Kuta lay priests of foreign extraction with mineral samples, a small Ganesha statue and some singing bowls perform the rare BUMI PUJA SETEK GERINGSING on Kuta beach, 15th November 2002.
For a while there, mid November, I thought the island was going to sink under a tsunami of tourism culture: Post-Kuta bomb, the spin doctors, with their fringe ceremonies, have been getting more and more surreal. Even my learned editor, the shapely Sarah Dougherty, was swept up in the euphoria of altruisma Balinese speciality, best served coldconvinced, like many others, that Mz. Asana Viebieke, the new Balinese Zeena of Reformasi, was about to stage a cultural coup!
Meanwhile the Balinese, for the most part oblivious to all the posturing and jockeying, just keep on keeping on, with their heads down. Theres barely time for altruism: they are too busy placating demons and dieties!
This month I witnessed two extraordinary rituals (one on Bali TV) which convinced me that theres at least another 1,000 years left in the Balinese cycle of ceremonies they call life.
Since 12th October, (the night of infamy), the village of Kuta has been preparing for the mighty Tawur Agung ceremony aimed at restoring balance to the nether-world (Alam Niskala). Half of the planets available press corp descended on Bali for the event. In New York a Balinese procession to the other Ground Zero was held. Australia stopped for one minutes silence as the pedanda rang their bells in Kuta.
Now read on:
15th November 2002, Sugihan Bali, Kajeng Kliwon Enyitan, a holyday for spooky ceremonies
I cant go to Kuta as I have to be in Sidakarya villagefor the climax of the two month long series of ceremonies aimed at restoring the power of the villages Rangda, the consort of the holy Barong, the village guardianso I have despatched the Strangers assistant, Akhmad Yani, who took the photographs on this page.
Waiting for the Sidakarya ceremony to start I watch the islands new channel, Bali TV, which is running live coverage of the solemn, Kuta mega-ceremony (see John Darlings coming film for details). The broadcast is interspliced with studio footage of a Denpasar rock band in temple dress singing John Lennons Imagine, badly. White doves frozen in flight dot the floral backdrop.
PURA DESA SIDAKARYA, 11 P.M.
At Sidakarya two hours later things are more normal: inside the temple a band of pemangku (assistant priests) are huddled around a television watching replays of Kuta trance ceremonies of the day before. They watch with the detached amusement of ten year olds watching the Simpsons.
Oh my, a big man just bit a chickens head off I exclaim as they stare impassively.
And then it is on: its twelve noon and the freshly refurbished Barong and all his court process to the stately Pura Dalem where a brace of pedanda (high priests) are waiting to charge the Rangda masks and those of her ladies in waiting in a ceremony called mejaya-jaya. It is a moment of great pride for the village (one of my favourites in Bali due to the simple nobility of its folk) as it has taken months to get this far and the procession is smokin!
PURA DALEM SIDAKARYA, 2 P.M.
Under the temples banyan tree an honour guard has formed. It consists of priests bearing the pekeluh holy water, collected from Pura Agung (important temples) across the island, and the Barongs patih guardians. The patih will today be blessed in a special pewintenan ceremony aimed at increasing their sakti (spritual power).
Last week, I visited the fabulous Pura Karang Boma near Sawangan on the Nusa Dua peninsula with my Sidakarya friend Putu Suarsa. We went there to burn (megeseng) the mask hair and costume of the old Sidakaryas leyak dadu also known as Ratu Manik. The ceremony was held late at night in the very atmospheric Pura Taman Telelaga Waja, a coastal temple with a magic spring which is the birth place of the first of Sidakaryas leyak dadu witches. In Bali, demons and deities have family trees. Demonsand deities are also afforded similar respect. Today the Rangda dancers, the pragina, are wearing new striped costumes and spooky long-finger-nailed gloves. The brahman priests are high in their Veda pavilion performing the mejaya-jaya ceremony which puts the sakti, the spiritual charge, back into the Rangda. At this point, with the gamelan orchestra playing ethereally, the pragina, who will soon wear the newly refurbished Rangda masks (called pelawat), go into mild trance only to be pacified, moments later, by visits from the nearby Barong whose chattering teeth have a calming effect. They, the pragina, are then lead to the pedandas pavilion where, as Rangda, they face off with the pedanda who are furiously ringing bells, leaning forward on their mats for better thrust!
All this has happened in an atmosphere of serenity and intense devotion broken only by the arrival, unannounced, of an Australian film crew. The producer is frothing at the mouth with self importance; he is brandishing a plastic Kuta 2002 identity badge like a diplomatic passport (Oh the gall of the media crusaders! (I should talk!))
I manage to subdue the producer with some crystal shards and a fagpeace is restored.
Later that night, at midnight in fact, the newly charged Rangda are tested in three very spooky ngerehang rituals performed, simultaneously, in the villages graveyard, in the north-eastern corner of the Pura Dalem and in a corner of the Pura Desa, all without any artificial light.
I choose to attend the Pura Dalem ceremony during which, in complete darkness, Rangdas old pragina host flies into a wild trance and bolts, pell-mell, through the temple courtyard, only to smash into the locked temple door. After the spine-tingling ceremonies I see photographer Sean Thomas and Arif Rabik whose faces are ashen: theyve been in the graveyard and they look as if theyve seen a ghost. [More Photos]
25th November 2002: Barong goes walkabout.
Its now twelve days since the incredible ceremonies in Kuta and Sidakarya. Today the Sidakarya Barong and Rangda must visit (mapinton) all the three major temples of South BaliPura Dalem Sakenan, Pura Susunan Sakenan, and Pura Mertasari, near my studio-office in Sanur South, hard on the mangroves, where real estate developers roam.
I hear the procession passing, bigger than Ben Hur: Barong is the peoples prince, so all the villagers are out in force for this victory lap. I throw on my temple drag and hoof it over to the temple. As I arrive I see the rays of the setting sun bouncing off the Barongs mirrored pelt, splashing light over the drooping branches of the banyan tree in the temples forecourt.
I marvel at the devotion of the immaculately attired toddlersthe next generation of pragina, patih and pemangkuand feel comfort that the cycles of life and death in Bali are as well-oiled as they ever were.
Monday, December 2, 2002: Pemapagan ceremony at Pura Persimpangan, Suwung Gede, for the gods returning from Sakenan.
For the last 20 odd years I have written about this incredible festival (see the Great Kepaon Juggernaut, Stranger in Paradise October 2000) with its unique chariot and its constellation of gods.
Tonight I approach the temple foregrounds with heightened expectations as I have invited my house guests, Priya and Shirin Paul from Delhi, to witness the spectacle. I am shocked to find a temple court packed with devotees and gods who are not mine. Where has my festival gone? A group pray-in alla Presbyteriana, is in progress; and I am at a loss to explain to my guests what has happened. Finally one of the temple guards tells me that my gods (well, adopted gods), the Dalem group, are up the road, near the cemetery.
It all seems terribly irregular: my Indian guests must think Im a clod.
Ten minutes later I find the festival, transported into a brand new temple, which has been built surreptitiously following a feud between the palace and the southern serfs (mentioned in a recent Stranger-ibid.). The venue for the 800 year old pow-wow of the gods has now changed it seems.
In the new temple the royal family of Kepaon, the pangemong of this festival, are brimming with conceit: the atmosphere is gorgeous, the decorations and architecture are sublime, and the gods are happy. For the first time in a decade were soon heading north for the next act with the head god Ratu Agung strapped onto his chariot before 9 p.m. (Sienfeld on Indovision).
As we arrive at the palace temple, Pura Dalem Kepala, three kilometres to the north, the Barong Medwi welcomes the returning gods with a medley of kris dances, called Ngurek. The frenzied priests including two ladies: they are more amazing and animated than ever before, as if to impress my Indian guests. Suddenly I spy a cameraman climbing on the temple gatea redhead no lessshooting the whole show from behind the Barongs bottoms. Sacre bleu!
Later in the evening, in the royal chapel, as we are chewing the cud with the palace family, the redhead reappears again; this time with a Javanese guide in layers of faded batik, and starts bouncing around the tiny courtyard as if it were a squash court.
The family despatch me to find out what hes doing: Its a gringo face-off in the inner sanctum!.
Excuse me I start the temple custodian has asked me to ask you if youve reported to the panitia for permission to film.
Ive been here for eight hours, he offers, brusquely, Theyre used to me. And with that lame excuse tries to high five me, the heathen.
Whats happened to the media corps, I wonder, when they consider themselves above even the most basic Balinese courtesies. I put it down to Post-Kuta Bomb Media Distress Disorder: it seems that the media corps, like the hotel managers, now think they own the place.