At university I was fascinated by the wordless film Baraka, which features incredible shots of humanity and nature from around the world, sometimes in slow motion and timelapse, in an experience that’s humbling and beautiful.
One of the scenes features kecak, a Balinese Hindu ritual. Around a hundred men, dressed only in loincloths, sit in formation: sometimes a semicircle, sometimes facing each other in ranks. They chant and move in unison, directed by one leader, in a mesmerising display, all the while chanting “chak-chak-chak-chak”.
I had always assumed that it was an ancient practice, but although it does have stylistic roots in ancient trance rituals, in the form we see it in Baraka it dates back only to the 1930s, when Walter Spies, a German artist, visited Bali.
Spies had the idea of adapting local rituals into a dramatic form based on stories from the Hindu Ramayana, specifically the battle between the forest-dwelling Vanaras and the evil King Ravana. This drama was accompanied by dance, choreographed by local dancer Wayan Limbak, and was intended for consumption by Western tourists. The performance was toured internationally by a troupe of Indonesian dancers, and remains one of the most identifiable forms of Balinese culture.