Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, September 2007 )

Lissa Coote and a priestess at Pura Ratu Agung Penembahan Dalem Sakenan

Imminent threat of Hinduisation?

Last month, I was half of an honour guard waiting outside a temple for the Prince of Pemecutan, Ngurah Manik Parasara, the matinee idol for all of South Bali.

Ngurah Manik was late – he had got wind of the early arrival of his rival, tidy Cokorda Satria, the other ‘King of Denpasar’ – so he decided to make a few pit stops at pretty soup vendor stalls on the way.

Biding my time as the roadside gamelan played, I got to chatting about ceremonial affairs with my host, a humble lawyer-priest, whose son is now in Italy massaging someone.

“Last week I was in Yogyakarta,” he volunteered, “arranging a Hindu cremation for the Royal House of Hamengku Buwono.”

Now, my readers will know that the Sultans of Java are all staunch Muslims, but it appears that a Hamengku Buwono ancestor, from the Hindu Era (14th – 17th century), has been rattling in his grave, demanding a Hindu cremation. My priestly friend explained how he had helped arrange a Javo-Balinese cremation -1-800-Dial-a-Pyre- replete with a procession to Parang Tritis beach, a bull sarcophagus float (lembu) and a cremation on virgin palace land (the deceased had been deemed sakti (holy), and this was allowed). Two high priests, and 300-odd followers (mostly Balinese), went to Yogyakarta for the ceremonies, at the conclusion of which a small candi (Hindu shrine) was built in the kraton palace grounds – to be the earthly abode of the newly deified ancestor spirit.

Registering my surprise at this story the priest next told me about General Wiranto (the scourge of Timor Leste) and the five-chicken exorcism. In 1998, on the night of President Soeharto’s fall, General Wiranto had flown an air force Hercules-load of Balinese Pecaruan (netherworld appeasing) offerings to the MONAS obelisk in Freedom Park, Jakarta. (This column once carried a report on how General Wiranto’s son had been cured of a mystery illness in a temple in Gelgel, Klungkung ten years ago, so the story made some sense).

The difference between Malaysian and Indonesian (particularly Javanese) Islam is that Indonesians still revere mysticism. The Kejawen (ancient Javanese) side of everything Javanese is this archipelago’s version of Sufism; popular in those areas of the Indian sub-continent once touched by the Moguls.

Now read on:

2nd July 2007: Architect Peter Muller celebrates his 80th birthday with 80 friends at his two fabulous creations, the Bali Oberoi and the Amandari.
“None of his women ever complained” bellows the herbal suffragette Linda Garland during a televised debate on ‘Is Peter Muller the sexiest 80-year-old man alive?’ held by Bali TV in tandem with Carole Muller’s marathon ‘Roll to Losari, Central Java’ in support of the historic event.

Old 1970s Bali hands –Adrian Zecha, architect Kerry Hill and wife Ruth, Oz art icon Wendy Whiteley, Idanna Pucci, Warwick Purser, Chris Carlisle and wife Katherine – and some 60 others, including Peter’s children Suzy and Peter Jnr. and grandson Joshua, gather at two gorgeous locations on consecutive nights – beachside at the Oberoi, ravine-side at the Amandari – to fête the old fogey; now partly deaf but still keen. At the end of the Oberoi party, Muller – a confirmed Bloomsbury Buddhist – dances the Watusi with any buxom blonde still up for it.

“Memoires of a Geezer”
Famed Architect Peter Muller’s 80th Birthday Bash, in Bali
Click image to enlarge

Peter Muller and Adrian Zecha






















CAPTION: 01. Peter Muller and grandson, Joshua Flowers; 02. Wendy Whitely and Mandy Wright arriving at the Amandari Party; 03… Daniele Le Clerq, Wendy Whitely; 04. Juno Jeemes, Sir Warwick Purser; 05. Suzy Muller, Dick Cobden; 06. Carolla Vooges, Peter Muller; 07. Diana Darling and friend; 08. Jennifer Clair, James Murdoch; 09. Chubby Chandra sings at the Oberoi Party; 10. Suzy Muller; 11. Chris Ingolby; 12. Peter Muller; 13. Idanna Pucci, Putu Suarsa; 14. Mathew Johnson, Astari, Pintor Sirait; 15. Wendy Whitely, Linda Garland; 16. Joshua Flowers; 17. Mandy Wright, Michael Johnson, Lissa Coote, Dick Cobden, (in front) Margot Johnson; 18. Valery Ireland, Peter Muller, Carole Muller, Ibu Siti; 19. Chris Carlesle and friends; 20. Peter Muller and Nyonya; 21. Stranger and Peter Muller.

Peter Muller in Cover

Peter Muller in movie

Monday, 9th July 2007: The Pemapagan ceremonies are held in South Bali
Walking home from Turtle Island with the Kepaon-Mogan-Suwung Gede gods – plus their attendant gamelan orchestras and thousands of devotees – I receive an SMS warning me of an imminent threat of a terrorist act in Bali. The SMS advises me to stay away from crowds.

Immediately I hold my umbrella higher and urge the gorgeously dressed pilgrims to stay tight-packed and in-file; the gleaming, golden phalanx of incredulous beauty and devotion pushes through the ghettoes and rubbish dumps that now line the processional route: Turtle Island – Kepaon.

I have joined this procession of the gods twice a year for 30 years now and every year, the very act – the smooth progress of the holy phalanx of the undeterable driving through the urban sprawl of the uncontrollable – becomes more and more important.
It re-asserts the indigenous Balinese populace’s position as beauty warriors and crusaders for peace within urban communities that are now more than 50 percent non-Balinese

Rites for the arrival of Tjokorda Satria (Ida Tjokorda Ngurah Jambe Pemecutan IX) at Pura Ratu Agung Penembahan Dalem Sakenan temple in Suwung Gede
Two young devotees at Pura Persimpangan, Suwung Gede, on the evening of Pemapagan, 9th July 2007

• • •

At the temple, I sit with the priests; noblemen and women from Denpasar’s royal houses file into this unusual, tiny, ‘halfway-house’ temple, called Pura Persimpangan – this is the ‘night of nights’ for the Sakenan-Pemecutan gods.

One priest, a Gusti (ksatria) from nearby Mogan village, has arrived this morning from Jakarta where he tends the flock at the Rawamangun Hindu-Bali temple. I quiz him about the Yogyakarta cremation (he has not heard) and he tells me about the massive re-consecration rite planned for the 17th of July at the ancient Javanese Hindu temple, Candi Cetho, near Solo, Central Java.

Java seems to be enjoying a Hindu restoration. Followers of the ancient Javanese faith are now being welcomed into the Hindu-Dharma religion rather than taking shelter with the ‘state religion’ (Until recently, most Kejawen believers put Islam on their identity cards, for convenience). It seems that the Departments of Tourism and Archaeology have finally agreed to give the Hindu temples back to the Hindu Population.

In Java, the young, dynamic lady Mayor of Karanganyar (Rina Iriana) – who often wears a striking sky blue, satin, batik-patterned Muslim headdress and matching jacket as her uniform – sees the reconsecration of Candi Cetho as a positive development. “Now all the Balinese and Hindu Javanese can pray together,” she was quoted as saying recently.

She even put a local Christian priest in charge of Candi Cetho’s security for the festivals.

17th July 2007: Anggoro Kasih Agung (Holy Tuesday on the Javanese calendar), Ngenteg Linggih ceremonies at Candi Cetho, Central Java
I dispatch two Balinese cub reporters to Central Java to cover this historical event. They report hourly via SMS.
“Ida Bagus has disappeared into the Ladies Police Academy” sort of thing, to start with ….and then, very moving eyewitness accounts of the Javanese and Balinese gamelans playing simultaneously and harmoniously, albeit in different courts, and of the Bupati Karangayar’s arrival, in her shiny powder blue Muslim outfit, flanked by two Balinese high priests.

Candi Cetho, one of the last temples built by King Brawijaya V (the last king of Hindu Majapahit before it became Muslim in the early 16th century) was probably built on the site of an ancient pre-Hindu terraced sanctuary.

Click image to enlarge

In the late Majapahit period, temple architecture returned to a more aboriginal or Javanese style. Candi Cetho, and its sister temple nearby, Candi Sukuh, are classic examples. The temple as it is today (dedicated to the popular Goddess Dewi Saraswati, the Goddess of Culture and the Arts) shows the results of a radical restoration done by General Soedjono Hoemardani in the early 1990s when President Soeharto and his family were frequent visitors.

25th June 2007: A sign from the gods
Just as the billboards for formulaic villas threaten to eat up the remaining sky, a gorgeous new book arrives – ‘Under the Volcano – the Story of Bali’ by respected Australian journalist Cameron Forbes. Forbes was sent to Bali two years ago to write a sensational epic on the Bali Nine but instead has fortunately opted to deliver a well-balanced overview of the Island’s history, people and culture. It is written in a charming, chatty, informative way.

Bali needs all the help it can get after all the stuff and nonsense since the dreaded bombs and the Schapelle Corby ‘soap opera.’ Sensibly, Forbes chose tales of this column’s diva assoluta dancing dukun Mangku Meme to open his book!

Bravo Cameron!


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