Teenage Trancees Rule
Teenage trancee tripping the light fantastic beside the Rejang Renteng in the Pura Puseh Kepaon, 6 May 2015
The Balinese have decided that they are bored — bored with mass tourism, bored with corruption scandals, bored with us all banging on about plastic.
So what do the Balinese do when they get bored?
They get dressed up and HAVE CEREMONIES!
Now that all the old temples have been rebuilt in the Brontosaurus-Transformer style (andesite layers and giant dragon fountains), it’s time to party — and what ceremonies there have been. Pura Besakih, now bigger than Ben Hur, kicked off the season on the day of the tenth full month with a one-month odalan festival.
A hundred temples seemed to follow suit. Normally the tenth full moon is a ‘busy’ season but this year it was out of sight. The highest form of temple consecration, the ten-week Ngusaba Desa, which costs around $500,000 to stage, is now the only ceremony deemed respectable enough. Everybody just hocks the grandmothers, takes a month or so off work and hunkers down to the task of making a million offerings, and to taking part in weeks of ceremonies and processions.
It’s like Olympics opening ceremony meets papal mass.
Kepaon village girls convey the Pura Puseh gods during the climax of the Ngusaba Desa ceremonies, 6 May 2015
My village, the once-quiet rural hamlet of Kepaon — now centre to the island’s male escort, garment, and auto repair businesses — just closed the main road, one of South Bali’s busiest, for much of May, and processed up and down in various stunning outfits.
For the first time in my 40 years in that village, all the deities of the various house temples — not just the temple deities — were trotted out and paraded about. I had to cough up for 40 new processional outfits, to keep up with the Joneses, as it were.
Woven penjor banners were placed roadside at 20-metre intervals on the two-kilometre processional route, even on the long stretch through the Muslim quarter.
Every morning, all the palace ladies went to the salon to have eyebrows threaded and eye-lashes freshly applied, and to be sewn into form-fitting yellow kebaya.
The pecalang temple guards had extra padding put into their shoulders, and affected golden epaulettes on their black jackets, like Michael Jackson.
Not even high-profile executions or the arrival of 200 sultans and rajas in Klungkung (see photos bottom), made a dent in proceedings — the Balinese focus is undeterrable once it comes to ceremonies.
Not to be outdone, my good friends in Sidakarya village near Sanur — also having a Ngusaba Desa, in August — started selling gift coupons for KFC to raise their $500,000.
It is my friend’s job to line up 48 high priests for the coming ceremonies: this takes up much of his day, and impacts seriously on our evening Scrabble program!
My role in the proceedings of all these events is as documentarian. I post sneak preview pictures from the temple on Facebook, and then post a video on YouTube that night. In the temple at night the priests sit up watching my DVDs of the preceding day’s events.
I post the videos on Lost Bali and Bali Expat Facebook pages to placate the palefaces who seem convinced that Bali has gone to the dogs.
• • •
My adopted Balinese family (since 1973) are the only Brahmans in the village: ceremonial duties at big festivals in our village fall on them. Fortunately all of my six brothers married Brahman girls, and it’s they who mostly run things. They know all the high priests, and how to waft offerings off; indeed, they run sizeable factories making ceremonial bits and pieces. For the last five weeks my village home has been a veritable powerhouse of activity, with animal carcasses drying in odd corners in the sun (Brahmans in Bali are expert slaughterers and skinners — it goes with the territory).
My rather quiet younger brother, Ida Bagus Suteja, was made bendesa adat (village chief) some years ago, and even went off to India with all Bali’s bendesa. He hated it: he’s never been the least bit inquisitive about life outside Bali.
I was amazed when, on the day at the temple on which the mayor and the main Denpasar princes were invited, his name was on the commemorative plaque next to the mayor’s — and that he gave a good speech!
I just rattle around taking snaps, and he runs the show. I am so proud of all of them; of the whole village really, because our village is not exactly like Ubud, where the royal family puts on shows like this every other week.
This is a once-in-a-generation event, and the production is flawless.
Moving the gods
See video http://youtu.be/eAXrnQJWVEM
• • •
On the last day, which was Pagerwesi holy day, when the Padudusan Agung climax was held, there were two magic moments.
One, at the start of the morning, when the women’s auxiliary was performing a Rejang Renteng in front of a packed courtyard. Three teenage girls flew into trance and joined the corps de ballet at the side. They swayed and shimmered, eyes closed, until being ushered over to the parked barong, there to be gently coerced out of trance.
It was exquisitely beautiful.
The Topeng Sidakarya and teenage trance assistants, Pura Puseh Kepaon, 6 May 2015
Young girls flying into trance has become very fashionable in South Bali since the re-consecration of many of the local barong.
Another tender moment was during the movement of the arca (votive statues) from the outer to the inner temple courtyard later in the morning. A Topeng Sidakarya cosmic mask-dancer was enlisted to pave the way for the gods. Two trancing teenagers attached themselves to his elbows as he moved from courtyard to courtyard. In the front courtyard this tweaked the attention of the dashing young Baris Gede dancers seated next to the gamelan. Seeing that I was shooting them, they picked up a spent offering and started wafting the essence of it towards my lens. It was such a gorgeous, theatrical, slightly cheeky, gesture. It made my morning.
10 May 2015: To Puri Kaleran Mandala Peliatan
In the middle of all mayhem at home I am invited to Peliatan, near Ubud, for the last night of a ceremony in the palace of a dear friend — legendary dancer and musician Gung Bagus. The atmosphere is beautiful and I am the only guest. The palace aunties — all legendary Legongs — are weaving about the courtyard floor and the house’s famous melodic Semar Pegulingan is playing. Agung Bagus plays the rebab (cello) and looks splendid, as always, dressed in regal 19th century palace garb.
Halfway through the evening, one of his pupils does a solo performance of the difficult Kebyar Duduk. At the end of this performance, Bagus’ son storms into the tight court, in normal Balinese dress, and starts a truly inspired version of the same dance but including his father, who remains seated, playing the rebab and his grandmother and small niece.
It is the most touching ten minutes of ngayah (devotional performance), and I feel so privileged to have seen it.
A.A. Iswara dancing in his family house temple, Puri Kaleran Mandala, Peliatan
You can see it in this video: http://youtu.be/n50Prr2MVBk