Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, November 2006)

The Prince commits Satya Semaya in the finale of the Puputan ballet held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the mass suicide battle

Wheels within wheels

Sendratari Puputan Badung (1980) at the Arda Chandra Art Centre: the Stranger dances as Tuan Jeffringk, the Emissary of the Dutch Governor General. Winnie Wowor, founder of the original Kayu Api in Kuta (1972), is behind the Stranger.

Thirty years ago I danced the role of Tuan Jeffringk in the inaugural production of Puputan Badung, a dance-drama based on the horrific ritual mass suicide of the Denpasar royal family in front of the Dutch army in 1906.
I remember only the stage collapsing.
In 1977 the production moved to the colossal new Arts Centre in Abian Kapas and I hooked in a few foreigners to give an ‘international’ air to the performance. Dutch-Australian painter Ian Van Wieringen was recruited to play a pacifist cabin boy but, on the night, he appeared on stage, tired and emotional, wearing washing up gloves and carrying a plastic bag full of flowers, which he excitedly threw at Governor Mantra in the front row.
Winnie Wowor, a Dutch-Indonesian friend, veteran of the original Paris production of ‘Hair’ danced the role of the drill sergeant major. Never in the history of pantomime has a drill sergeant major done so many pirouettes!
Last month I was invited, as a veteran of the Balinese stage (“I’m still big, it’s the productions that got small”), to the 100th anniversary of the horrendous Puputan Badung suicide battle, which was held on Jalan Veteran in Denpasar.
It was a surreal afternoon – sitting in the grandstand with the descendents of a lot of mass suicide survivors watching a theatrical re-enactment of the horrific event.

• • •

Last month also saw another very special anniversary – a giant AMANCA WALI KRAMA ceremony celebrating the consecration of the mighty Jagatnatha Temple in Ketewel, near Sanur, 300 years ago.
 Celestial Nymphs danced at noon as piglets in Balinese dress and gobbled rice on priestesses’ heads.
Wheels were turning in my adopted family home in Kepaon also. It is approximately 30 years since the first OTON (Balinese Birthday) of Ida Bagus Surya, my godson. Ida Bagus is now fully grown and last month he held an OTON for his second child.
Now read on ……….

20 September 2006: Pagerwesi Holy Day, to Geria Kepaon and Puri Satria Denpasar for special anniversaries.
During the years when this column ran in the Sunday Bali Post, (1979 – 81) I took hundreds of photos of the ceremonies at the quiet little brahman hamlet where I lived. Some of the best photographs were of the rites de passages my Balinese brother, Ida Bagus Susila, regularly held for his children.

Dayu’s father, Ida Bagus Surya, gets his first haircut during his OTON ceremony

Ida Ayu Made Pradnyani Pramesuari (Dayu Anca) gets her first haircut from her maternal grandmother, a pedanda istri from Sibang Gede, during the Oton ceremony.

At the OTON (six months) ceremony of his first-born son, Ida Bagus Surya, for example, I captured a Merlin-like pedanda, high priest, dramatically cutting the infant boy’s hair for the first time. Today I return to the geria as a surrogate ‘dad’ (Ida Bagus Susila died of cancer in 1995) for the OTON of Ida Bagus Surya’s second-born daughter, Dayu Anca.
The wheels have turned somewhat in the compound: my Balinese ‘Mum’, leader of the ceremonies when I lived there, is now a great-grandmother and sits quietly, with all the noble-women, on a southern veranda while her daughter-in-law runs the show. The infant Dayu – looking radiant in a crystal necklace and orange frock – is raced through a regime of coming of age  rituals – her first  hair cut, first pray-in, first time touching the ground, first time selling cakes (she makes Rp. 250.000 profit in five minutes) and first poop on a pedanda’s lap. As surrogate dad, and in deference to my ‘crook’ knee, I am allowed to sit on a Raffles chair next to the pedanda, for prayers. Most annoyingly, an arriviste brahman niece keeps telling me what to do. Sensing a showdown, the Pedanda Istri – while incanting Vedic hymns – flicks me cempaka flowers as I run out, while deftly elbowing out of the way the offending dingbat Dayu. In this way, Balinese pedandas are like cheeky cardinals at topless bingo.

• • •

At 17.30 hrs I race to Denpasar for the 100 year anniversary of the Puputan Badung. I am terribly late but I am dressed to kill – black on brown tight turban (hibiscus rampant), Udaipur palace tie-dye saput, Harjonegoro batik, ‘Bakti of Solo’ black mules.  Jalan Veteran is closed to traffic. The cops let me park at the roundabout fountain (the fake gold buttons are working) and I stride up the strand – “Never mince in a frock” Linda Garland once told me – and bump into my old buddy Ida Bagus Gede Telaga from Geria Tegal whose great grand father was one of the two pedandas who committed Satya Semaya (ritual suicide) with their prince in 1906. The newly proclaimed ‘King of Denpasar’, Ida Tjokorda Ngurah Jambe Pemecutan is standing in the middle of the road; the train of his burgundy and gold batik curled around the microphone stand. He is just ending his speech, directed at a grandstand of dignitaries – some are chewing gum, more are nodding off.

The Prince’s royal consort, Anak Agung Ayu Oka Pemecutan

The Prince of Denpasar, Ida Tjokorda Ngurah Jambe Pemecutan (Ida Tjokorda Denpasar IX)

I Gede Parwata

Ni Wayan Sukanti

“Never again the life blood of any nation” cries the king. A field of Balinese dancers stirs in the grounds of the old Bali Hotel behind. I decide to ease back-stage. Quickly I bump into all my classmates from my years at Bali’s Dance Academy (me, the first one-man, all-male Scottish Legong). In their day they were all huge stars of screen and stage – Yang Pung, Made Cakra, Ni Ketut Arini Alit – and are now all famous choreographers, directors and teachers. Leaning against a low wall, lit by the setting sun, I spy the prima ballerina assoluta for today’s show, Ni Wayan Sukanti dressed in a magnificent costume befitting the wife of a king. She stands like Natalie Wood on the set of West Side Story.
And then it’s show time.
The parade starts with some ghastly canned new age music and KREASI BARU spectacles. Only after 30 minutes does the BALINESE gamelan beleganjur strike up and the Balinese dancers float down Jalan Veteran.
The audience snaps to attention: the real show is about to begin – Bali’s best classical dancers in a sendratari ballet based on the Puputan performed on the actual ‘killing fields’. The production is superb – the dancing exquisite. There isn’t a dry eye in the house when the queen stabs herself with her holy keris and falls on the corpse of her husband the king; Juliet-style.
I turn to painter Nyoman Gunarsa, founder of Museum Klasik Bali in Klungkung, who gives the show two thumbs up from his front row seat with all the royals.

I Dewa Putu Sedana in 1979 at the Jero Kubu, Batujimbar, Sanur

22nd September 2006: I have to slip out of town on the last flight
This evening I will have to leave the island as I’m not invited to the Ubud Readers’ and Writers’ Festival, nor to the opening of the stunning new Bulgari Hotel.
I am however invited this morning to Pura Jagatnatha Temple in Ketewel, by the chief gardener of the Bulgari Hotel, Dewa Putu Sedana, who is now kelian adat (head of adat ceremonies) at the temple; South Bali’s largest. Dewa started working for me as a trainee commando when he was 14 years old. In the past 25 years he has helped create the gardens at the Amandari, the Four Seasons in Jimbaran, the Bali Hyatt and David Bowie’s house in Mustique. He has survived various coups d’état and is now boss of PT. Indosekar, Bali’s oldest landscape company.
Today I am very proud of him in his role as chef de protocol at this amazing temple festival, which has brought together all the princes of the Gianyar regency.
At the temple I chat to many of my old gardeners – now priests in the inner sanctum – about the meaning behind the incredible ceremonies going on today. The pig and duck nibbling rice on the priestess’ head ceremony is obviously a ritual aimed at guaranteeing health among the livestock. The princes are planting pedagingan – clay vessels packed with metals and with semi-precious stones – in the shrine bases, to ‘activate’ the newly rebuilt shrines for another 30 years. A Topeng Sidakarya mask dance is also taking place in the midst of all of this, to compensate for any mistakes – such as dropped holy water canisters, or menstruating maidservants delivering coffee etc. I hope this mystical theatrical antidote is potent enough to forgive the crimes against theology and geometry committed by the temple’s custodians who have destroyed all the original exquisite temple and rebuilt it in fashionable klutzy black andesite stone.
Don’t get me started.

• • •

Soon the wondrous Ratu Dedari mask dance of the celestial nymphs comes out; the priests’ gaze is one of rapture as the tiny girls go through their whirls and twirls.

The Ratu Dedari twins dance a celestial pas de deux in the Jagatnatha temple’s inner sanctum
A pedanda writes holy aksara symbols on a yellow coconut to be used in the Amanca Wali Krama ceremonies at Pura Jagatnatha, Ketewel
A pemangku priest at the the Pemelaspasan Agung rites
Priests with livestock

The gleam of pride in the priests’ eyes is very moving. Normally they are very poker-faced in the face of such extraordinary beauty it is the glimmer of immense pride, and of confidence, in the knowledge that the great Ketewel ceremonies will survive for another 30 year generation, at the very least.

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