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Yogyakarta Day 3: Friday, August 4, 2017

David with actors

Actors in the Ramayana Ballet with David Black at Prambanan in Indonesia.

We returned to Prambanan after our excursion to the hilltop palace of Ratu Boko. It was almost dark as we parked in the lot near the Trimurti outdoor theater. Haru gave my tour ticket to the people at the gate for my regular admittance. There were performers in costume standing near the entrance and I took my photo with them. I also purchased a couple of snacks – a Happy Cow and another ice cream treat. I was starving, but didn’t want to buy a whole meal.

Gamelon players before show

Gamelon percussion orchestra playing before the show.

Haru had to return to the hotel and said another driver would meet me after the performance, so I went in. There was a small gamelon orchestra playing as I found my seat. It was on a stone bench, but we were given seat cushions. Even so, the bench was hard. There weren’t many people there, and some of the seats that were more expensive were vacant. I thought of moving, but I could see the stage well and the temple formed a perfect backdrop. I waited a few minutes for the show to begin.

Gamelon orchestra and temples

The main gamelon orchestra and stage with the Prambanan temples in the background. It was quite a setting, with the dramatic temples of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu lit up behind the stage.

The Ramayana is an ancient Hindu epic and one of the longest pieces of literature ever written at 24,000 verses. It rivals the King James Bible and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare in sheer size. But the Mahabharata is still longer. Take the Bible, the Illiad and the Odyssey, and the works of Shakespeare and put them together, and that is still short of the size of the Mahabharata. When I had researched this ballet, I had seen that this night’s performance would not be the whole story but only the first half. I figured that would be about right.

Gamelon instruments close

The main orchestra, consisting of gamelon percussion instruments including gongs, cymbals, and drums.

A large gamelon orchestra with many gongs and bells and xylophones was located behind the stage on both sides of a central staircase. They began to play and a group of singers acted as a backup band. Two people came out to introduce the performance, and then it began.

Cheap seats

Most of the audience sat in the more expensive seats in the middle. I took a seat in the moderately cheap seats, but the view was really all the same. The benches were stone with pads to sit on and became a bit uncomfortable after two hours. And they only performed half of the Ramayana.

The Ramayana tells of the romance of Rama with Sita and his struggle to rescue her after her kidnapping by the demon king Ravana. The ballet began with Ravana and his demons and demonesses (is that a word? The spell checker liked it, so it must be) plotting to overthrow the goodness of Rama, his mortal enemy. Rama was the seventh avatar, or incarnation, of the god Vishnu, which is why Ravana hated him. I didn’t understand the singing, but the dancing was easy enough to follow, although very stylized. Then Rama, while hunting, spied the beautiful princess Sita (an avatar of Lakhsmi) walking with her father and fell in love. Their love was mutual, although her father was against the idea. To convince the father to let him marry Sita, Rama took him hunting.

Demon dance

The ballet began with the dance of demons as their king, Ravana revealed his desire to destroy Prince Rama, who is really an avatar of Vishnu.

Ravana spied on all of this and saw a chance for his revenge. He transformed into an old man walking with difficulty leaning on his cane, and when Sita was alone she saw him stubble and fall down. Rushing to his aid, the fake old man tied her wrists and led her away. Garuda, the vahana (vehicle) of Vishnu, spied all of this with his eagle’s eyes.

Hatching an evil plot

Ravana, the Demon King, hatches his evil plot.

Meanwhile, Rama and Sita’s father were out hunting and encountered a herd of deer (the dancers had deer horns on their heads). After an encounter with the Queen of the Deer (what was said here I don’t know but there appeared to be some disagreement going on), Sita’s father relented to have Rama marry his daughter. I think. At least their dancing appeared more friendly.

Good vs evil

Rama arrives in a confrontation of good versus evil.

I was growing tired about this time and lost the thread of the story a bit during the dancing deer. Somehow Garuda was shot by an arrow but managed to tell Rama and Sita’s father that Sita had been kidnapped before dying and ascending into heaven in a blue fog.

Rama and Sita

Rama falls for the beautiful Sita, but her father isn’t so sure about this.

Somewhere in here Hanuman, the Monkey God, and all of his monkeys did a dance – I think Rama tried to fight Ravana but was defeated, so he enlisted the aid of the monkeys. Then the ballet ended rather abruptly. That was when I remembered that tonight’s performance was only the first half of the story. Probably a good thing, as I was falling asleep even on the hard stone bench.

Kidnapping Sita

Ravana pretends to be an old man who stumbles, and when Sita tries to help him, he kidnaps her and binds her with cords. Garuda the eagle tried to warn her, but he was shot down.

It was an interesting spectacle to watch but it was difficult to stay up on the story since it was sung in stilted Javanese with the performers only dancing. This is a ballet, after all. It is a classic tale, going back over 2000 years and was probably first written as early as 400 BCE by the sage Valmiki Muni. It is carved into the walls of Prambanan temple itself. The gamelon instruments were a bit loud to handle for the two hours of tonight’s performance, but it was a fascinating experience until my exhaustion got the better of me. I took some great photos from my vantage point with the temple lit up behind. I also got some good videos of it.

Back, evil temptress

Meanwhile, Rama is attempting some male bonding time by going hunting with his future father-in-law, but they are warned of Sita’s kidnapping by the Queen of the Deer. Notice the little horns.

Afterwards, we went down on the stage to take photos with the performers and I got some close ups of the gamelon instruments. My replacement driver met me at the gate as I exited and we drove back to the Hotel Jambuluwuk. I was tired and slept in the car much of the way back, then woke myself up enough to get my bags packed as much as possible for my flight to Bali the next day. I had arranged for a cab to pick me up at 6:15 so that I would have 15 minutes for breakfast.

A little bird told us

Garuda is revived just long enough to tell Rama where Ravana has taken Sita before departing into a blue fog.

This had been quite a day. There are still more things to see and do in Yogyakarta, but in three days I’ve done many things and gotten a feel for the city and its surroundings. I’ve done as much as could possibly be expected without driving myself to complete exhaustion, and I pretty much did that today. I kept thinking that my wife would love it here, since she was a humanities major in college. I hope some day to return here with her.

Monkey dance

They enlist the help of Haruman the Monkey God and his army of monkeys. This is where the performance ended for tonight, only half way through the Ramayana. The whole performance takes four hours.

Posing after

Posing with the audience after the show.

Gamelon cymbals

Gamelon cymbals. Each brass kettle creates a unique tone, like a bell.

Temples at night

The dramatic backdrop of the Prambanan temples at night, with the temples of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu from left to right.

 

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