It was our first evening in Ubud.
Under a starlit sky in the crumbling Ubud Palace, two beautiful teenage girls danced the classic “Legong” to the xylophone clangs of a Balinese gamelan orchestra. Wearing gold bodices and elaborate flower-adorned headdresses, they fluttered their fingers, darted their black-rimmed eyes back and forth, and gracefully contorted their bodies, all in perfect stylized sync.
Other dancers in glittering costumes and ogre masks then enthralled us with the Hindu “Ramayana” epic, a love story, woven through much of Balinese art and dance.
Some places in this world are destinations where you go to see a temple or watch a performance or visit some particular cultural attraction. But in Bali, and Ubud in particular, art, dance and culture are intertwined with everyday life.
You encounter temples everywhere (including in Ubud’s must-see Sacred Forest Monkey Sanctuary).
Temples dot the landscape, gracing every village and family compound, with many more shrines to boot.
In tiny hand-made palm baskets, offerings of plumeria blossoms, rice and burning incense (sometimes even a cigarette or two to keep the spirits extra happy) – sprinkled and blessed with holy water – are placed in front of every temple, dwelling and shop each morning.
As pretty as a painting
Art museums abound.
One excellent show-case of Balinese painting is the Neka Art Museum, just a short distance from the town center. Traditional “Wayang-style” paintings (based on old-time shadow puppet plays), works by Indonesian, Balinese and Bali-obsessed European artists (some credited with inspiring artistic renewal in Bali) and many current Balinese artistic styles are displayed.
Dance the night away
And dances like the “Legong” and “Ramayana,” the “Barong” and the trance-like “Kecac” fire dance are performed every evening at different temples and open-air sites, captivating everyone who watches these intricate and mystical performances.
Read our magazine article on Ubud culture
See “Art, Dance and Temples in Ubud, Bali,” published last month in TravelAge West magazine.