Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, June 2001)

Generations of Graciousness

This month I was a blonde slave in Delhi: I took a team of Balinese commando decorators to New Delhi to do Bali-style wedding decorations for an old chum. It was a harrowing experience. Things just do go wrong in Mother India (remember that blimp): the cempakas arrived char-broiled; the lottii were limp; and battalions of Bombay aunties were threatening with kilometers of fairy lights. But everyone was so NICE, and the Balinese, working like Trojans, ran rings around their local co-workers.
The socialites were mixed in their praise: "Not enough lurex, coloured candles, smoke machines, etc". (for me anything less than homage leaves me luke warm). But the cogniscenti, lead by the eminence grise of tassle-swinging (High Punjab Division), Martand Singh "grandson of the Maharaja Kalputra and son of the Late Sita Devi "Pearl of India" (and friend of Wallis Simpson)" pronounced it "lovely and appropriate".
We were thrilled.

More thrilling, though, was the experience of doing some major artwork purely for the pleasure of doing it: "Ng’ ayah" devotional work as the Balinese call it. "AYAH", the act of devotion, comes in many forms: as the donation of time for a temple clean-up, as the act of doing three years design work for Jakarta conglomerates during the "reign of terror" and then being ripped off (the Balinese regularly modify ceremonial expressions for secular use); and, in its extreme form, stabbing oneself with a kris knife in front of a Barong, with cymbals crashing.

I’ve often been on the receiving end of "AYAH", as a celebrant, or a photographer, but never, of course, the ring-master. The scale of decorations for the Delhi wedding were approximately the same as those for an odalan (festival) at a small Balinese temple—spread, in this case, over two ballrooms, a vestibule and a Taj hotel drive.

I suppose I now feel I’ve earned my seconder’s stripe, ex-officio, in the Balinese decoration department.

What I learned in Delhi was far more important however.

I learned that Delhi is a city of refugees, with an "Eton and Oxford" Urdu-speaking elite who possess the most refined intelligence imaginable. I learned about "generations of graciousness" that have bred such a civilized and worldly society (read William Dalrymple’s brilliant "City of Djinns") and I learned to love the Balinese for what they are abroad­super human! While considered quaint "tribals" by most of the Delhi natives (who say "Neps" and "Bangs" like the English say "Packis" and "Wops", in the most endearing way), the Bali team out-strode and out-dazzled (with baton-twirling multi-tasking) Delhi’s finest. And then re-appeared to play gamelan and act as guards of honour.
I was sooo proud and sooo exhausted that when the police band struck up "It’s a long way to Tipparary" for the groom’s arrival something Pukka exploded in me and tears gushed down my cheeks.

I’d like to thank the people at TATA for this award, my manager Mr. Nyoman Miyoga, and my image consultant Mz Pooja Braria, of the glorious Taj Palace hotel Delhi, who made it all possible.

•            •              •    

7 May 2001: To Borobudur in Central Java for the procession held on the Buddha’s birthday (played down for 30 years but recently revived by the Buddist WALUBI faction, a Soeharto-era lobby group with, I’m told, healthy links to NIKE).
A brief pit-stop (read bear-pit stop) in Bali to deflect a few developer-droids was followed by a blissful two days at Dalem Jiwo, my graces and favours’ compound overlooking Borobudur in the sensational Amanjiwo hotel in Central Java.

Gotta sing! Gotta dance! I mean those power colonnades and scrumptious locals genuflecting at the garlic bread NO WONDER THEY JUST GOT CONDE NAST’S No. 1 IN THE WORLD AWARD FOR SERVICE.
In fact, Macho photographer Tim Street-Porter had timed his elephant shoot to co-incide with the Buddha’s birthday (not strictly U-Hindu)—I was just there for scale. Decorator du jour Jaya Ibrahim turned up too and before long we were WHIRLING around the rotunda­like Eleanor Powells, in Burberry undies, and black Javanese mules.

Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! We shrieked gayly as, Omsk-Siberia-style, Jaya high-kicked at the light bulbs in their neat ordered rows.

The Borobudur procession was less exciting. Sadly removed from reality, 10,000 North Coast Chinese in fancy dress walked the three kilometers from Candi Mendut, to Candi Pawon, to Candi Borobudur clutching Tuberose corms, the gladioli of Asia.

That was one opinion.

"Like deer in hunting season" was another.
I objected to that. Java is the world’s most populace island (95,000,000). There are a few free-range radicals. (This was, after all, the month when, Insya-Allah, Jakarta didn’t go up in smoke. (Thank Huey too because an unseasonal rainstorm doused the 40,000 (not the expected 400,000) Gus Dur enthusiasts.)) But the Central Javanese are the most refined people on earth, Nuwun Sewu, and do not look at Buddhist celebrants as target practice!!!

Wasn’t it the great Moghul ruler Timor the lame of Delhi who, gazing southwards from his palace minaret, proclaimed to his consort, "Just think, Doris (his favorite wife was from Salzburg), there is nothing (culture-wise) between here and Central Java"?

It’s a true story.

And it was a very moving procession—the holy abbots trapped between the phalanxes of Megawati’s paramilitary (black-shirts with hearts), the megaphones blaring recorded mantras, the honour guard in stunning central javanese costume carrying the offerings. Most of the celebrants looked like Semarang aerobics club’s progress parade (Ind.: pawai pembangunan)­to an eye honed on Balinese elegance in devotion.At the temple a rather exotic "Holiday on Ice"-style stage (ours for Delhi was better, I thought) obliterated any view of the world’s largest and most soul-shudderingly beautiful candi.

The abbots and monks peeled off to the left to continue their rhythmic chants of the holy mantras, which were barely discernible below the din of 20,000 mega watts of Tammy Wynette singing Silent Night, in Indonesian.

Two lion dances filed past in the failing light. A beautiful old man in red chinese pyjamas strode proudly into view carrying the traditional red and gold lantern.

For me he personified the spirit of the Chinese community trying to keep alive their traditions, despite huge obstacles.

The tradition of the Mendut-Pawon-Borobudur-both a kejawen (ancient Java) and a Buddhist ritual procession—goes back a thousand years. The name of my adopted village in Bali is Kepaon: it is probably derived from this ceremonial procession, which was adopted and adapted by the Balinese during the Majapahit era.


In the same way the Central Javanese probably appropriated woven curtains of Jasmine flowers, called Jali (see photos opposite page "ARTWORKS-ACCESSORIES"), from the Moghul empires based in Delhi during the same era.

It was a month of discovery, tracing the footsteps of ancient Delhi-Bali processions, while spinning fresh wheels in "Bali Style" ruts.

Viva Amanjiwa.

On, On The Delhi-Bali bridge.

Wedding, 29 April 2001
Wedding, 29 April 2001
    Society Ladies    

Bali Style in Delhi, April 2001

Bali Style wedding Team : Made Wijaya (Designer), Wayan Legawa (Team Leader), Dewa Oka Pujana (Star) Wayan Suarja, Dewa Ketut Ardika and A.Agung Ngurah

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