Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 17 September 2006

Lead drummer of the Sidakarya gamelan troupe shows off in the style of beleganjur gamelan performers

Busby Berkeleyin Banyuwangi

Ubud is really heating up for the coming Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (28 Sept – 3 Oct). Friends from Australia are ringing about tickets for the lunch with William “White Moghuls” Dalrymple, and for the premier of the Indonesian version of John Darling’s epic “Lempad of Bali” film, now newly narrated by Jakartan heartthrob Slamet Raharjo, to be screened at the Ubud football field on the 30 th of September. Regional stars Michael Vatikiotis and Jamie James will be conducting workshops on feature writing and travel journalism, respectively, while Jamie James will also host a tribute to the late, great Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, at the Lempad- designed Puri Saraswati water garden. Various live, great Indonesian writers will participate too, including Acep “Islam, but tender” Zam Zam Noor and Linda Christanty.

Meanwhile, in Denpasar on September 20 th, there is a festival commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the horrific PUPUTAN BADUNG mass palace family-suicide and, co-incidentally, in Kuta, on the 16 - 24 th September, a “celebration of life in KUTA KARNIVAL”, for the young at heart.
My little corner of Bali is woefully lacking in promotional festivals. But our local Sidakarya Gamelan Group did go to a beleganjur (marching gamelan) competition last week that was attended by 45 troupes and thousands of local spectators. The competition in Denpasar’s main square was not trying to promote peace or International harmony or a more tender Islam or anything really, just promoting frantic gong bashing and fancy dress. Maybe there was a tie-in to the Mass-Suicide Remembrance (marching band division) but I can’t remember.

Beleganjur is my favorite type of gamelan: it’s Hindu and it’s horny, it’s mobile and it’s manly and it never fails to arouse passion and pride – in the greatness of the Bali All-Stars, those part-time farmers and security guards who at a moment’s notice fly into satin sash and loud blazers, to whip up frenzy.
Bring on the dancing girls!
And bring them on they did at this year’s competition. The latest trend being ‘Busby Berkeley in Banyuwangi’, with synchronized fan-dances, cymbal-Calypso, semi-Tiger Barongs Watusi-stomping, and lots of colourful North Bali/East Java style costumes. Beleganjur is always stirring for the Balinese as it is the music that traditionally accompanies magnificent cremation processions or, in a more sedate mode, the migrations of the village’s mascot, the Barong.

12 September 2006: To Jero Tanjung mini-palace in Kepaon, my adopted village, for a very moving body-washing
Body-washings are, understandably, the most emotional of the many rituals that make up a Balinese cremation and soul-purification rite. I grew up in the Brahman quarter of the village so am accustomed to attending death rites – traditionally lead by head Brahmans, Balinese village’s grief managers.

Village brahmans decorate the head scarf of A.A. Made Raka at his body-washing ceremony at Kepaon village

Four days ago our village’s liege lord Anak Agung Made Raka died, at age 75, shortly after watering the plants in the Pura Dalem Tanjung temple he loved so much. He was a trance medium, a temple guardian as well as co-host, for 1,000,000 devotees, at the Turtle Island (temple) festival held every 7 months at Sakenan Island.
Today is his body washing and the entire village is gathered.
The ceremony is immaculate: the washings, wrappings, ceremonial dressing and purification rites for the much loved priest- prince are done with that special Balinese brand of speed and grace and beauty.

After the washing my family start laying out the fine astral body cloths (kajang pengawak) in the palace’s golden pavilion. A prince is entitled to three or five layers it seems. Young Gus De remarks that the Rp 20,000 he gets for drawing every astral body cloth is really not enough. Gus Teja, his uncle, opens a plastic bag of Chinese coins tied to form a spirit effigy and gently lays it over the astral body encryptions which symbolizing crown, body, hands, and feet. Next the nobles file up the pavilion stairs, starting with the most princely present – in this case the moncol (ambassador) from Pemecutan palace. The family of the deceased then file past the ceremonial platform and stick pins through the knuckles of the Chinese coin spirit-effigy.
(Don’t miss the screening of John Darling’s film on the great artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad’s cremation at the Ubud soccer field on the 30 th September if you really want to understand all this!).

Pengajuman ceremony

• • •

My last memory of “Gung De Kaba”, as he was affectionately known in the family, was last May at the Sakenan ( Turtle Island) temple festival. After prayers in the open garden court of the gorgeous temple I had gone in search of soy-turtle satay and ketipat (Balinese package rice) as I have done for the past thirty-odd years. I stopped by the Kepaon palace family’s pondok pavilion and found Gung De Kaba, the pangemong-custodian of the three day festival, and three of his seven daughters perched on a collapsed table in a vast field of noisy vendors. It was a long cry from the days before the developers descended on Turtle Island, when Gung De Kaba held court in between sessions organizing the ancient mid-night trance, in the virgin fields adjacent the temple – like a Moroccan Pasha in a scented garden.
Most of the gods were Gung De Kaba’s deified ancestors. Despite this, he was always humble and unassuming. When interviewed he would bellow his version of life in the spirit world with gusto.
During the last decade he became more militant in the battle our temple priests – all loyal to the palace – were having with the more egalitarian priests to the rural south. “Usurpers” the nobles in our feudal village called them and built a new temple.
He was adored for his “no nonsense” approach to trance-ins, too. He felt that the all-import kedatengan trance rituals were being hi-jacked by commoners of the ‘Stormin’ Nyoman’ variety.
He devoted his life to keeping our village’s godly events refined and beautific.
And in the hands of his noble family.

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