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  Sang Hyang Dedari

Sang Hyang Dedari is the best known of these dances of ritual possession, and it is the most easily seen by the visitor to Bali.

The title means, roughly, 'Honored Goddess Nymphs' and refers to the likeness of the young girl dancers to the Widyadari, who are demi-goddesses in Hindu mythology. Other traces of Hindu culture are difficult to find in the genre, which is pre-eminently a form of the village community, having little to do with the sophisticated culture of the palaces.

Like the Berutuk performers, the dancers in Sang Hyang Dedari are selected from a special subgroup in the village, pre-adolescent girls, between nine and twelve or thirteen years of age. Four or five of them are usually in service at a time, although no more than two of them dance in a single performance.

The girls have special responsibilities and duties in the temple, often they are members of the family of a pemangku, or priest. In some localities it is traditional for the young dancers to choose their own successors from among the eligible girls, shortly before puberty enforces retirement. These youngster are not trained dancers, although like most all Balinese villagers, they are quite familiar with the various kinds of dance-drama.

Traditionally the performance is given at night and begins in the inner - most holy, courtyard (jeroan) of the village's principal temple ('Pura Puseh'). The first part of the performance is called the 'penudusan' or smoking in which the goddesses are invited to descend, while the girls who will dance inhale quantities of pungent, drug-laden incense.

After half an hour or so, if the goddesses are pleased to descend, the dancers fall back in a state 'kerawuhan' or possessed. They begin to sway sideways and backwards. Once the priest is satisfied that the deities have arrived and entered the bodies of the dancers, he ask them to speak.

In a high, tense voice utterly unlike normal speech, with a patterned nervous sing-song drawl, the goddesses address the villagers : 'Don't be afraid, my followers, we are arriving now! The cure for your sickness is at hand. Listen! Listen!' Then they prescribe medicine and ritual steps necessary to stem the epidemic.

To test and prove the depth of their trance, the girls jump onto the red hot embers and tread on them with their bare feet. If they are sufficiently possessed their will not be burned and they will feel no pain.

The dance itself is an improvisation, done by the goddesses through the bodies of the youthful mediums.

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