Exactly when the calonarong dance was first performed in Bali is not recorded. However, the dance tells a familiar story - that of a battle between good and evil.
In the case of the calonarong, the story goes like this: the king exiles the evil witch-queen Rangda from the kingdom of Java because of her wicked ways. She calls down a plague, which kills half of the people in the kingdom.
The king summons Barong, a lion spirit, to help him defeat the witch. Barong leads an army of humans, plus the impish Monkey-god Hanuman, into battle against Rangda and her army of witches.
Rangda casts a spell on the human warriors, forcing them to turn their poisoned swords against themselves. Barong counters by making their bodies impervious to the blades.
In the end, of course, good triumphs over evil and Rangda is vanquished.
The calonarong dance is probably based on a highly mythologized account of real events. In the 11th century, the Javan queen Mahendradatta was accused of practicing witchcraft. Her husband, Dharmodayana, sent her into exile.
The exiled queen reportedly vowed revenge. Some years later, after Dharmodayana had died and their son Erlangga was king, a plague struck Java. People blamed the plague on the old exiled witch-queen. In fact, the name Rangda means "widow" in Balinese.