Information before you go
Bali masks are found everywhere on the island. But the village of Mas is particularly famous for its amazing traditional carved masks and other exotic Balinese decorations. The streets of this little village are filled with small art shops and this is the place to get the best deal on any mask from Indonesia.
Just as paintings and other art forms masks in Bali were solely produced for sacred dances in the temples. The Balinese are masters in creating these pieces of art in detail since it's learned from father to son for generations.
Mask carver 'undagi tapel' in Mas
Today these Balinese masks are still worn during temple dances where the Balinese teach each other epic stories of their Hindu religion, the celebration of the various stages of life, the rice planting and harvesting season and the victory of good over evil.
The Balinese believe that everything has a soul: the rain, the winds, a rock and even a mask.
The carver is called the ‘undagi tapel’ and those who make the mask for the temple has to be a member of the Brahman caste since he knows the required rituals involved with making a sacred one.
With the arrival of tourism in the 1960’s foreigners started to show interest in these masks as a way to decorate their walls back home and from that point a new style called 'the wall mask' and "masks on teak wood panels" for interior decoration was born.
You can buy all types of masks in Bali
The Balinese don’t keep their masks on the wall, that would be considered a sin but place these spiritual treasures in cotton bags, strapped in the temple complex.
When you walk around Mas you’ll find many craftsmen working on Balinese modern masks, beige Balinese masks or primitive masks where they use over 30 different tools to carve out the wood. They often use mahogany wood, suar wood, crocodile wood, sono wood, hibiscus wood and teak wood.
There are four types of masks found in most of the shops, which are human masks such as the Batik wood mask or a Balinese tribal mask, animal masks such as the Balinese frog and cat masks, god masks and demon masks and these could be "whole masks" or "half masks" depending on the dance they are normally used in.
Demon masks used in a Barong dance
The most famous dances in which they use sacred masks are the Topeng dances and the Barong dances and here they copy movements from the Wayan Kulit.
The Topeng dance teaches the audience stories of kings and noble men. Depending on the various masks used, these stories are often humorous or have a moral twist to it. The Barong dance is a fight between good, the Barong, and evil, Rangda the witch.
The Topeng masks are only used by men who wear several of them during a performance. They use whole masks to depict noblemen and the king and they use half-masks for clowns or other humorous characters. They even have mad or funny ones which portray diseases so the Balinese can tone down these diseases.
Topeng humorous disease mask
There are several types of Barong masks, some portray pigs, while others look like lions and buffaloes. They are the most popular ones and have funny looking expressions on their faces with big nostrils, eyes and ears.
The Rangda mask has a huge tong, sharp fangs, bulging eyes and a devilish look. A sacred Barong or Rangda mask can cost hundreds of dollars and takes around 4 months to make.
A sacred Bali barong mask and a monkey mask
The costume accompanying the Barong or Rangda mask can cost several thousands and everybody in the community will contribute to get the outfit produced.
They cost so much because of the time it takes to produce one and the materials used such as goat skin, buffalo and horse hair, boar’s teeth and the sanding process. Only natural colors are used with up to 150 coatings.
A proper tourist mask takes around 2 months to make and is far cheaper because it uses modern colors with only a couple of layers of paint.
Rangda the witch mask and costume
So when you’re in Mas have a look in the art shops and talk to the wood carver, he can show you his style of work and which tools he uses.
Don’t forget to follow some of the small alleys where you’ll be surprised about what you will find.
They can wrap it up for you and if you feel like to buy the whole shop, they can even put it in a sea freight container for you... You won’t be the first one ;-)
Another great place to learn more about masks (and even puppets if you're interested) is the "Setia Darma House of Mask and Puppets" southeast of Ubud where the owner Pak Prayitno has collected more than 1200 masks and 4700 puppets from various Indonesian regions and other places around the world. This museum is a hidden gem and they can be found on Jalan Tegal Bingin, Banjar Tengkulak Tengah in Kemenuh Village.
A great opportunity to see the beautiful Balinese masks at their best is to head to a dance performance, such as the Barong-Kris in Ubud.Read more
This market is not only the local market of Ubud where the Balinese get their groceries, but in the afternoon it turns into the famous art/souvenir market.Read more
Besides masks made out of wood the Balinese can create the most complicated wood carvings. It can range from statues to detailed carvings on walls and doors.Read more
Now and then people send us inspiring emails and this generates even more enthusiasm to share all of the things we know about this lovely island in the hope that you can plan your tropical holiday properly and have as such a great time as we always have. Hope to see you there!
When I wrote the mail I never really expected a reply. I might have expected a computer generated but never a personally written one. The information you provided is invaluable, thank you so very much. I have been using your website as a bible through Bali. Through your recommendation, I will be heading to Ubud then follow the sightseeing route to the coast of Candidasa.
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