The Untold tale of Rangda-The Queen of Leak; Balinese Ghost


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Below aspects of Balinese identity are very apparent in the figure of Rangda, the queen of Leyak, who embodies a culmination of the Island’s history and many influences. It is useful at this stage to understand a little of the Balinese cosmology.

For well over half millennium, the Island of Bali has cultivated their own unique form of Hinduism, compromising a comple tapestry of belief systems. Bali tumultuous political history is known from written records of dynasties dating back to, at least,  9th century CE.

From the 5th century on, traders, priests and adventurers sailing from India and China brought to Bali and Java a varietyof Hindu and Buddhist ideas and practices which is adapted and assimilated into the Balinese culture.

The Barong dance is part the ritual drama which focuses on a ongoing battle between good and evil with Barong representing the good and Rangda representing evil. Though not obviously gendered, Barong is understood as male and depicted as dragon-lion with an ornate feathery tail.

Rangda is a very important figure in Balinese mythology and healing traditions. She is the dramatic manifestation of the Goddess of the underworld, Durga and is the demon queen of the Leyaks. Leyaks are ghost like figures in Bali mythology that appear as humans during the day but at night their head and entrails break free from their bodies and fly around cemeteries and villages.

Terrifying to behold, the child-eating Rangda leads an army of evil witches against the leader of the forces of good, Barong. The battle between Barong and Rangda is featured in the Barong dance which simply represents the eternal battle between good and evil. As a basic element of the Balinese Hindu cosmology, Rangda is linked in eternal battle with her counterpart, the male embodiment of positive and constructive forces called Barong, a fun loving shaggy four-legged dog-like creature.

The two fight in this traditional dance in a struggle for spiritual equilibrium that is at core of all Balinese ceremonies. They two appear in many ceremonies and dances including The Barong Dance, Legong Smarandana, Calon Arang, Wayang Calon Arang, Barong Landung and many other.

An important, but difficult, thing to remember about Balinese religion and mysticism is that no god or demon is all good or all bad.  In fact, the words demon and witch are a poor translation in English. It is hard to tell from the description above. How is it possible that something has is partly good when their head and entrails fly around and haunt villagers?  And she also eats children and also leads an army of evil witches that are forever in battle against the forces of ‘good’.

Rangda, is the term from ancient high Balinese and the old Javanese language, Kawi, that means ‘widow’. Rangda is the female embodiment of divine negative energy. As much as the artwork in Bali, the Rangda mask is layered with symbolism. The large protruding eyes represent anger, cruelty and self centeredness. The long white boar-like fangs remind us she is merciless wild beast. And her meter-long blood-red tongue of fire represents her eternal insatiable hunger.

As mentioned above, the eternal conflict between Rangda and Barong extends far beyond a simple battle of good and evil. Although they represent rival ideologies that can be viewed as positive and negative, they are portrayed by the Balinese as inseparable and symbiotic forces that could not exist in isolation from one another. Like Yin and Yang, each contains elements of the other : Rangda can heal as well as to destroy, and Barong’s protective power has the potential to be misused as well. There is never a winner in these battles as the state of equilibrium is an ongoing struggle.

 Rangda & Calon Arang

Rangda, known as the Leyak queen, the incarnation of Calon Arang, the legendary witch that wreaked havoc in ancient Java during the reign of Airlangga in late 10th century. It is said that Calon Arang was a widow, who has mastered the art of black magic, who often damaged farmer’s crops and caused disease to come.

Calon Arang had a daughter named Ratna Manggali, who, though beautiful, could not get a husband because people were afraid of her mother.  Since the difficulties of her daughter, Calon Arang got very angry and she intended to take revenge by kidnapping a young girl which she brought to a Death temple to be sacrificed to the Goddess Durga. The next day, a great flood engulfed the village and disease also appeared so that many people died.

King Airlangga, who heard of what had happened then asked his advisor, Empu Bharada to deal with this matter. Empu Bharada then sent his disciple, Empu Bahula to be married to Ratna Manggali. A huge feast that lasted seven days and seven nights was held and the situation in the village turned normal. Time goes on and one day Empu Bahula found Calon Arang’s book which contained magic incantations, then turned it over to Empu Bharada. As soon as Calon Arang found out that her book was stolen, she got angry and decided to fight Empu Bharada. But without the help of Durga, Calon Arang got defeated and since then the village was safe from the threats of Calon Arang’s black magic.

Other interpretation claims that Rangda was actually derived from historical 11th century queen Mahendradatta, a Javanese princess sister of Dharmawangsa of East Javanese Isyana dynasty of late Medang Kingdom era. She was the queen consort of Balinese King Udayana, Airlangga’s own mother. Mahendradatta is known for her devotion to the cult of Durga in Bali.

The story goes that Mahendradatta, the mother of Airlangga was condemned and exiled by the King Udayana for allegedly practising witchcraft and black magic. After she became a widow, hurt and humiliated, she sought revenge upon her ex-husband’s court and the whole of his kingdom. She summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle, the Leyaks and the demons that caused plague and death in the kingdom. She proceeded to take her revenge by killing off half of the kingdom which by then belonged to her and Darmodaryana’s son Airlangga, with plague before being overcome by a holy man. Though interpreted as good versus evil, the two sides are more equivocal and Barong’s victory over Rangda is never regarded as conclusive.

The Calon Arang story is often performed during odalan temple anniversaries.  By midnight the community gathers in the outer courtyard of the temple. The ‘show’ starts in a nerve-jangling atmosphere as a scene depicts villagers falling victim one by one to the black magic spell cast by Calon Arang.

The performance often reach es its culmination in the famous self-stabbing dance where the villagers, incited to a blind rage attack Rangda, who casts a spell over them with her white magic scarf. Finally the villagers begin to stab themselves with their wavy bladed kris daggers, as Rangda has the power to make the people turns against themselves.  It ends near daybreak when it depicts the Barong successfully defeating the evil widow. The people leave the temple ground on groups, creepiness is still in the air but curiousity causes more people to want to watch it again in the future.

Rangda in Bali Nowadays

As time has passed and Bali grew into a favorite tourist destination, many things have changed.  Plenty of sacred symbols have been commercialized and becoming amusement for tourists including Rangda and Barong. Tourism cooperate with art groups who then perform tha Barong and Rangda dance for tourists at any time and anywhere.

The eerie impressions of Barong dance is not as strong as it before. Commercialization is one reason while technology improvement is another one. Before technology, villages do not have electricity  so people were easily frightened with scary story while they were in the dark. But nowadays the whole Island is bright thanks to electricity so if people are still afraid to watch the Calon Arang performance on site then they can always watch it on local TV station.