About Balinese Masks

Traditional Balinese Masks

Masks, for the Balinese, serve as a lighting roads, to collect momentarily a portion of the cosmic energy, the vital life of the Universe.
A Balinese ritual is an invitation to invisible forces to “come down” and listen to human requests for their protection and forbearance. God takes different shapes and forms to visit the world.
The Balinese do not separate the supernatural from the natural. The spirit world is a living force that must be recognized and appeased through rituals and offerings.
Masks are seen as aids not only in visualizing the divine powers but also in providing them momentary material manifestations.
Masks performances have been important ritual on the Indonesian island of Bali for over a thousand years.


Masks are used in four traditional Balinese dramas and processions: the Topeng, which enacts stories from the times of the old Balinese and Javanese kingdoms, and established a link with the ancestor world; the Barong, which involves giant puppets and animals that serve as protective spirits, enabling a village to ward off evil; the Wayang Wong, which performs the Ramayana, a great Hindu epic, dramatizing the triumph of virtue over vice; and the Calonarang, which challenges local witches by appealing for the support and protection of Durga, the Queen of Black Magic and Goddess of Death.

The three types of masks used in these dramas depicts humans, animals, and demons. Human-looking masks can be full face, three-quarter face, or can have a movable jaw. They resemble certain character types rather than specific people. Heroes and heroines are stereotypically handsome, with refined features matched by the movements of the dancers.
Colour is also employed to reveal character.
Animal masks are mythological rather than realistic.

The Balinese classify the masks of heroes, clowns, and low spirits according to their qualities. The heroes, queens and kings are described as halus, a Balinese word meaning “sweet”, “gentle” and “refined”.
Low spirits, animals and brutish types, are referred to as keras, or “strong”, “rough”, and “forceful”.
The clowns, known as bondres characters, are from the low caste, and they manifest a plethora of deformities. They serve as attendants to the central characters and translate the Sanskrit or Kawi text of the traditional drama into Balinese language.

Extract from Balinese Masks: Spirits of an Ancient Drama – Judy Slattum