called the lion dog. So perhaps Barong sai (sai meaning lion in the Chinese Hokkein dialect) could mean Balinese Dragon Lion, or crouching dragon lion.

In ancient times the young men of Trugen performed, semi-naked, a dance wearing masks depicting the dragon lion. Apparently they ran around the village whipping anyone in sight. They were called Barong berutuk, another name for chi-ling. Many believe this to be the origin of Barong in Bali.

Barong represents the king of good spirits, one who protects all from the evil influence of Rangda, the demon queen, who is a malevolent force that seeks to possess all and to turn them into evil spirits. The word Rangda means widow in ancient Javanese.

* Malaysian-born teacher, Singaporean journalist, politician, diplomat, author and painter (1924-2016).

This dance, a battle royal between Barong (good) and Rangda (evil) is a fascinating display of pageantry and gripping theatricals.

Legend has it that Rangda was queen consort of Udayana, the Balinese king. She was also the mother of Airlannga, the King of Java. It is said that Rangda was condemned by Airlannga’s father because she practiced black magic. When she became a widow, she summoned the evil spirits from the underworld brought pestilence and destruction to the land. Airlannga was forced to face his own mother on the battle field but was unable to defeat her. He then sought the help of Barong from being overwhelmed by evil.

The battle between good and evil commenced with Rangda and her evil spirits possessing Airlannga’s soldiers, forcing the soldiers to attempt stabbing themselves in the chest or stomach with their poisoned Keris’. Barong in turn cast a protection spell around the soldiers so that they didn’t injure themselves in any manner. Eventually Rangda and her evil army were vanquished and Barong prevailed – good overcoming evil.

                                                Courtesy of Instagram account @st.candrasedana

Some of Balinese traditional Barongs are: Barong Ket (lion barong, king of the jungle), Barong Macan (in the form of a tiger), Barong Brutuk (The mask of this barong is made from coconut shell and the attire from dried banana leaves. It represents the holy spirits (followers) of Ida Ratu Pancering Jagat who resides in the Pancering Jagat Temple.

During Galungan and Kunningan the following Barongs are paraded in Bali – Barong Bangkung (Bangkung is an old pig of mythical strength), Barong Asu is very sacred as only one exists (in the form of a dog), and Barong Gajah (with an elephant shaped mask).