Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, December 2006)

The people’s prince fashion the Puspa Lingga
spirit effigy of Dayu Alit

Close-up of the Pererai goddess face on Dayu Siti’s
Puspa Lingga spirit effigy

People's Prince rides again

Last month I learned that there are now 200,000 expatriates living in Bali (of whom only 27 read this column), that ‘Wayang Kulit Trauma Counselling’ is now out on DVD and that there is a huge, almost pulp- fiction rift between the two main royal palaces in Denpasar.
I have decided to devote this column to a story on the latter.
Denpasar, like Venice, has three royal houses: Puri Pemecutan, Puri Denpasar (Satria) and Puri Kesiman. There is a fourth Royal palace, Puri Agung Jero Kuta, the saintly palace, which runs the Uluwatu temple festivals and which is descended from the Dalem Klungkung not the Arya Kenceng line.
Arya Kenceng, also known as Arya Damar, was an East Javanese Hindu prince who embarked upon various Hindu ‘crusades’ as far as Sumatra, before arriving in Bali during the 14 th century near present day Kerambitan village on the west coast. His descendents set up palaces all over south Bali over the ensuing 400 years; including royal palaces in Tabanan and Denpasar. These were famed as much as for their architecture as for the crusader-like qualities of their rulers – they mixed princely valour with religious fervour.
Puri Kesiman, on the eastern outskirts of Denpasar, was the prettiest palace of them all and was famous for its Poleng Kesiman warriors and for Tjokorda Sakti Kesiman – the great grand father of the present day ruler – who ‘communed’ with the spirit of Uluwatu temple. He was also a great friend of Kuta-based 19 th century Danish merchant Mads Lange.
All of Denpasar’s palace families are very active in the community but none more so, I feel, than the Pemecutan Royal family, the most macho in the land and the most loved.
Vassal princes of the Pemecutan line – all with whip tattoos on their chests – can be found in villages as far flung as Bedulu, Seminyak, Tampaksiring, Blambangan (East Java) and even Jakarta (the Bata shoe-shop czar!) In all of these ‘Pemecutan-affiliated’ villages the nobles are the pangemong custodians of the temples and to a great extent ‘defenders of the faith.’ My adopted village of Kepaon is one such village. My liege lord, for example, is both a temple trance medium (sadeg) and a ruling prince.
The Pemecutan families’ titular head, Anak Agung Ngurah Manik Parasara (Ngurah Manik), has been a star in this column since 1979 when he danced the pendet indokrupuk with a tired and emotional Diana Darling at his family royal chapel on the tenth full moon of that year.
In 1981 I covered his father’s cremation: the whole of Denpasar was closed down for the funeral procession. Since that ceremony, all of Bali has worn black – the Pemecutan house colours – at all cremations; so dramatic was the effect of an urban ocean of all black on that day.

Rsi Bujana: Baris Punia dancers present gifts to Ida Tjokorda Pemecutan XI (Anak Agung Ngurah Manik Parasara), the people’s prince (centre) and to Ida Pedanda Ketut Mas, from Intaran, Sanur after the completion of the Padma spirit-effigy making ritual.

I used to visit the palace late at night in those days and hang out with the old ‘Adi Yasa’ Homestay crowd (the ksatria beatniks). If Ngurah Manik or any of his many brothers came by I would cower politely in the Balinese manner.
It was at that time that I became aware of his incredible charisma and people’s prince status. He was defender of the faith and head of the Soehartoist Golkar Party, and a babe magnet of Hefnerian reputation. He would attend a body washing (of one of his thousands of cousins) at 1600 hours, for example, then play Mussolini at a Ben Hur style Golkar rally, and then head off to the ‘Three Brothers Inn’ in Kuta for a tango lesson.
Whenever his open-sided military style transport with matinee idol driver went past, my knees would go weak.
It was Ngurah Manik’s family who were the first on the scene after the Kuta Bomb as they are always the first to quell any community unrest.
It is shocking that the Pemecutans weren’t invited to the 100 th anniversary of the Puputan Badung, the commemoration of the Denpasar palace’s mass-suicide in front of Dutch troops in 1906. And it is shocking to lately hear some Ubud Tjokorda nobles saying that the Satria palace is “more important in Denpasar than Pemecutan.”
“What would they know?” A Ngurah Manik relative cracked when I shopped this around, “in Ubud, even the ducks are called tjokorda!
This is rude and uncalled for.
The stranger’s money is on the people’s prince, however. The one who’s always there at the ceremonies, every ceremony, no matter how small; squeezing bottoms, no matter how large, in the ancient ksatria manner (check-out chicks used to scramble, for example, when the late Sultan of Solo went to a Matahari Department store).
Ngurah Manik can suck the air out of a ceremonial courtyard with every entrance.
Now read on:

19 th October 2006 : to Jero Dalem Tanjung Palace in Kepaon for the soul-purification rites, called Penileman, of my late liege lord Anak Agung Made Raka Kaba.
I have raced back from Dubai – the great Plastic Paradise – for this important ceremony.
It is nine a.m.
On reaching the small Jero Dalem Tanjung palace I am immediately struck by the compact exquisiteness of the bancingah compound: the bancingah is a temporary ‘fairground’, constructed of only the purest building materials – yellow bamboo and white betel nut palm. It has been purpose -built in the palace’s forecourt and elaborately decorated for this occasion. My adopted family members – the village’s Brahmana clan – are sitting high up in the high priests’ pavilion, running the show. Over the past few years this family have grown from a small offering-selling outfit into a serious concern, as purveyors of Hindu ceremonies and Brahmanic rituals to all of South Denpasar!
I am exceedingly proud.
Suddenly Ngurah Manik appears with his statuesque wife. The crowd parts. The royal couple – immaculately dressed in silk brocades with big rings flashing – climb the ramp to the priest’s pavilion and prepare to fashion spirit-effigies, in a ritual called ngajum puspa lingga.
I spend the next half hour in ‘papal paparazzi heaven’ – photographing the inner circle at a Hindu beatification.
The setting is one of extraordinary beauty, gamelan plays in the background, the light is perfect.
I am amazed at how dextrous the people’s prince is.
“In Bali even the rajas are artists” I blurt out like some goosey sycophant.
No-one laughs.

Faces at the Penileman, jero Dalem Lanang Tanjung, Kepaon

At the end of the effigy-fashioning exercise the seven beautiful puspa are lined up in the centre of the raised platform. The royal patron and the pedanda high priest sit cross-legged at the northern end of the line.
The high priest starts some Vedic chants. Then suddenly he is stopped, by Ngurah Manik, with a sharp rap to the elbow. No-one, not even a high priest it seems, jumps the gun where the deified ancestors of Pemecutan nobles are concerned!
Eventually the Siwa-ite rites begin: in the court below, a pair of Baris Punia dancers does a celestial warrior WALI dance. Towards the end of the dance, the warriors are given gift boxes which they wave around, following the music. Then they march up the ramp of the high pavilion and present the gifts to the prince and his high priest.
Ngurah Manik is delighted; the dancers grovel and scrape, radiating joy, before moving off. This dance-cum-gift-giving ritual, called Rsi Bujana is the Hindu world’s equivalent of the gifting of a bouquet of flowers (or a Fabergé egg) for visiting royalty.
It is the first time I have seen it staged with Baris dancers – it is very moving.

• • •

20 th October 2006 : A dawn procession to the sea
Penileman processions are the most enjoyable of all the cremation-related (Pitra Yadnya) rituals.
This morning the air is fresh and cool. Everyone is exhausted, having been up all night, so I won’t have to run to keep up with the naturally boisterous Balinese. Joyful beleganjur music accompanies the bukur tower on its long procession to the sea.

The nine gold rings used in the Titi Mas ritual-a ritual which symbolizes the golden holy bridge to the celestial sphere

I have photographed over 500 Kepaon village cremation processions over the years; they get more and more creative with every passing soul. Today the bukur tower features a yellow and white swan on its rear, the byre borne by a raucous gang of boyish bearers. Their big trick today is to lift the byre above their heads, on the trot, while exposing tanned tummies.
It is a generous if not a wholly appropriate gesture.
“Gung Aji (the deceased) likes a joke,” they all scream.

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