High school students perform a “Kecak” dance in which 5,555 people participated in Canggu on the island of Bali, Indonesia on Feb. 25, 2018. The Kecak dance is a Balinese dance that was developed in the 1930s and is also known as the “Monkey Dance.” It depicts a battle involving Balinese and Hindu deities. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Roosters are readied for fighting in Canggu on the island of Bali, Indonesia on Feb. 27, 2018. Cockfighting is a well practiced ritual on the island. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

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.


People leave offerings and immerse in the waters of the Tirta Empul Temple on the island of Bali, Indonesia on Feb. 23, 2018. The temple which dates to 960 AD sits atop a natural spring which feeds purification pools throughout the complex. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

High school students ready themselves for a “Kecak” dance in which 5,555 people participated in Canggu on the island of Bali, Indonesia on Feb. 25, 2018. The Kecak dance is a Balinese dance that was developed in the 1930s and is also known as the “Monkey Dance.” (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Children are showered with water during a purification ceremony at a Hindu temple on the island of Bali, Indonesia on Feb. 23, 2018. The island is a focal point of tourism and development but the local population has kept their centuries old traditions in tact. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Members of a temple help carry a “bade,” that is burned as part of a cremation ceremony during the funeral for the King’s mother in Ubud, Indonesia on Feb. 25, 2018. The funeral procession was a special occasion that concludes with the burning of the dead. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Participants prepare for a high priest ceremony at a temple in Ubud, Indonesia on Feb. 28, 2018. The ceremony was being held to initiate new high priests. Balinese priests are held in high regard by the population as they help people in their prayers and healing. They also ready the dead for their next life. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

A woman walks to a temple during a wet season rainstorm outside Ubud on the island of Bali, Indonesia on Feb. 27, 2018. Bali is known as the “Island of 1,000 Temples.” (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

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