Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, May 2008 )

Tenth Full Moon Fever

When the wet season goes on and on into April, the Island takes on a glorious emerald hue―and the hills are alive with the sound of mucous!

The limestone veneer on the feature walls of the microwave-oven-like homes on the Bukit peninsula get caked in gunge and the Uluwatu monkeys appear in Burberry macs.

When the sun pushes through, it is magical: steam rises from the rice fields; mattresses are laid out on chairs and chain-saws and machetes start ripping through the excess foliage. Tourists flock like lemmings to beachside mega-mall to eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts and toast their keratosis in trendy plazas devoid of plant life but flourishing with chrome things in neat rows.

March-April was the tenth full moon ( Bali’s most propitious) when the Island moves into a period of feverish ceremonial activity.

29th March, 2008 :
To Bali’s most gorgeous temple for a pilgrimage, with two busloads of co-workers and a brace of house guests
Today we go to Pura Besakih, the mother temple, to pay homage to the gods and ask for some holy water, Tirta Besakih.
It is a perfect tenth full moon day and the dramatically terraced temple has never looked better: municipal-majestic gardens and courts now sport NASA-quality, titanium-louvred sodium vapour streetlamps on ‘Going for Baroque’ Balinese bases; the new generation of priestesses dispensing holy water in white lurex habits are all pilates-trained. Even the hemlines on Balinese male peacock attire are mercifully up again this year; allowing the athletic Balinese male to strut and not mince. And, noticeably, there are no attempts at rigorous segregation at the main gate.

One of my house guests, Régis Franc, former cartoonist for Elle France, and house model for ‘Les Secrets de Victoire’ (see photo below), is blown away by the variety in temple fashion.

“Cream is the new white,” he pronounces on spotting the latest trend in turbans.

Professional Models

• • •

From Besakih, I take my guests to the Alila Manggis hotel on the east coast―via the charming highland villages of Rendang, Selat, Iseh and Sidemen; Bali is at her seductive best.

After a day amongst vibrant Hindu costumes and genuine graciousness, we are shocked when greeted at the handsome Alila with plastic namastés (an Adrian Zecha creation) by Balinese dressed like male nurses in a psychiatric hospital (what is it about the bland ‘Brave New World’ uniforms in luxury resorts?).

Upon entering the stunning dining pavilion (architect Kerry Hill and Associates) I spit the dummy: I notice that legendary interior designer Terry Fripp’s lovely pastille-possie chairs have been replaced by boot-polish brown versions―‘no colour’, another Zecha pogrom―but I soon settle down ……..and let the hotel’s superb coastal parkland location and sweet staff work their magic.
The Alila Manggis is still my favourite coastal getaway in Bali.

View of the gorgeous coastal parklands from Alila Manggis’ restaurant

• • •

The regional glad-mags have gone into overdrive this month, highlighting the tenth anniversary of Adrian Zecha’s founding of Amanresorts. To me it’s been like a nuclear winter for whimsy, but, it has to be said, all the Zecha-mentored properties are beautifully designed and have an haute stylish, if anal, edge.

Bp. Made Putrawan at the Raffles Amertha Resort Bali ground breaking ceremony at Pecatu.

1 st April, 2008 :
To Pecatu Graha Development Zone for the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Raffles Amertha Resort Bali

The tenth full moon is the best time for consecration rites for new projects in Bali.
Today, I am invited as the project’s landscape designer designate, to a wind-swept escarpment overlooking the former Dreamland Beach. Also gathered are the owners (from the Teh Sosro clan), the architect (Bruce Felt-Smith representing Grounds Kent Architects, whose St. Regis Hotel, Nusa Dua is about to open, with bells and whistles on) and Bapak Made Putrawan, Tommy Soeharto’s charming point man in Pecatu who today looks regal in sportswear (see photo left).

The local priests from Pecatu Village have turned up in full force, together with a spirited local gamelan troupe and lots of local glamour-pusses, to add sparkle to the occasion.

The guests, the gamelan, even the high priest are stoic in defying the almost gale force winds as we all sip fruit tea in the shadow of the bulldozers.

23 rd March, 2008 :
To Geria Lobong Kemenuh, Cau Tua, Marga, for a very tender body-washing

Years ago, one of my Balinese ‘brothers’ married a schoolteacher from Kuta. She had a handsome face and many handsome brothers, one of whom, eventually ended up as a night watchman at my office.

He (Gus Man), and his pretty Brahman wife had two children; one of whom was born with Down’s Syndrome and a heart defect.

The corpse of Dayu Gita Purnawati at her body-washing

Gus Man was a loving father but always felt that demons possessed his daughter and only indulged me when I talked of the special intelligence of people born with Down’s.

A few days ago the girl died, quite suddenly, of a heart attack, in her 13th year.

Today Gus Man's family are receiving all in-laws, relatives and ring-ins like me for the Penyiraman ceremony―a very moving ceremony when a young one's corpse is involved.

Gus Man receives us with a stoic expression as we arrive; his wife is obviously still coming to terms with the sudden loss of a daughter.

The courtyard atmosphere is quietly festive, or, rather, ceremonial friendly, as it always is for death-related rituals to distract the bereaved from grieving.

Images of body-washing ceremony, 23 March 2008

Click image to enlarge

As the ceremonial washing begins, we are all surprised to see Gus Man commandeering all the rituals, centre stage as it were―his incredible beauty, bathed in parental piety, becoming a beacon for all our grief.

He gently washes her face with petalled water and scrapes her fingernails. The corpse is then ‘dressed’ for its final ceremonial journey.

Gus Man’s last act is to neatly fold a set of the teenage girl’s school clothes and put them next to her stiff little feet in the coffin.
The courtyard quickly shifts into garden party mode―the ceremony having been performed with élan.

8th April, 2008
It is six months since the death of Dr. Anak Agung Made Djelantik, everyone’s favourite Balinese, who passed away peacefully in his Renon home at age 88 (see Stranger in Paradise, ‘Bali Loses a Favourite Son’, October 2007 for the obituary).

Today I am invited to the picturesque Puri Kanginan in Karangasem, East Bali, to attend the symbolic body washing (the actual body was ‘left in the flames’ during the first phase of the cremation rites some months ago.

The big cremation for Bali’s most distinguished prince, originally planned for August, was this week advanced, due to calamitous events within the Karangasem royal family (two nephews of the late doctor (brothers, in fact) have died in road accidents one year apart on the day of the demons, the day before Nyepi; it was therefore deemed necessary to quickly fast-track to the other side all the family souls-in-waiting, as it were).

I walk into the Puri Kanginan palace’s famous main court  just as a phalanx  of high priests are leaving―they having just completed a complex round of rituals in the Palace’s ‘Cantonese’ style ceremonial pavilion. In another gaily coloured Chinese-style pavilion, (“FREE TIBET” I scream and throw myself at the altar) a trio of high priests are ringing bells and intoning a set of ancient Vedic incantations for the departed souls.

I find Dr Djelantik’s only son, Widoere, in the inner enclosure of the ceremonial pavilion, arranging jasmine garlands on his father’s coffin. His four sisters are entertaining friends on red rented chairs. They have been up since dawn―collecting their father’s soul from the ocean, processing around town and performing rites inside the sprawling palace temple.

 At five, a battalion of beautiful ladies in matching caramel brocade chemises floods in through the courtyard’s ornate gateway. It is the ladies’ gamelan orchestra from the Island’s prestigious Dance Academy which the good Doctor founded in the late 1960s) here to perform on the vast, raised veranda of the Balé Materdam ( Amsterdam).....the most beautiful pavilion in Bali.

For the next two hours we all sit entranced: this Olympic contingent of warrior women (cultural warriors, many of whom I have known since my years of teaching English at the Dance Academy) providing a worthy and spirited accompaniment for the topeng dance troupe (for the most part their husbands).
 With the sun’s setting rays piercing the gilt gamelan setting, we watch Drs Made Cakra (soon to be Rector of Denpasar’s prestigious Institute of Dance) dance the ethereal Dalem part―the refined raja of the topeng series―as his wife beats on the accompanying drum; almost bursting her gossamer seams with every pounding.

 It is a scene of extraordinary poetic beauty in Bali’s most beautiful garden palace court. Dr Djelantik’s one surviving brother, Prof. A. A. Gede Putra Agung sits front row centre, admiring the dream-like spectacle in the pavilion his father had built―now a stage for genius dancers and musicians honouring the life of his illustrious sibling.


Images of Plebon Ceremony, Puri Kanginan, Karangasem, 16 April 2008

Click image to enlarge



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