Thursday, 24 May 2012

PRE-WEDDING: Ungkap Lawang ritual at Geria Kepaon, 23 May 2012

Dayu Mahyuni Prabhawati is fetched by Ida Bagus Kadek Sastrawan from
Geria Ring Dikit-Seritit, Singaraja, Buleleng.

Friday, 18 May 2012


Stranger in Paradise: THAT OLD WHITE MAGIC

Parekan attendants at Samuan Tiga Temple convey the seven sacred peselang effigies down the temple’s central steps during the climax of the odalan festival, 6 May 2012.

Once upon a time in the magical middle kingdom of Bedulu, a dynamic Hindu-Javanese holy man held a big pow-wow with the aim of uniting all of Bali’s religious sects.
1000 years later, Hindu-Java is long gone but that ‘conference’ (pesamuan) is still being commemorated once a year at Pura Samuan Tiga.
The priest’s name, Empu Kuturan, has gone down in history as the father of Hindu-Bali — that branch of ceremonially-rich Siwa-Buddhism that is still practiced, fervently, across the island.
Last month was the temple’s odalan anniversary — I was lucky to record a series of magical moments that left me numb with awe.
“If only the Balinese could turn their organizational skills to the baggage trolleys at the airport” one cynic dryly observed while watching the temple’s courtyards in perfect synchronized action.
It was a magnificent show.
Pre-teen rejang dancers await their call at Pura Maospahit, Denpasar, 5 May 2012.
The day before I had traveled from the chaos that is Denpasar’s airport, through the chaos that is now west Denpasar, to the odalan of another ancient temple, the exquisite Pura Maospahit in Grenceng, Central Denpasar.
I had met one of the temple’s priests on line on Facebook and was invited to record the event.
As the tourists get dumb and dumber — eschewing the delights of Real Bali in favour of the cheap thrills of ‘New (pasteurized) Beep-Bop Bali’ — the Balinese are getting bigger and brighter, even reading my column to reaffirm their belief in their own wonderfulness.
Amongst the Balinese there is a huge renaissance in interest in all things classical, in inverse proportion to the interest expressed within the tourist and expatriate communities. These days, one hardly ever sees a tourist at a big temple event.
The 21 day long temple festival at Pura Besakih which also culminated last month — the 10th and 11th months on the Balinese calendar holier than others — was packed like never before.
The high priests had walkie-talkies and the temple wardens (pecalang) were like sacred service agents herding devotees from courtyard to courtyard like souped-up shepherds. Besakih even has a new corps of ojek motorbike taxis that ferry the faithful from their increasingly bigger buses in increasing more distant car parks. Many were dressed like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”. (See photo “Ojek Chic” in the top).
This year the bus which my office rented had a smoking section and a toilet and a dashingly good looking driver who caused quite a stir in the front seats when he sounded his mega claxon. (See my video ‘Besakih is a Mood’:
Now read on!

Temple Samuan Tiga, Gianyar
9 May 2012: To Samuan Tiga for the “Siat Sampiyan” (Battle of the dangling offerings) ceremonies
Balinese temples often ‘host’ ceremonial battles. Most famous is the Perang Dewa ‘Battle of the Gods’ held in a temple at Satria village East of Klungkung on Kuningan holyday. During this ritual, devotees in a trance-like state carry palanquin of seated deities around and around like dodgem cars.
At Tenganan, the Bali Aga village, one temple festival is celebrated with half-naked young men wielding wicker shields battle each other with sheaths of prickly pandanus leaves. 
In Munggu Village, west of Seminyak, also on Kuningan, hundreds of villagers take to the streets with bamboo poles which are crossed and bashed in the air as turmoil erupts.
Perhaps the most photographed ritual ‘battle’ is the SIAT SAMPIYAN at Pura Samuan Tiga, made famous in a series of images published by Ubud-based photographer Rio Helmi in the 1980s.
• • •
This morning I arrive at 10 a.m. to find groups of permas lady temple attendants fluttering in front of shrines — today they are wearing an abundance of red and white flowers in their top knots and elegant two-tone black and white costumes.
These attendants make all the offerings and, with the 300 or so male attendants, called parakan, decorate the shrines and run all the rituals. There is no royal patron for Samuan Tiga; six pekraman (sub-village units) run the 30 day event every year with approximately 1000 families paying Rp.100.000 each.
By 11 a.m. the thee main courtyards of the 10th century ‘state temple’ are packed; there are three gamelan orchestras playing and the press corps has been corralled, against its will, in a sunny spot north of the Bale Pegat ‘Pavilion of Oath’. Regular announcements threaten expulsion if we disobey.
I don’t carry a big lens or a saddle bag so I manage to avoid arrest by sidling up to the temple’s ‘Chief Prosecutor’, and guardian, Mr. Wayan Patra and give him a copy of the  video I made two days ago at the temple’s big day (See ‘Mapeselang Pura Samuan Tiga’:
Siat Sampiyan
Battle of the dangling offering at Pura Samuan Tiga, Gianyar, 9 May 2012
We are soon fast friends and I am pressed to donate a carpark or ten varieties of coconut. (Apparently there’s a pale-face priest in the village called Wayan Hawaii who’s very generous).
He confirms, as Rio Helmi had, that the Pralingga Peselang gods, unique to this temple, symbolize Buddhism, whilst the temple’s other gods represent Siwa-ite Hinduism.
As we discuss the fascinating 1000 year old history of this festival, congo-lines of permas attendants start weaving around  the temple in perambulations similar to those I have seen in the Buddhist temples of Burma and Bhutan.
By noon the 500 or so parekan surge down the temple’s central processional stair and, holding hands in a long daisy chain, start ricocheting of shrine bases and walls as they perambulate in frenzied fashion.
The gamelan music turns nasty.
The permas start wailing.

The head priest of Pura Samuan Tiga witnesses the mock battle from his podium perch

Lady attendants pray before the start of the rituals.
The groups race pell mell, from shrine to shrine, offering prayers. In front of the main paruman shrine the sweaty, heaving mass of men erupt into a sort of Ketjak Dance as the head priest comes down the shrine’s central stair, not unlike a Vegas diva, with a shining silver vat of holy water.
It’s all terribly theatrical and photogenic; “like a scout jamboree on jungle juice”, one cynic pronounces. (As such events get more and more ‘choreographed’ in Bali, cynicism is bound to creep in with the theatre critics.Ed.).
The next ‘act’ involves the parekan players grabbing the sampiyan — large woven shine ‘earings’ — and beating each other around the central court.
In other corners of the temple’s main court a gamelan thrashes out a beefy beleganjur melody, while photographers resist arrest, the High Priest beams blissfully from his holy perch as glee-filled gladiators  erupt into a melee of woven coconut and boisterousness below.
A riotously good show comes to its end: the final act in a temple festival that has raged for almost a month, with huge heapings of devotion, decoration and drama!
Enthusiasts can watch the video:
Director's cut: SIAT SAMPIYAN, Pura Samuan Tiga

Travel Diaries: LOMBOK

Bull-racing is popular in Central Lombok as this municipal statue testifies.


Last month my Sasak-Lombok friend Amir convinced me to try the new improved ferry service from Padangbai Harbor in East Bali, to Lembar Harbor in neigbouring Lombok.
These days I’ll do anything to avoid Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport: going by ferry allows one to bring both car and support team. Ferries leave hourly, around the clock, which means there’s no panic.
We lucked out on the way there with the top of the line ‘M.V. Putri Nungging’ ferry: it has an air conditioned, carpeted ‘lesehan’ (or crashing room) with mattresses for rent at Rp. 30,000 a flop. On the way back we were not so luckly and had to rent a below-deck crew cabin to escape the mayhem.

Beautiful Kute Beach, Central Lombok, in front of the Novotel.
Either way it’s only a gentle 3 – 4 hour crossing and P.T. Indonesia Ferry’s does a great job managing the logistics.
Lembar Harbor is a pleasant 40 minute drive from still-pristine Kute Beach, the island’s great white (sand) hope.
In Kute I stayed at the Novotel, an Eastern Indonesia village-themed masterpiece by Bangkok’s dynamic design duo, Bill Bensley and Lek Bunnaq, designers of the equally theatrical Four Seasons Langkawi and the over-the-top Four Seasons Chiang Mai.
As “over the top” is my middle name I revelled in the wildly romantic Hawaiian-Sasak villagescape: The gardens, after 15 years, are particularly splendid; their almost private beach is to die for.

The lovely lagoons and verdant hills that flank the entrance to the Mandalika Tourism Zone at Kute Beach, Lombok’s answer to Nusa Dua, but infinitely nicer.
Architeck Lek Bunnaq and landscape artist Bill Bensley collaborated on the Sasak-village inspired Novotel, Kute Beach.

The exquisite gardens of the Novotel, Kute Beach designed by Bill Bensley.

“Lord of the Flies” meets “Endless Summer”: an Ozzie senior-surfie greets the beach vendors before breakfast, Kute Beach.
Every morning, armed street-gangs of pre-teen coconut vendors would pick-off cashed-up Australian surfies on the way to the reef break off Risky Beach — sort of ‘Endless Summer’ meets ‘Lord of the Rings’.
One day Amir took me to his village a mile down the coast form the Novotel. It is a survivor from the Mandalika Bay Tourism Development Companies’ extensive ‘re-zoning’.
There, in perfect harmony (give or take a few late night machete murders), live 122 Sasak families in an idyllic Fiji-an village like settlement without walls or fences.

A typical Sasak village nestled in a coconut grove near Kute,
Central Lombok.
Sasak homes are simple but comfortable: family life unfolds
in the open pavilion.
Young Sasak girl at home.
Families gather in open buré-like pavilions as miniature cows wallow in shit in picturesque pens nearby (the Sasak  are whizz-bang pen and bamboo hut builders). Everyone is handsome and happy: everyone else sits there and bears it, with a grandchild on top of their lap.
My party were served a beef balung curry and baby squid as the wind picked through the coconut trees: it was like Kuta in Bali in the 1960s, without the drugs.
One hopes that the villagers win the battle with the Jakartan developers and are allowed to keep their village and dreamy lifestyle.
Just west of Kute Beach is the secluded, gem-like Selonblanak Beach which has a great restaurant, the Laut Biru.
Further inland is Sada village, once famous as a gem of traditional Sasak village architecture, now a bit of a tourist trap.
In Sasak-land one now needs to explore to get the original flavour.
Near Sada one can visit the kramat grave of the Sasak’s great common ancestor, for example, but only on Wednesdays, or the neighbouring village rises in arms.

An athletic Sasak maiden and cart at the Sengkol market, Central Lombok.
One can visit the market at Sengkol, the biggest village around, and marvel at the somber-hued fashion sense of the local hombres and the colourful batiks of the tough women folk, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Sasaks make Bataks look meek and mild!
For this reason alone I don’t think Kute, Lombok will ever rival Kuta, Bali — where the little woman falls for the cab ‘drivers’ charms on the way to the hotel — but scenically it has a lot more to offer.

Syed Ayam Jago shows off his fighting beasts at Rooster Corner, Sengkol Market, Central Lombok.

Ibu Sri Fatima, the Madame Defarge of the Sengkol market guards Rooster Corner from her shop (See video “Rooster Corner at the Sengkol Market”: ………
There are cultural treats too, in nearby West Lombok: In the 18th century, the royal family of Karangasem (East Bali) established a vassal princedom to manage the burgeoning Hindu Balinese population. There the princes gave vent to the royal hobby of the time — creating water gardens and exquisite pleasure parks.
The Lombok royals created two: Taman Mayura, once the centre of the capitol Cakranegara, and the nearby Narmada, a vast park and temple complex designed along Bali-European lines.

A painting at the entrance to Taman Mayura ‘water palace’ in Cakranegara, West Lombok.
The gardens and pavilions are still worth the detour, but be quick: the hand of Municipal-decoration-mania is creeping in.
It’s a pity that the government can’t better  preserve these treasures.
At Suranadi, the old colonial plantation home and spring-fed baths five miles from Narmada, we had better luck.
There the delapidated splendor of a former era is intact, down to the bohemian-style poolside café serving ‘Suranadi’ fried chicken and chips. It was Sunday when we visited so the baths were full of young things posing like Paris Hilton in wet jilbab.
My group stripped off and jumped into the ice-cold water.
Lombok-Balinese chubs made a bee-line for the floating Daddy.
“Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie?” said a slightly girlish teenager from the edge of the pool.
Had I said “Oi, Oi, Oi” I fear that a hand may have gone shopping under water, so I didn’t.
Driving back to Kute from West Lombok we passed many giant mosques built in the now popular Egyptian-Turkish modern style. Traditionally Lombok Muslims prayed in small, picturesque white mosques located on the edge of the rice fields or at water’s edge. While one still spots large domes rising above the coconut palms in many rural areas, it’s now the super-size, full gloss mosques at village centres that are a big part of the new fundamentalist movement.
Remarkably the Islam Waktu-Telu — Muslims who pray three times a day, not five (along with their Hindu brothers) — still survives in Lingsar village, near Suranadi.
I was reluctant to revisit  the Pura Lingsar Temple this trip, for fear that its exquisite late Majapahit red brick walls and gates would have succumbed to andesite face-lifts.
It’s not a good decade for architectural conservation — so perhaps go soon. 
The roads are in good shape in West and Central Lombok and the routes quite scenic — very like the Java and Bali of old.
One is left with the impression of a prosperous society which respects traditional values, and the environment.
See Video Director's cut : MY LOMBOK: