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The sound was other worldly, 5,555 people chanting and raising their arms in unison against a darkening Indonesian sky. They were performing the Balinese “Kecak” dance on the coast of this Indian Ocean island in unison. It was the largest number of people to perform the ceremony in Balinese history. Five is an auspicious number to the Balinese Hindus, whose religion is a blend of Shivaism and Buddhism.
I was on Bali teaching high school students from The Ross School, a private boarding/day school at the east end of Long Island. Photographer Ron Haviv and documentary filmmaker Doug Blush joined me in helping the students craft visual stories about the rich ceremonies and traditions of this remarkable island. This was my first time back in 10 years and the changes were startling. There were many more people, tourists, cars, development and congestion on the island. I had heard horror stories of the growing crush of humans and garbage ruining the place; that Bali had become a paradise lost. Some of it was true. Traffic and pollution was worse, much worse, and there were scores of new buildings and developments, but what remained was what drew me to the island in the first place, the warmth and spirit of the Balinese.
We were allowed to witness and document cremation and purification ceremonies; the rare reunion of high priests passing their knowledge onto new priests and the funeral of the King’s mother in the spiritual town of Ubud. Bali is known as the “Island of a Thousand Temples,” a name that I believe seriously underestimates the true number of temples. A decade later it is still a magical place where one can get happily lost in the beauty of its people and traditions.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
Michael Robinson Chavez is a staff photographer for The Washington Post.
Chloe Coleman is a photo editor at The Washington Post working in Outlook and Foreign news focusing on The Americas, Europe and Russia. She is regular contributor to the In Sight blog. She joined the Post in 2014.
MaryAnne Golon is the Director of Photography at The Washington Post. Before joining The Post in 2012, MaryAnne was the director of photography at Time Magazine and a senior photography editor there for more than 20 years. She graduated with honors from The University of Florida with a B.S. in Journalism.
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