Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, June 2000)



The Cokorda Pemecutan A.A. Ngurah Manik Parasara(left) visiting his cousings, the princes of Kepaon and his sister, at the Petileman event.

NOBLESSE OBLIGE
(Or why the Balinese still love their liege lords)

The royal families of Bali are the custodians, or pangemong, of the island’s major temples. They are the defenders of the faith in the sense that they are responsible for the continuity—physical and spiritual—of important temples such as Uluwatu (Jero Kuta Palace the custodians), Besakih (Klungkung Palace) and Pura Batur (Ubud Palace). To this day it is still the mother, or grandmother, of the ‘reigning regent’ (Cokorda), who is the ‘field-marshal’ at the giant festivals— ordering around battalions of ladies-in-waiting and loyal serfs.
Most Balinese are ‘attached’, feudally, in loose serf-dom, to either a Brahmana (priestly) or Kssatrya (princely) liege lord. The exceptions are families in those villages with strong Pre-Hindu (agricultural-egalitarian) roots, where the Hindu-Javanese system of princely rule never fully took hold.
Since the first Javanese ‘vassal kingdoms’ near Bedulu in Central Bali, in the 10th century, Bali has been harnessed by princely families whose deified ancestors have, in many villages, become the local gods (the equivalents in western culture would, say, be St.Joan of Arc, had she been a princess, or St. Grace of Monaco and St. Diana of Kensington for, say, the gay community).
These systems of allegiance, duty and dedication have survived intact up to the modern age. A Sanur hotel-worker, for example, might wait for the death of his Surya (brahman priest) before finalizing the cremation of his own grandfather: his grandfather, he might explain, wanted to ngiring (follow) his ‘liege lord’ in death, as he had in life.
It is the Kssatrya palace families (there are some hundreds) who administer the lands ‘owned’ by the temples and arrange all the offerings and ceremonies that go into major temple festivals. Today there are some six hundred (conservative estimate) Penataran Agung temples attached, either physically or spiritually, to one palace or another.
Beyond these duties the Cokorda princes, or their vassals, are often called upon by villagers to place the foundation stones, or to fashion the spirit effigies, called padma, at the Nyekah soul-cremation rites. Today’s liege lord can find himself, over one week, attending a dizzying array of body-washings, tooth filings, cremations and weddings across the land if, as is often the case, his extended family has grown well beyond the palace walls.
The Cokorda of Denpasar’s main palace, Ngurah Manik Parasara, for example, (decended from a 15th century Javanese prince called Arya Damar) is not only head of the (once omnipowerful) GOLKAR party, but also patron of the (once omnipresent ORARARI secret-police, (joint) Pangemong of Sakenan temple on turtle island and liege lord to over 500,000 serfs. He is also a matinee idol and heart-throb for Denpasar’s social set and a fishing champion. He has a palace hotel, a discreet harem (like all true noblemen), a fleet of black TOYOTA Land Cruiser’s and a private ‘army’ numbering some one thousand cousins with thick moustaches and Harley-Davidson mufti. His rival, the Dewa Manggis of Gianyar, is head of Johnson and Johnson Indonesia. The last Dewa Manggis, the much-decorated A.A. Gede Agung was Indonesian Ambassador to France and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. His grandfather was Indonesia’s first Prime Minister (during the early years of nationhood). Clearly the age of Rajas as warriors and statesmen is not in decline.
The tradition of spreading religion, through the courts, continues also. The Ubud royal family ‘cousins’ through the Dalem dynasty, of the Gianyar Royal family, is now very active in the re-instatement of Hindu-Dharma in the ancient Hindu enclaves in East and Central Java and the restoration of many of Indonesia’s ancient Pura Agung (state temples).
This month I went to two royal events, one in Denpasar and one near Ubud, where the princes were on duty. I was reminded of the difference in style between the two Kssatrya lines (the Dalem and the Arya Damar) and their importance in Balinese society. Now read on:


Denpasar serfs carry the King's white sarcophagus and the King's son,bearing the royal Kris at, Denpasar's last royal cremation in 1989

Denpasar's last great royal cremation in 1989

12 April 2000, Jero Dalem Tanjung Kepaon, South Denpasar, the soul-cremation (Petileman) of my dear friend Ngurah Dharma (see Stranger in Paradise October)
The extended family of this tiny jero (nobleman’s house) were my second family my during years in Kepaon village (1973-1980). I attended the cremations of Ngurah’s grandmother, the much loved Nini Jendral (see ‘The Complete Stranger in Paradise 1979-1980" pp.198-200) the former matriarch of the Pura Sakenan festival on Turtle island, and his mother, the card-sharp Biang Ngurah, and, last September, the cremation of Ngurah himself after his death at age 43 from Leukemia.
Last week his father the head kssatyra of Kepaon visited my Sanur home and asked if I’d donate the T-shirts for the coming soul purification ceremony, called Petileman. The petileman was to be for his son, my buddy and also for his second wife, Ngurah’s mother (my friend) and for his mother (my role model and mentor, during my formative years as a palace groupie). Over breakfast, I listened to the latest grisly stories of Kepaon palace intrigue and paternal exasperation. (A black princling lurks. In this way all palaces are the same).
Today I arrived early for the climax of the one month of ceremonies, held in a special enclosure with a white and gold-festooned grandstand for the gods, purpose-built, in the palaces cramped forecourt. I walked the gaunt-let of old village chums and adopted family members (my Balinese mum, the saintly Biang Agung, hier to the Nini Jendral, is from this palace) and mixed with my Balinese family, the Kepaon Brahmans, who today were running the show. A high priest sat in the V.I.P. pavilion lining up the waterlily flowers and gold ornaments to be used in the fashioning of the padma spirit effigies. Gamelans played, and minor ceremonies proceeded as we all waited in the bright morning sun for the arrival of the guests of honour.
At 11 a.m. the brother of the Cokorda of Denpasar arrived, with his glamorous wife in handsome Balinese dress (see photo opposite page bottom left), and climbed the bamboo stairs to the special priest’s platform (Bale Pawedaan). Within seconds his wife was sipping a coke as she surveyed the adoring crowed, like Princess Ann from the Buckingham palace balcony. The prince started fashioning the beautiful spirit effigies for his distant, deceased relatives.
At noon the crowds parted and in strode the Cokorda Pemecutan, Ngurah Manik, like the Sheriff of Notthingham, in tight taupe safari and Cartier sunnies—ruby sash flapping. Over the past six months the good Cokorda has attended the body washing, the cremation and now the spirit–purification of this fifth sin of a distant relative (The God of Dalem Kepala Kepaon, the temple, behind Dalem Kepaon, the palace, is the son of the god of Sakenan, Turtle Island, one remembers, and is an exulted shared ancestor of all of these men). The Cokorda was received royally by the deceased’s dad (see photo opposite, centre) and, with his vivacious consort, entertained the priests and princes with high-spirited chat.
The hundreds of villages whose deceased relatives were part of the event were puffed up with pride and also love for this man who never forgets his duty, as liege lord, and goes about it with such bravado and panache. "Apa kabar?" the Cokorda bellowed at me in Indonesian (true Cokorda’s never speak Balinese to redheads) "still not married?"
My knees went weak


The prince of Ubud and other representatives of the courts of Gianyar regency at the Pura Dalem Sayan event.

  Ida Bagus Susila, a Kepaon brahman, surveys
his people from the high priest's pavilion.   

Ubud palace princesses in Rejang Dewa costume at the Sayan temple festival

16 April, 2000, Sayan Village, near Ubud: A once every 80-year re-consecration rite at the Pura Dalem temple
"Their sirene highnesses" the loud speaker roared as the some Dalem dynasty princelings—from the Ubud, Peliatan, Sukawati and Pahyangan palaces—glided to their pavilion of honor, "will now take the holy water". We all watched, It had been an incredible morning – 12 gamelan and dance troupes, of every kind; truly magnificent offerings; the famed Ubud Palace princess dance troupe in gorgeous Rejang Dewa costume (photo centre) but the day seemed to taking a turn towards becoming a palace mega event. After the sleekly dressed princes splashed themselves eleven or thirteen or seventeen times (a Denpasar prince, would only do three or five splashes, at most, , for egalitarianreasons, in someone else’s temple) we were all trapped, waiting for our water as the speeches started.
I faked a shot of the Governer delivering a delightful homily (my film stock was long exhausted) and slipped out to the Brahman’s (and groupies) pavilion where holy water was being dispensed. The presence of the princelings lined up in neat white jackets, gold buttoms flashing, was appreciated by the Ubud crowd but the adoration factor was well down. The swash-buckling entrance of the Denpasar prince at the tiny Kepaon family event did much more, I felt, for the continuation of the royals’ role in Balinese ceremonial society.
Long live the Kings, I say, for they help make it all possible.


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