Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, June 2008)

Ida Pedanda Gede Made Gunung and fashion icon Milo M igliavacca enjoying a brief stop
during their perambulation of South India’s holy Mt. Arunachala


Change is inevitable, especially in a culture as dynamic as Bali’s. Here nothing is static, and everything that is new is holy. The Balinese are masters at adopting, adapting and absorbing. They have embraced mass tourism and turned it into a non-profit organisation; great swathes of rice fields have transformed into art shops and cafes, devoid of any visible trade.

Temple fashion, teenage stud-muffin ear bling and motorbike du jour change with the waxing and the waning of the moon.

Last month I witnessed the change of the palace guard at my adopted ancestral village of Kepaon (my liege lord died in his 74 th year) and watched the metamorphosis of the recently opened Eastern Coastal Distributors into a shopping mall (brilliant new babi guling stall at the Lebih turnoff!) and registered the ‘crowning’ of a new high priest (the former scallywag Ida Bagus Kompiang) whose father, an inveterate gambler, had also ‘changed his spots’ and taken the holy vows at age 70, spending his last decade in full devotion to the Hindu pantheon and not the cock-fight).

There is good change, like the restoration of Sanur Beach and the emergence of the Dhyana Pura end of Seminyak as a concrete jungle gay ghetto (where once macho men roamed in picturesque rice fields). And there is bad change, like the disappearance of the sky in Bali (in favour of cheesy real estate advertising boards) and the destruction of most of South Bali’s red-brick temples in favour of the dreaded Darth Vader-friendly, black andesite shrines. In super dynamic Bali when change occurs, it’s all over in the wink of an eye.
Now read on:

The Bali contingent are felicitated upon their arrival at the Sri Amma Bhagavan’s Oneness University.

5 th April 2008: I visit fashion icon Milo’s sensational Seminyak home
In the early 1970s, Italian fashion designer Milo Migliavacca left a lucrative life in Milan’s Via Veneto to invent cotton jersey in Kuta; in all the colours. He also invented big shell buckles for fat vinyl belts that island taste-maker Adrian King, of Padma Ohm Accessories, describes as ‘Yin-Yang Bling’.

For 20 years Milo’s remarkable, three-tiered, octagonal pagoda house has been ground zero for the beautiful people and for the high end of Bali’s burgeoning fashion industry.
Before Milo came to Bali alternate expat women were all in maternity moo-moo or tie-dyed maxi; he changed all that with one wave of his bejewelled hand.
Now Milo and his partner, Made, live the life of Hindu hermits, in high heels.

• • •

At 8 p.m. I arrive at the front gate, furious, as there is only one energy saver light bulb illuminating the porphony portal. Pensioners in Bali need bright lights, I feel, to avoid mis-judging steps, and to see charging animals (Milo’s castle is famous for its man-eating dalmatians).

The mystic maestro suddenly appears on the garden path and takes my arm ―as would a novice take a learned guru’s wizened elbow and accepts my meagre gifts (a copy of Details magazine and pound of dates).

Images of Pedanda Nabe in India
Click image to enlarge

Time has been kind to Milo: he is still svelte, has gleaming teeth and a full head of crinkly Italian hair, streaked, naturally.
He is wearing a gorgeous silk batik of his own design and gold Solonese selop pria mules; Made, his life partner, is similarly attired but has affected a cut-off cowboy boot (white leather) for his dancer’s feet.
Talk quickly turns to Milo’s recent heroic visit to Tamil Nadu, South India with his guru, the popular Ida Pedanda Gede Made Gunung, and an entourage from the Seminyak banjar community.
The stories and photos are amazing: of the Balinese pedanda couple being feted by South India’s holiest guru; of the perambulation around the holy mountain in white satin frocks; of the pedanda istri’s glee getting darshan from an elephant, and about the dance spectaculars and offerings put on.

“We all cried leaving Chennai,” he explains, “so deep was the effect of the week in holy India.”
“On his first night Pedanda Gunung was granted an audience with the super-sakti Sri Amma Bhagavan,” Milo continues. “The Indian holy man recognized him as a brother from a past life; and he offered to ‘transfer’ his powers at a time and place to be determined.”
“You can have whatever you want,” explained the Indian holyman.
“I just want Bali to be free of bombs,” was the Balinese priest’s reply.

As the Maestro tells these stories, eyes dancing, I feel so proud of him and of Made and of the Seminyak banjar, and I regret that my own quest for enlightenment through holy Hindu pursuits has been subverted by my love for luxury goods and by bands of greedy real-estate developers.

Back in the 1970s I was the original Denpasar ‘goy-boy ’ Dharma bunny.
I go home misty-eyed and fire off salvos to all my clients in India and beyond telling them that from now on I only create beauty for the gracious, and the pure of heart.
Let’s see what it buys.

24 th April 2008: To Jero Dalem Tanjung, Kepaon for the cremation of my old sponsor/mentor (in feudal affairs) and liege lord I Gusti Made Oka
On 21 st April I was in Buenos Aries when I got the sad news of my mentor’s demise after a long illness at age 74.

I slumped over a cow skin and had a quiet sob, as this man was lord protector of my realm, the realm I had adopted so many decades ago and, by default, lord protector of this column.

I have written well over 50 columns on his family, and his deified ancestors, and his saintly, sprightly mother, his custodianship of the Sakenan Temple festival on Turtle Island; and the death of his sixth son, my good buddy A. A. Ngurah Dharma Kusuma.
I devoted many pages to stories about the village temple’s chariot of the gods he finally restored in 1995, and his interviews with the likes of David Attenborough and the Australian media over the years. His life defined the standard for selfless duty which is expected of Balinese liege lords (there are hundreds).

The prince’s widow Jero Raga being denied a final look at her late husband’s body. “Don’t cry elder sister!” (“De ngeling, Mbok!”) she was told.

10 am : I arrive early in the palace compound to show my solidarity for the family of the deceased
Gusti Made Oka’s widow collapses, sobbing into my arms when I greet her. She has been one of my many surrogate mums over my 35 years in this village and we have both lost the man we most loved. (I loved him more than I love the queen of England, another defender of the faith with enormous dignity).
As the angklung orchestra sparks into action, wave after wave of princes from Denpasar’s many royal houses file into the packed palace.

11 am : fashionably early, the royal consort of the Prince of Pemecutan arrives, to the joy of her husband’s many cousins in the courtyard. The Cokorda Pemecutan is South Bali’s answer to George Clooney and his attendance at cremations is a sign that the deceased enjoys respect within the mighty Pemecutan clan.

11 30 am: the adegan spirit effigy of the deceased is borne into the palace chapel to ‘ask leave’. The widow comes out sobbing―it is always a very moving ceremony―and is briskly led away so as not to be an embarrassment in front of the Princess consort. It is the first of many small humiliations that will come her way as a jero (commoner wife) now that her Prince is gone.

“Merdeka” screams Rasta, one of the late prince of Kepaon’s most loyal serfs during the procession to the cremation ground.

I Gusti Made Oka ( 31 December 1934 – 18 April 2008).

The magnificent badé carries the coffin to the cremation ground.

• • •

At high noon the coffin is borne out of the palace gate and tied onto its badé chariot; all traffic has been stopped on the main road.

A huge Indonesia flag is draped over the coffin; then one of the deceased’s grandsons climbs atop the towering structure with the manik dewata (stuffed bird of paradise).

The procession lurches to a start, three marching bands, thousands of mourners, palace bearers in white satin saput wraps bearing grandchildren along in golden palanquin and hurtles down the main drag.

There is barely time to think : during the next half hour, on the way to the graveyard, everyone in the procession is stunned (save for the yelping bearers); our lives with this wonderful man play through our minds; the deceased’s widow sits on the gong trolley being pushed along by a team of her grandchildren; the Palace’s own marching band gives a gloss to the solemn yet joyous event.

| back |

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to: