What is Rangda?

Thought to be the Balinese dramatic manifestation of the Goddess of the underworld, Durga, Rangda is indeed a fearsome sight. Fiery tongued with bulging bloodshot eyes, she is evil personified. The word Rangda in ancient high Balinese means “widow” and since its adoption for this character has understandably become a redundant term for human folk.

Rangda wears a mask with protruding boar-like tusks, shrouded by a shock of white bedraggled hair; so long it reaches her legs. Customarily, the Rangda dancer wears red, black and white striped pants, and white gardening gloves complete with ungainly plastic fingernails. Her pendulous, naked breasts are made of stuffed cloth and swing as she dances. Rangda carries a white cloth that can be used to make herself invisible.

Rangda is most commonly seen in south Bali and is an important part of a number of dances and performances, including: Barong, Calonarang, Wayang Calonarang, Legong Semarandana, Barong Landung and others. In a barong or Calonarang performance, the traditional gamelan orchestra accompaniment is a bebarongan or pelegongan set; however, in modern times, many Balinese use catch-all gamelan orchestras such as gong kebyar or semarandhana. Although, to create the appropriate atmosphere, a pelegongan or bebarongan set is the preferred musical accompaniment.

There are three types of Rangda masks: lion, human, and giant – the giant mask is the most commonly seen at performances around the island. As with Rangda’s counterpart, Barong, Rangda masks are considered sacred objects by the Balinese; therefore held in awe and treated with great respect.

The different parts of the mask are loaded with symbolism: its bulging, staring eyes reflect anger, cruelty and self-centeredness; the twisted tusks reminds us that she is a merciless, wild beast; her long fiery tongue is forever hungry for prey and promises to burn all it its path.

Rangda speaks in ancient Kawi in a whining voice, threatening her opponents constantly During a performance she will also periodically grunt and shriek, reeling her head back and pointing menacingly.

In most performances which feature Rangda, the Barong appears to save the helpless humans from her black magic.

© 2012 Mekar Bhuana

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