Facebook user Alvin Tan shared several videos of kuda kepang, a traditional Javanese dance depicting a group of horsemen, being performed in public. The dance has its origin in ancient Javanese culture tells the story of the Ramayana through dance skits. The dancers on horses enter a trance-like state before doing things which are almost impossible for human beings – like withstanding whipping, eating glass, ripping apart coconuts with their teeth and carrying chairs in their mouth. The performance happened at the vicinity of Block 195A Kim Keat Ave.
In 2010, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said that it holds the view that such performances are not part of Islam and have never been so. Such performances are not a religious function or practice. MUIS further pointed out that there are elements in some of these performances which are objectionable in Islam.
“These include the trance-state which lead to the performance of acts that compromise the safety and health of both the performer and members of the public, and the invocation of spirits and jinn. These elements are against the teachings of Islam and must be avoided by Muslims at all times.”
Police permits are necessary for such public performances and the Police (Licensing Department) have consulted with MUIS before issuing such licenses. Town Councils generally do not prohibit ethnic performances which do not alarm the public in the areas it manages, as long as permission has been granted.
In 2010, The New Paper (TNP) reported that two secondary school students who were taking intense kuda kepang lessons on weekends, suddenly went into a trance in the middle of class time alarming teacher and fellow students.
Kuda kepang practitioners talking to TNP in 2010 said that the art form benefits some youths as it saves them from going wayward.
Mr Abdul Malik Haji Marwi, who has about 20 students, all below 18 years old, told the newspaper: “So many youths actually indulge in a lot of useless activities like wasting their time at shopping malls and getting involved in fights.”
Mr Malik also said that his son used to be one of those “misguided youths who got into a lot of trouble” and Mr Malik was worried about him. He never saw his son on weekends and the son was involved in fights and even got in trouble with the police. Mr Malik advised his son to learn kuda kepang “to learn something new and not get involved in bad company.” His son was reported to enjoy being involved in kuda kepang.
Mr Abdul Malik said his students do learn how to go into a trance but do not eat glass. He said: “We discipline them. The young ones first learn how to play the musical instruments and when they are above 16, when they are more disciplined, I teach them how to go into a trance. The process takes over six months.”
Trances are sinful in Islam, but Kuda Kepang has been performed in public places like the Malay Heritage Centre.