Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise


(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, April 2012)



Rangda flies into trance at the Pengerebongan Festival, Pura Dalem Petilan Kesiman, 19 February 2012.

Spellbound Day-Trippers

Sometimes Bali holds you in a spell of spiritual enchantment for weeks on end — despite traffic snarls, piles of trolleys and plastic.
Last month was one such month.
I got to witness four ceremonies of such intense beauty that everything else — my battles to the death with Indian clients, male menopause and the constant humidity and noise — seemed irrelevant.
The balance between dharma (goodness) and adharma (hedonism) may be tipping the scales in Bali’s tourist hubs, but, hey, no medieval god-king system is perfect.


Part of the Poleng Kesiman ritual at Pengerebongan, Pura Dalem Petilan, Kesiman.

What is life without routine and ritual one is reminded, constantly.
At some point one has to pause and think, “Who’s keeping track of all the offerings?” I mean: every village, every temple seems to be wildly different. The mountain culture is another world. How long can this variety last?
The spooks on parade on the Island of the Gods — see photo (left, and below right) taken at Pengerebongan; the first of the amazing ceremonies I witnessed last month — are a constant reminder of the power of the nether-world. The ripping off of chickens’ heads by saintly men in temples has its equivalent in Bali’s gay ghetto, one could argue, if one felt like having one’s poodle peeled.
“There is no life without death” is a constant refrain amongst the Balinese : just look at the rituals surrounding anything to do with death or ancestor spirits.

This is something that the present burgeoning generation of expatriate seniors is coming to terms with.
Last month the wonder-woman of Austronesian chic and heroic survival, Ubud-based designer Linda Garland, held a soul-purification ceremony for an old friend, fellow wonder woman Gabriella Teggia. The setting and the rituals were of such profound beauty that they rivaled the  mountain temple festival I had attended the night before.

9th March 2012: Sacred and Secret, Part  2,417: My mountain temple adventure.
I have been waiting for three hours at the Taman Bebek in Sayan for the convoy of my Big Love, the Tjokorda Pemecutan XI, The Raja of Denpasar, to visit an obscure temple on the crater rim in the middle of the night.


Cokorda Pemecutan XI, his wife, his son A.A. Damar Negara, and the temple priests at Pura Alas Arum Temple, Batur, 9 March 2012.

The Cokorda is held up at a distant relatives body-washing, as is often the case (he has about 2,000 immediate distant relatives).
By 9 p.m. when we finally arrive at the temple we are a group of about 30 — including the royal family, the King’s men in Harley Davidson shirts, their wives (with the offerings) , a small security detail and one pink groupie (me).


The junior temple priests at Pura Alas Arum, Batur, 9 March 2012

The priest’s eyes light up and the rain stops as the Colorado enters the tight-packed temple courtyard. Twenty teen-priests in a row are presiding over rows of gilt ‘dulang’ trays. They are all intoning the mantras that  signal the climax of the three days of rituals. The wind is howling and the atmosphere is magical.

The Cokorda prays alone, with his immediate family, in the ‘gedong’ vault where the main gods live, while his entourage pray outside in the main temple court.
After prayers we are all fed — rice, banana trunk soup, pig blood pudding — in the temple's ‘audience hall’. It is a magical experience.

• • •

I was pleased to notice at Pura Alas Arum that the coastal trend for cabaret style temple umbrellas and gate decorations has yet to reach. The priests “Nanook of the North” white, fake-fur-trimmed parkas pretty sensational however.
Bali is nothing if not dynamic: adapting as it adopts and absorbs.


Cokorda Pemecutan IX and his son A.A Damar Negara after the re-consecration rites at Candi Ibu, Pura Penambangan Badung,
7 March 2012.

10th March 2012: The Linda Garland Estate.
Last month I wrote an obituary on the life of Jakarta’s hostess with the mostess Gabriella Teggia, founder of Bali’s exquisite Amandari hotel.
Today le out Bali and le tout Jakarta are gathered with Gabriella ‘s children in the garden home of Gabriella’s great friend the Queen of Bamboo, Linda Garland.
The ceremonial setting is exquisite: the family, all in white, are sitting, at the base of a clump of giant bamboo, huddled with a village priest amongst a sea of offerings.

Gabriella Teggia’s Farewell at the Linda Garland Estate

Peliatan’s sexiest grandmother, Ibu Siti former doyenne of the Amandari, is acting as spiritual guide in a figure-hugging see-through kebaya.
It is a six star plus diamond alternate culture affair — with a smattering of grand-dames and Jakarta glitterati.
And there is no dame grander than La Garland herself, sitting front row with Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum and Dame Pia Alisyahbana. The estate today is the dernier mot in Austronesian (Ancient East Indonesian) courtyard chic.
In the second row I spy Sir Warwick Purser and his daughter Polly, (now marketing director for John Hardy Jewellry), culture czar Soedarmadji Damais, and author Idanna Pucci.
Orphans from Gabriella’s foundation — Akar Wangi Jogjakarta — act as ushers.


Daniella Gazzini

Linda Garland

James de Rave

Amir Rabik

Everyone is in exquisite Balinese or Indonesian ethnic dress; every chair is draped with pieces from Linda’s collection of East Indonesian textiles; every vista is gob-smackingly, gorgeous just as Gabriella would have loved, Amir Rabik, Honorary Consul for Spain and Portugal, acts as ‘funeral director’ for the crowd, who are a tad at a loss with the complicated rituals.
Gabriella’s three Italian children line up at the feet of a giant bamboo clump are lead through a complete ‘High Hindu’ soul-purification for their Catholic mother by the Muslim Honorary Consul for Spain, Amir Rabik, former divine consort of abovementioned wonder woman.
“Muslims are good at this,” comments Gabriella’s oldest Jakarta friend Soedarmadji Damais.
There is no mock-Hindu or mawkishness — as has become common at some long-term Bali expatriate farewells — just a swell of ancestor worship, beauty and pride. And admuration for Linda, who despite her own serious trials, has rise to the occasion, once again, including all of Gabriella’s tribe and all us ’Garlandistas’.

When the last Chinese coin flies over the last soaked shoulder there is not a dry arm pit in the valley.
 After the ceremony everyone hugs the children, spontaneously, before heading off to Linda’s bridge house to release the spirit effigy into the river.
Drinks are served on the gorgeous grassy terraces recently the stage for Julia Roberts conquest of Javier Bardem in “Eat Pray Love.”
The customary confusion  and mawkishness often found at expatriate funerals in  Bali was not at all in evidence today — for the two families — Gabriella’s and Linda’s — are so Indonesian that traditional values and courtesies are in play. And that the old-fashioned gorgeousness that Bali is famous for — the same extreme beauty that Gabriella and Linda have often tapped.


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