Pedanda Gunung emerges from the Goa Semar meditation cave at Telaga Tiga Warna Lakes District, Dieng, Central Java.
Buried Treasure and Hindu-Balinese Crusades
I am an avid amateur archaeologist and my first love is old Javanese Hindu Temple ruins.
This is my story ………………
Last year I was invited to join a team of experts — geologists, anthropologists, archaeologists — to create a hypothetical reconstruction of the kraton (palace) at Majapahit, in East Java. (Majapahit was the last of Java’s great Hindu empires and was the source for much of the red brick palace and temple architecture you see in Bali today. Ed).
During my six month internship I learned a lot and I discovered that archaeologists really are the divas of the ‘dead things’ world, and that working with them is a bit like walking on broken glass.
• • •
Last month, just days before I was due to arrive in Central Java for a job, I learned of the unearthing of a “mint-condition” 10th century Hindu candi inside the Universitas Islam Indonesia complex in Yogyakarta.
I arrived in Yogyakarta full of enthusiasm and quickly started asking around and calling in favours, to try and get permission to visit the ‘dig’, the Ganesha statue featured in the papers looked amazing and I wanted to see more.
By incredible fortune, the Balinese general manager of the Hyatt Regency hotel where I was staying invited me to help greet a visiting V.I.P. high priest from Bali — the charismatic Pedanda Gunung, Bali’s answer to Deepak Chopra. The pedanda, he said, was in Central Java to visit a candi.
“There is a god,” I enthused, and plotted to affix my caboose to the pedanda’s spiritual gravy train, as it were, and thus get into the new candi dig site
The lovely gardens of the Hyatt Regency, Yogyakarta, Central Java.
Monday, 18th January 2010: Fortune smiles on a rabid groupie
At one p.m. Pedanda Gunung steps out of the lead car of the official motorcade and Pak Nur, the G.M. of the Hyatt Regency and I step forward to greet him.
Quickly the G.M. is elbowed out of the way and, beaming at the shining eminence, I blurt out that I am a friend of his friend Milo (the Balinese fashion impresario who took the holy man to South India in 2008) and that “surely the pedanda remembers ‘The Best of Stranger in Paradise 1996 – 2008’ (available at a bookstore near you)” I had sent him and that I wanted to carry his bag for the next two days.
He said that he was in Central Java at the invitation of the Mayor of Wonosobo, to visit a proposed new Hindu temple site on the Dieng Plateau (famous for its 8th-9th century Hindu temples. Ed.) and he too had heard about the new candi discovery nearby and that he wanted to go…….and that, Yes, I could hang in.
The pedanda is with a small gang of acolytes which includes a local government official: I am informed that the archaeological dig is open to the public between noon and one.
“We leave for Dieng at 6. a.m. tomorrow,” Pedanda Gunung advises, and then speeds off, a picture of Sivaite Balinese loveliness, to his room.
His two Balinese aides-de-camp look daggers at me as if I am some hippy usurper just out of the Magelang Hills. Now, to be fair to them, I am dressed in a shocking Pinky Fabindia shorty kurta and am a tad dishevelled, but in a nice not a nasty way.
• • •
2 p.m. The same day
I speed to the archaeological dig site to talk my way in.
It is easy to find within the grounds of the sprawling Islamic University campus — itself built in the modern-Muslim hard-liner style of the new capital of Malaysia, called Putrajaya Puritanical — as the site is the only area within the campus defined by crumpled sheets of cheap corrugated iron.
The security box window at the entrance gate is straight out of the movie ‘Water World’, or ‘Mad Max’, but the guards are, mercifully, straight out of central casting and are able to discern that this large pink person in a large pink kurta, who is dropping names like lead balloons, is an exception to the visiting hours rule, and I am let in.
Twenty metres into the site my jaw drops: I spy a largish crater, inside which is nestled a pristine tenth-century stone temple. On the temple’s floor is a Ganesha statue, still half-buried (to deter the thieves); the rest of the small walled temple court is completely exposed, and looks brand new.
Javanese workers convey baskets of volcanic soil up rough stairs. A ‘posse’ of archaeologists — roped off from the general swirl of activity — sit on a large woven mat surrounded by boxes of biscuits, kretek cigarette packs, floor plans and other tricks of the trade.
After a tour of the site, which includes a good look at the excellent information board for the public, I am invited to sit with the experts and swap tales.
It is an exhilarating hour and I learn much about Central and East Javanese candi and the ancient Hindu cultures that spawned them..
19th January, 2010: To Wonosobo and the Dieng Plateau with Pedanda Gunung
In the early morning it is a pleasant two hour drive from Jogyakarta — through verdant wet-season countryside and quaint hill side towns — to Wonosobo, which is now just another ugly Javanese town.
Of course the Pedanda Gunung and party had bolted before 6 a.m. (the Balinese are only good about arrangements in Bali, and about cremations) but we manage to track them down at the Wonosobo Mayor’s guest house (Pondok Bupati), a colonial mini palace now ‘enhanced’ with heavy-looking carved teak Jepara pelmets and ceiling rosettes.
Former Australian P.M. Gough Whitlam and son with former President Soeharto (far right) at the Pondok Bupati, Wonosobo, Central Java.
Bupati (Mayor) of Wonosobo, H.A. Kholiq Arif (left) with Pedanda Gunung.
I sweep in — today in borrowed, white temple drag — and park myself next to the official party on a large red velvet chair with Napoleonic pretension, like the rest of the room’s furniture, not like me.
The pedanda beams (the elder generation of Balinese still love a token blonde at official functions).
The room was once used for a meeting between Gough Whitlam, then Prime Minister of Australia, and President Soeharto. There is a photo of the historic meeting: it shows a bored-looking Soeharto next to Gough Whitlam who is wearing a wild BBQ shirt emblazoned with Kangaroos and what looks like flying meat pies. (See photo above).
We are offered breakfast and I sit with the head of the local Muslim community.
“Are there lots of Hindus in Dieng?” I ask.
“None” he replies, rather bluntly
• • •
The day before I had asked my guru (on matters Javanese), Soedarmadji Damais, whether the Dieng people were ‘pre-Hindu’.
“Pre-everything,” he replied.
• • •
It transpires that the Bupati Wonosobo, the Mayor of Wonosobo, is behind this initiative to build a place of worship for the 400 or so Hindus in his town.
I wonder if the Bupati Wonosobo is not just following in the daunting footsteps of the ravishing Bupati Karanganyar (near Solo. Ed.) who was behind the re-consecration of the Candi Cetho (reported in this Diary in September 2007, “Imminent Threat of Hinduisation?”
Balinese Pedanda on Parade, Telaga Tiga Warna Lake, Dieng, Central Java, 19th January 2010.
The convoy speeds north, up the mountain.
It is a stunning drive, up the slopes of the Sindoro Mountain and over the ancient caldera top onto the vast plateau of rich farming lands and sulphur gas thermal springs.
Our first stop is at the meditation caves and holy springs at Telaga Tiga Warna (Three Coloured Lake). It is a magical palace with narrow, well-tended bricks paths that wind between small volcanic lakes, and lava rock outcrops, many of which, amazingly, have springs of fresh water.
The juru kunci, the traditional Javanese ‘guard’, is thrilled to have a real, live pedanda honouring his mystical attractions. In front of the Goa Semar the pedanda gives a little speech about how he is a direct descendent of a Javanese Brahman holy man (Dang Hyang Nirartha) who came to Bali in the 14th century, and that he is the 8th in a line of PedandasGunung.
I add that a thousand years ago Javanese priests imported Hinduism to Bali and here, today, in Dieng, the Balinese are repaying the favour.
Siwa and Parwati statues in the Goa Semar — gifted by former Governor of Bali, Dewa Made Beratha in 2003.
The keeper of the meditation caves, juru kunci Rismanto. |
Pedanda Gunung prays at Goa Semar springs.
In one meditation cave — the Goa Sumur, where a former Balinese Governor has left some Sivaite statues and where Presidents Soekarno and Soeharto have meditated — I ask the pedanda if he finds the place ‘empowered’ (‘mataksu’ in Balinese).
“Like a light bulb with dirty glass,” he replies. (The astute metaphor is the stock-in trade of the tuned-in Balinese holy man, I recall).
Eventually we are led to the site for the new temple.
“Beware of old Dutch mortar shells,” jokes the pedanda, as we thrash through the bush.
Readers should note here that black humour is a Balinese speciality (get someone to translate a sampling of Facebook exchanges if you don’t believe me)
• • •
It appears that ex-Governor of Bali, Dewa Beratha and Pedanda Subali from Bali’s Tianyar Regency have in the past created shrines here but it seems that they have been engulfed by the scrub, or worse.
Candi Arjuna complex, Dieng, Central Java.
Next we visit the very smart, very brutalist Archaeology Museum near the Candi Arjuna complex. It seems that the Dutch government sponsored many of the cultural tourism attractions in the area and used Dutch ‘urbanista’ architects to design them.
The museum is brilliant and is reason enough alone to visit the Dieng Plateau. I learned that the Hindu Sanjaya Empire, which built all the candi, was of a Sivaite Hindu blend very similar to today’s Hindu-Bali and that Dieng was in ancient times popular as a meditation spot among Sivaite priests.
There is one minor revelation. For the first time I find, on one of the information boards, evidence, in Java, of the ancient South Indian Hindu geomancy (Hasta Kosala Hasta Bumi) which is prevalent in Bali. Or has the curator just cribbed from books on Hindu Bali Architecture.
Candi Arjuna complex, Dieng, Central Java.
Over lunch in the smart Candi Arjuna complex car park I learn that hundreds of Balinese come to the Candi Arjuna temple complex every year, to hold lavish ceremonies, on Suro, the first day of the Javanese calendar.
Suddenly I realize that there’s more to this ‘expansionist’ trend of the Hindu-Balinese than meets the eye!
• • •
After the Museum I say good bye to the pedanda and his gracious hosts, and to the gentle Dieng people, who have helped us all day, and race back to Bali to tell my great Balinese mate, Putu, of my adventures
22nd January 2010: At the Sidakarya working men’s Scrabble Club
“Look who I got an sms from,” I say proudly, sliding the cell phone towards Putu.
He takes one look at the name “Pedanda Gunung” on the text message and rudely pushes the phone back.
“Nah, mate,” he admonishes, “this pedanda is a ‘charlatan’……..he doesn’t recognize the importance of our holy water (the universal Benediction water – the Tirta Sidakarya. Ed) ……… and those fanatics on Dieng hurled turds at the temple.”
“Wo!” my inner voice says, “and I thought that dealing with archaeologists was like walking on broken glass!”