Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

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

The Bukur tower on Ujung Beach, with Puri Kanginan Karangasem puspa soul effigies lined up behind.

Mourning Glory

There’s nothing prettier in Bali than a Karangasem Maligia procession. The Maligia rites, the highest level of soul purification ceremony, are the perogative of the royal palaces of Bali; the Karangasem palace’s are the most famous.
The last Raja of Karangasem built a water palace, the Taman Ujung, on Ujung Beach in 1921 and it  is to this spot that the golden bukur towers process, once or twice a generation, to greet the rising sun.

Taman Ujung, Karangasem

Last month saw the Maligia of four of the Raja’s sons including Dr. A. A. Made Djelantik the much-loved founder of Sanglah Hospital, the Faculty of Medicine at Udayana University, and Listibia, Bali’s cultural conservation agency. The other three brothers had been society leaders too: as ambassadors, mayors and chiefs of police.
Three royal princess came from the Mangkunegaran Palace in Solo, Central Java, to witness the ceremony as did celebrity high priest Pedanda Gunung and the Mayor of Denpasar (whose mother was one of the last Raja’s daughters).

A.A. Widoer and siblings convey his father’s puspa to the water’s edge.

The beautiful Tirta Gangga water palace built by Dr. Djelantik’s father, the last Raja of Karangasem in 1947.

The sacred rites kicked off the with very extended family — some 500 cousins and other relatives — gathering inside the purpose-built peyadnyan enclosure atop Taman Ujung Hill. A very extended ‘Kodak Moment’ cum family re-union ensued. I spied Jakarta Red Bull commercial celebrity Anak Agung Ajun Karang rubbing shoulders with Balinese cousins from Connecticut, Vienna and Amsterdam.
Half-Dutch princess A.A.Ayu Madelief Djelantik, the good doctor’s second daughter, arrived in distinctive Karangasem Palace costume looking like Greer Garson in “Kiss Me Ketut”. Australian iron man/restauranteur Rodney Holt — married to a daughter of the last surviving brother, Professor A. A. Made Putra, M.A. — is founder of the Puri Karangasem Historical Society which produces  books on the colonial history of Lombok Straits-straddling family of super-achievers and super-palace builders.
The society’s next book, with Saritaksu Publishers, will be on the architectural history of the family’s numerous water palaces — Tirtagangga in East Bali and Tamans Mayura and Narmada in Lombok — built by their illustrious ancestors.

Tuesday, 17th October 2012: To Ujung for the big Maligia procession
I am woken up at the Dangin Taman Inn, Tirtagangga, at 5 a.m. by the sound of Dr. Djelantik’s clan moving through the gardens of the water palace from their home the Puri Kodok, once a family guest house, now their ancestral home.
The night before we had all gathered in the peyadnyan on the hill for a classical drag dance performance by the famed Arja Muani of Denpasar. Nothing is sacred in Bali it seems and a few sacred cows were buried during the spirited performance. At one point the lead dancer, Desak Rai, had the palace head put her fake boobs back in their pockets. At another, an 11 year old boy was dragged from the audience and suckled in the most lascivious manner.
The audience, including two high priests, were in stitches.

•          •          •

This morning, it’s the serious business of conveying the newly purified soul of the departed to the sea, with grace and dignity, and clashing gamelan.
Generally Pelebon/Ngaben cremations are riotous in Bali, whereas Maligia/Mukur are refined and sedate — all gold and white affairs.
It was exquisite to process with the four bukur towers glistening in the morning sun, past the Taman Ujung water garden and directly  onto Ujung Beach, the silhouettes of a thousand fishing boats hovering on the horizon.

Villagers from Seraya carried the floats. The high priest from nearby Buda Keling and his wife were there to great us. Locals hovered like vultures around the shoreline waiting for re-saleable pickings of ceremonial debris.
At 7.30p.m. the four brothers’ bukur towers are lined up along the beach with their descendants seated in front of them.
The high priests lead prayers and the puspa soul effigies of the brothers (plus the 30 or so pengiring Lombok followers) were hurled into the sea, overarm.
As the hooligans descended on the floating ornaments we all filed back to Tirtagangga for a well-earned swim.

(For fuller coverage see my video: MALGIA on Wijayapilem2@YOUTUBE :


25 Oktober 2012: MORE MENSCH IN BLACK
After the  refinement of pastoral Karangasem  I drive back into downtown Denpasar for the cremation of my friend Ngurah Kingson’s mother at Puri Grenceng Palace,  a Pemecutan family stronghold north of Pemecutan Palace, the island’s most macho.

No garden party atmosphere for this mob: Pemecutan palace death rituals are gritty and intense; a few minutes before noon beefcakes in black file out onto the main street followed by a phalanx of determined duchesses. At exactly noon the procession is off pell mell down the wall. Ngurah Kingson is on the black ‘bull’ sarcophagus which has an unusually red and raw axe-wound-like vagina (somehow the Balinese manage to inject irreverence into everything).
His brother is atop his mother’s coffin on the badé tower born by a gang of gangsters.

•          •          •

Later, at the graveyard Cokorda Pemecutan XI stands with his cousins discussing real estate as the coffin burns and the Tekok Djago celestial nymph dancers flitter and flutter.
For a fuller discussion on the Majapahit dress code of Pemecutan family males, Puri protocol and palace intrigues watch my video PELEBON GRENCENG on youtube/Wijaya pilemZ:

28 October 2012: To Geria Kepaon
My Balinese Mum, Biang Agung,  has been bedridden for 3 years. Her most regular visitor has been her one remaining sister Niniang Rai, aged 87, who used to visit her daily. Niniang Rai died last week and I went to her body-washing and burial. Since then I have been dreading visiting my Mum to commiserate and show her the photos of the event.

Kepaon palace royal A.A. Putu Adi pays last respects at his mother, Niniang Rai’s body washing.

I went earlier today and found her in her usual ebullient form. “She came here every day to make offerings (in the families offering factory) the week before she died.” She explained, "She went home the last time and asked a lady in waiting to take her to the bathroom where she collapsed and died. No time to tell her children or daughters-in-law anything. The spirit medium said her deceased husband came to get her, he was lonely. This is what happens when you are old."
She devoured the photos of her sister’s corpse without comment.

I went outside the pavilion into the biggish courtyard humming with offering making activity. Her husband, Aji Gede, was sitting at the chopping board —chopping up chicken bits for ceremonial satay, surrounded by his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons, likewise busy. He offered me a beer and a fag. 
Gus De the golden grandson sat proudly near his grand-dad looking like an Indian prince.


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