Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, December 2007 )

Winning New Age Hearts and Minds

There’s a scary new advertisement on the wall in the arrivals area at Ngurah Rai airport. It is immaculately designed and immediately visible – after the plate of plastic spaghetti at the top of the escalator – as one descends into the jolly, neo-Nuremburg atmosphere of the immigration hall. I say ‘scary’ as for me the expensively-styled advertisement, with the little blond kiddies gambolling in the shallow stream under an eco-friendly bamboo bridge (, says the advertisement’s title) suggests, in a spooky way, the end of the Balinese’ era of owning their own island.
I had a similar reaction to a recent, widely-published ad which featured a silhouette of a pendet temple dancer entitled ‘live entertainment’ (see below).
The Australian media have taken Bali to new depths recently as well.
“Bargains fade into the sunset on reborn Bali – Foreign buyers are back with a vengeance,” trumpeted The Weekend Australian Financial Review last month, referring to the end of the carpet-bagger free-fall that followed Bali Bombs One and Two, as they are known in Australia.

Hongkong’s Review Asia magazine recently ran an article entitled ‘Killing Fields in Bali’, with the hideously offensive title floating above a photograph of thirty Balinese praying on a beach. “Marian Carroll looks into the story of the island’s unabated building of resorts and villas,” the sub-title said, “and the local community’s bid to halt the steady obliteration of its famed rice farms.” (No mention of the Balinese or their culture).
One Bali-based developer, Nils Wetterlind now refuses to build on rice field land: he has seen a vision of Laksmi, the Hindu Goddess of Commerce, hovering over the arid bukit peninsula – the stomping ground of the sea-view crazed.
“I quite like Bali” says the straight-talking Swede, “and I want Bali to be still around for my kids.” (Do the Balinese want Nils still around for their kids, one needs to ask).
On the 18 th October 2007, the Bali Post ran an article entitled ‘Say No to Bad Investors’.

“In order to avoid conflicts due to primordial issues, the Balinese are expected to take distinctive steps in dealing with investment interests in Bali. The Balinese have been facing a situation where pragmatic economic interests are very dominant. A lot of cultural assets, such as temples, people’s properties and water absorption areas are massively destroyed.”
 “The Balinese must dare to say no against the investors who have no sensitivity on Balinese culture assets,” said Drs. KG Dharma Putra, chairman of Study Group, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Udayana, on Wednesday (17/10). He is very concerned with the situation that investors are building in Bali massively using the power of their money and political connection.”

“Well you can dumb down Bali, but you can’t dumb down the Balinese,” remarked my Dutch friend, a retired banker.

• • •

Last month I got a blast of what the Balinese do best – that is, being Balinese.
My adopted home village of Kepaon, near Kuta, had its once-in-a-century Pedudusan Agung ceremony in its main temple. The entire village had been ‘at it’ for months – weaving offerings, festooning the street, slaughtering animals and giving the temple a polychromatic, Tamil Nadu facelift. Fortunately an Australian film crew, lead by legendary journalist Mike Carlton, was here to cover the festival’s climax.
Now read on….

Ida Bagus Wayan Gede of Intaran, Sanur, commandant-in-charge of the giant Pedudusan Agung ceremonies at Pura Dalem Kepala, Kepaon, seen here carving magical aksara symbols onto a holy yellow coconut.

15 September 2007 , Pura Dalem Kepala, Kepoan: the climax of the Karya Pedudusan Agung ceremonies at the main temple in my adopted village
The film crew sweeps in – through courts that have not been as exquisitely decorated and laden with towering offerings in over 100 years – and we bump into the three Rajas of Denpasar, the rajas of Pemecutan, Satria and Kesiman. The three rajas are rather like ‘The Three Tenors’ but with a lot more medals and wives. They are sitting on a smallish pavilion in the front court; a pavilion which I have never seen used before. This temple is a royal Pemecutan family ‘chapel’ – as among the village gods are defied ancestors of all three rajas – so it is appropriate and highly glamorous that they are all here today.
Palace ladies are quietly secreting enzymes in dark recesses.
I am presented with something of a dilemma, however, as the rajas have seen the film crew (it’s like waving fairy floss at an infant in a pram) and I have to very diplomatic in the handling of requests for interviews.
It is no secret that the three rajas’ families have been mildly feuding for the last 300 years.

The three Rajas of Denpasar (left to right): Tjokorda Satria, Tjokorda Pemecutan and Tjokorda Kesiman

Last year Tjokorda Satria held a coronation and pronounced himself Tjokorda Jambe Pemecutan IX, much to the chagrin of the Pemecutan Raja who has a much higher profile in the ceremonial community (see past Stranger in Paradise columns) and is the undisputed heavyweight heartthrob of South Denpasar and loved by all. For my money Ngurah Manik Parasara, Tjokorda Pemecutan, is the people’s prince, the true ‘Raja’ of Denpasar and we all can’t live without him; when he goes there will be a mass suttee at Uluwatu and I’ll be leading the stampede.

Anyway, I get around the diplomatic dilemma by asking our star, Mike Carlton, to interview the cousin of the Kesiman Raja, Ngurah Agung, who is acting as the Raja’s aide-de-camp today. Ngurah is an old tennis student of mine who has been to school in Australia and who is a regular trance-master at Kesiman’s amazing Pengerebongan mass trance temple festival.
While the interview is underway and while the amazing temple ceremonies and music swirl about us, I chat to the three rajas about the state of real estate development in Bali.

Tjokorda Kesiman, the affable Ngurah Wardana, concedes that “the present (central) government is more colonial than the Dutch!!” (In the way they are taking over the island, he means). The other two rajas are so busy not talking to each other that they can’t talk to me but they do nod enthusiastically when I suggest that only the intervention of the island’s sulinggih (priests) and the island’s princes could save Bali from the present ‘dumbing down’.

Gusti Made Oka, Prince of Kepaon and grand children (mpte Pemecutan whip)

Tjokorda Satria, Tjokorda Pemecutan and Tjokorda Kesiman; The three Rajas pray together with the entire Kepaon village

• • •

Back in the main temple court the second unit film crew are shooting the incredible TITI MAMAH (golden bridge) ceremony; a ritual which involves the ‘descending’ of all the beautifully carved god effigies, called arca, which are ceremonially borne over the skin of a water buffalo and up a symbolic ladder – fashioned from special yellow bamboo (humanly culled from the Hardy-Garland thicket) – to sit in state in a small pavilion I call the ‘Grandstand of the Gods’.
The entire village and the three rajas then sit on the courtyard floor for the egalitarian pray-in that happens once in a generation. My village Kepaon liege lord, mastermind of the six months of ceremonies, and a distant cousin of all three rajas, beams with pride.
The cameras whirr ……..

11 November 2007, Solo, Central Java: All stops out at Java's most picturesque palace for a charity Gala – and mega dance spectacular, ‘Adegang Praja Mangkunegaran’, to celebrate the 250 th anniversary of the founding of the Royal House of Mangkunegaran
I arrive at 6 p.m at the vast palace and head for the private chambers to visit my friend Putri, a Mangkunegaran princess, whose daughter, Tenku Atiya was a star of last month’s column. I immediately bump into A. A. Ayu Bulantrisna (also a star of last month’s column) whose late father, from the East Bali royal family of Karangasem, stayed at the Mangkunegaran in the 1930s while at school. In the rotunda-like reception hall I find my old buddy Iwan Tirta, the legendary batik impresario, who is a great supporter of the Mangkunegaran family; Iwan is talking to the daughter of the Sultan of Kedah (whose cousin Tenku Abu Bakar of Johore (a descendant of Mads Lange of Bali) is Putri’s husband. Solo, Bali and Johore are intertwined in so many unusual ways!

Palace ladies from Bali at the Mangkunegaran, Solo event: (left) Tjokorda Istri Sri Jayanti from Peliatan, and Dr. Anak Agung Ayu Bulantrisna from Karangasem

Solo is famous for its beautiful women – the fairest in the land – and for its rival palaces – the Susuhunan and the Keraton Mangkunegaran.
Both have fallen on hard times recently and it’s great to see the Mangkunegaran Palace rallying to put on a spectacular of this proportion!
At 7 p.m. we palace ‘groupies’ are asked to leave the family quarters and take up our seats in the great pavilion. The space is immaculately decorated in the style of a grand French banquet with flower arrangements by Putri’s cousin Darmasto.
Putri’s elder sister, Gusti Raden Ayu Roosati, who for years was manager of Iwan Tirta’s boutique in Jakarta, is the event’s chief organiser.

Legendary Solo beauty Yani Arifin


The dance event, which follows dinner, is watched by hundreds of well-coiffed and well-heeled palace groupies from around the region and it is indeed spectacular: the big production numbers feature galloping horses, elephants and sublime Javanese costumes. The dancing – choreographed by Putri’s brother, Gusti Heru and the great choreographer Sardono W. Kusumo – is mesmerising. Sardono is the Solonese dance guru famous in Bali for his Teges village Ketjak, which was first performed in Paris in the 1970s.
One scene in particular – the three mystical dancers in the gold fountain (a present from Napoleon Bonaparte) with elephants rampant – will no doubt inspire a generation of butter statues and water features.

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