Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, October 2000)



Centuries ago a Hindu princess from the royal Pemecutan house in Denpasar married a distant cousin, a Moslem prince from Madura island off East Java. She had converted to Islam before marrying: the couple raised a family within the gracious confines of an 18th century Madurese palace. After her husband's death the princess returned to her ancestral home, as is the custom, and was given a courtyard in which to house her retinue of Madurese servants. One evening a palace guard surprised the princess whilst she was performing her evening prayers to Allah and, thinking she was engaged in black magic, put her to death. Upon hearing this news the King of Denpasar was horrified. He arranged for the princess' body to be buried in the royal graveyard and built a special temple-mausoleum in the Islamic style as a tribute to her. The Moorish temple, Pura Kramat, can be found today (in the Setra Badung in Tegal, Denpasar).

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The princess' servants were sent to the village of Kepaon with one of the King's brothers, a royal prince. The prince was given the job of representing Pemecutan at the important festivities held at Pura Sakenan on Turtle Island every seven months. The prince built a mini-palace, Jero Dalem Tanjung, and a temple the Pura Dalem Kepala. It seems that over the centuries one of the deified palace ancestors (see last months "Stranger In Paradise": "Beatification in Bali") became the divine spouse of the god of Sakenan temple on Turtle island Ratu (god) Dalem Kepala. The main diety of Pura Dalem Kepala is the offspring from this divine dalliance.

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Fast forward 250 years: the mini-palace is still mini and the temple still much reverred, if a bit dilapidated, but the small band of Moslem retainers has grown into a 20,000-strong suburb called Kampung Islam Kepaon with the biggest mosque in Bali. The palace recently decided to regain some of its former lustre and restore the prestige of its temple gods by reviving the great chariot, the royal pedati coach, used in the 18th and 19th centuries to convey Ratu Dalem Kepala back from Turtle island to his home at the Kepaon palace temple. In 1999 Denpasar's head of Police, I Dewa Made Suharya, a Kepaon son and devotee of the temple, donated the funds for the restoration of the chariot. It is not clear whether the chariot ceremony, the only one of its kind in Bali, was inspired by the famous Jaggarnath chariot ceremony in Puri, Orrissa, India, or whether it relates to the house of Pemecutan's history as pony-traders (thus the whip, "pecut", in Pemecutan (see photo, top right). The chariot was completed in June 2000. The sacred pair of water buffaloes-a black male, called Biasmerana, from a white father and black mother, and his spouse, Anggrek Ulan, from a black father and a white mother-were dutifully married on 6th August 2000, in a small ceremony, witnessed by the Hon. Harry Fane, and Mrs. Tessa Fane, representing the House of Windsor.
On Monday 21st August the holy beasts of burden, dressed to the nines, pulled the chariot through the villages of Kepaon, Islam Kepaon and Dukuh to Suwung Gede, to the amazement of all who witnessed.
The chariot driver, I Wayan Timbung, a good-looker in the Bombay Matinee idol strain, wore large blue sapphire rings on each hand. The chariot was parked at the Pura Persimpangan temple (a half-way house for the gods on their return from Turtle Island) waiting for the conclusion of the evening's ceremonies. The trance rituals, called Medatengan, were in full swing when I arrived with a gaggle of trance groupies at 9 p.m. The priest of Ratu Agung (son of the god of Sakenan) was in full furry trance, climbing on the backs of three other 'parked' priests in a symbolic enactment of a chariot ride: Not the usual order of events. On the same platform the prince of Kepaon's brother, a trance medium, but not in trance, engaged the priest of Ratu Agus (a great grandchild of the god of Sakenan), who was in trance, in a battle of will over the remaining order of proceedings. Stranger regulars will recall the Kepaon palace's ongoing battles with upstart priests from Bualu, a former fiefdom of Kepaon which has developed airs since it got its Hilton and its Grand Hyatt. Well, in tonight's battle, Bualu had it's day-Ratu Agus, 'inside' the priest's body, was carried shoulder high to the parked pedati where he was placed in a lotus position, inside the roofed chariot.The arca (votive statue) of Ratu Agung was tied to the chariots yolk like a green dragon maidenhead.
At this point three marching gamelan troupes kicked in and the procession sped north to the mother temple. Along the route onlookers were agog at the beauty of the unique spectacle. I carried Biasmerana's potty. None of the village elders could recall having seen this procession. The wheels that had, for over 80 years, been parked in the temple's forecourt had grown wings!

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