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Published in Now! Bali, May 2013



A Kepaon noble drummer shows off his whip tattoo, trademark of the Pemecutan family.

On the Road to Sakenan

I was at the Turtle Island (Sakenan) turn-off last month, waiting for a band of village gods to arrive down the bypass. To kill the time I chatted to a pair of singing traffic policemen who were waiting to help the ‘processioners’ and their gods to cross the busy road. I asked them their opinion of the “Bali Police Corruption” video on Youtube (2,000,000 hits). They were embarrassed about the bust and their colleagues’ subsequent fall from grace but were outraged, at the same time, about the “sting operation” style of the videonistas.
When I got home I posted this on Facebook:
“Spare a thought for Bali’s traffic cops scooting around the island in Soviet Era uniforms trying to make do with 100 cc bikes as they police the unpolice-able. Roads are poorly designed, traffic lights are often broken, drivers are badly disciplined and gods and demon processions come from every direction all day long. This they do on a paltry salary of $150/month.

The culture of extortionist road-blocks is deplorable but it’s not as if anyone’s getting rich, and it does help a clogged court system and a thread- bare pension plan.
The very busted cop has now been relieved of his duties despite having a family to support and wallows in Discovery Mall, I believe, outside  RIPCURL, where he is an undercover store detective and used surfboard salesman. I mean anyone who watches that vile KOMPENI (colonial era attitude) video cannot help but be impressed by the charm of  the policemen, the interiors of his sentry box/salon and the infectiousness of his smile. “100,000 for beers, 100,000 for government” should be the new motto of the constabulary I reckon.”
The posting generated well over 60 ‘Likes’. (See my You Tube video “Diskusi Polisi Korupsi” http://youtu.be/YVWlZ7CM1uA)


Dirk Gastmans from Auroville, India in the main Pura Sakenan court on Kuningan Eve.

5 April 2013: Kuningan Eve
Back on the road to Sakenan I spy Mark Keating, Sanur-based philanthropist and builder. He is struggling over a planter box from hell on the median strip (you’d think one of the engineers at the department of ugly planters boxes would remember that 5,000 villagers bearing gods and gamelans need to turn south and get across the road). Mark reminds me that it has been 40 years since we first sailed to Bali and I first saw the processions to Turtle Island-in those days the gods moved through the mangroves and then took boats to the island.
These days one runs a gauntlet of coloured chicklet vendors, real estate developers handing out pamphlets, sultry surfy pecalang (Hindu vigilantes) and Spongebob balloon vendors before reaching the giant white gates (new) and, shortly after, the ancient 15th century coral temple complex.
This year the temple complex looks more beautiful than ever with gold and silver lamé decorations in the Imee Marcos wedding style so popular in Bali this season.

For a more detailed coverage watch my video: On the Road to Turtle Island "NGIRING BATHARA": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0xHabA-o8g

‘Liberace-esque’ is the new ‘natural’ in Balinese temple decorations it seems.
I suspect it comes from too much posing like Paris Hilton at malls but I am not sure. For the moment the celebrity wedding décor is only skin deep: ‘underneath’ the ceremonies are still authentic and the devotees’ attitudes restrained and respectful.
Inside the temple there is talk of rebuilding the pondok (huts) in the fields adjacent so that the royal families who accompany the South Bali gods (for the great part affiliated with a royal palace or two) have somewhere to sleep.
Grand old Mangku Sakenan died last year and has this year been replaced in the Pura Dalem Sakenan by his son-in law.
I sit next to a family form Amed in East Bali who have never been to Sakenan before (Home-based spiritual tourism has surged since the movie “Eat pay Leave”).  They leave the temple carrying two giant Spongebob balloons and talking about the big pink poo-bah who was chatting with the priests.

6 April 2013, Kuningan Holiday: To Pura Penembahan Badung Temple, Denpasar, with some friends
We arrive late and miss the teenagers “battle of the woven bits” but do get an audience with his grace the Raja. One of my guests, French writer Elizabeth Inandiak is in Bali to do a story for French Geo magazine on Balinese legends and is intrigued by the good Pemecutan Raja’s assertion that Queen Victoria was once carried up the Himalayas by Gurkhas.


From left: Elizabeth Inandiak, Willem Bake, Cokorda Pemecutan XI, a courter and Dirk Gastmans

Legend has it that this temple was founded in the 15th century by a family of Javanese–Hindu nobles who grew into the mighty Pemecutan clan (the whip tattoo on this article’s lead photo is their symbol).

8 April 2013: PEMAPAGAN Holiday in Deep South Bali
My legend-chaser house guest is now hot on the heels of legends about ‘divine unions’, particularly those between the deified ancestors of Bali royals and some of the island’s important gods.

We know that the 19th Century Cokorda Sakti Kesiman was great mates with the god of Pura Luhur Uluwatu and Dewi Danu that the goddess of Lake Batur, had relations with a 10th century Balinese Raja (as popularized in the “Bali Agung” theatrical production at the Safari Park which Elizabeth found fascinating) but tonight we see extraordinary evidence of the still strong spiritual ‘pull’ of the Pemecutan clan.


Elizabeth Inandiak walks with Ratu Agung’s pedati on the way to Pura Dalem Kepala

The Pura Dalem Kepala, temple in Kepaon village, which hosts the climax of the gods processional return form Turtle Island is ‘run’ by the adjacent palace Jero Lanang Kepaon, a Pemecutan vassal.

Images from PEMAPAGAN at Pura Dalem Kepala

Tonight the legendary Barong of Medui, patron saint of West Coast Surf shops and patisserie, is here to greet the return of Ratu Agung, son of the god of Sakenan, whose statue is tied to the yoke of a water buffalo drawn chariot, called a pedati.


A trance-master from Medui Villages offers Ngayah to the head of Kepaon palace, A.A. Ketut Suwirya.

As the atmosphere is whipped up by clanging gamelan cymbals the Barong’s patih (defenders) fly into spooky trance and all perform an act of allegiance in front of  the palace head who stands, stoic in front of the flashing daggers. The kris-dancer perceives that the spirit of Ratu Dalem Kepala, son of Dalem Sakenan, has come into the palace head;  A.A. Ketut Suwirya was also in mild trance with eyes occasionally bulging. This fascinating  'side ritual' only started three years ago, after Agung  Suwirya was elected family head.
(see photos above).
It’s the stuff of legends.



 


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