Friday, 2 November 2012

Stranger in Paradise: Pecatu’s Hirsute Priests

Hirsute Pecatu Priest in his home village.
Pecatu’s Hirsute Priests
Pecatu was once a penal colony and the hunting grounds for the royals of Denpasar.
When I first went there in 1978 I stayed with a peanut farmer in his very modest bamboo hut. In the morning we walked some miles to Uluwatu Temple which was inhabited by wizened ‘peasant priests’ (super simple folk with heighted senses of spirit contact).
Over the years I have watched Pecatu grow: first into a surfy hang out; then into a dream home destination for the ocean-view besotted. Recently, after the addition of the Bulgari and New Kuta, (Old Pecatu) Tourism Zone, it has become a prime luxury real estate belt.
There was a middle period when Dreamland Beach was the preferred surfing beach for all bright young things with bright bright eyes (magic mushrooms) but the era of wanton teenage hedonism has been replaced by packaged hedonism with Swarovski mega-spas.

A palace priest from Puri Agung Jero Kuta attending devotees inside Pura Luhur Uluwatu temple
A few wealthy surfies cling to the craggy hills, and one famous New York artist, but mostly it is just villa people behaving like village people (Pecatu has Bali’s only openly gay warung which serves gourmet jaffles for surfies who are a bit light in their flippers).
The real village people, the Pecatunistas, and indeed the village itself, have grown prosperous: Pecatu’s L.S.M. (community welfare office) is the biggest in Bali; and the once unique Bukit limestone temple have all been given Grade III TRANSFORMER-STYLE black andesite facelifts. The village’s central temple, The Pura Persimpangan, is the ‘holiday home’ of the main gods of Uluwatu; it is where they are ‘parked’ between odalan festivals. Every six months when I go to Pura Luhur I stop first at Pecatu to witness the departure of the gods.
This year it was bigger than Ben Hur.

The main god Batara Luhur is taken out of his pagoda at the Pura Persimpangan Pecatu
It seems that half of the village are either priests or pecalang (temple security). For fuller coverage, see my video
There are still a few hirsute priests of the space-cadet variety (I mean that in a caring way) but mostly it’s hard-core Classical Hinduism with exquisite timing and ritual. It’s most impressive to witness an overture (the gods procession to the temple in this case) re-styled as the main event. The arrival at the temple, once involving a fairly humble installation ceremony, is now the occasion for twin sister priestly trancees, and a grandstand of pecalang (MENSCH IN BLACK) and cordons to keep back the Taiwanese day-trippers. The Kerobokan palace gamelan plays as they process through the main courtyard and handover the gods into the care of the palace priests from Puri Agung Jero Kuta Denpasar, who run the show.
Next year they’ll need some helicopters and a fog machine to keep up the dramatic pace!
Next day, on Facebook, my photos of the event evoke an outburst from a pale-face surfy intellectual: "Now these are some real people. Tough as nails. 
No high brow caste climbing pomp in this dusty little dead end town."
The scene in the middle Jaba Tengah court of Pura Luhur Uluwatu on Odalan day.
To which I answered:
"What would you know about caste-climbing you sosialis anggur poof (champagne socialist. Ed.)??!! Your dusty little dead end town now has the highest sale rate of sun-tan lotion and jaffle irons in the Southern Hemisphere. The brahman 'mangku' Pura Pererepan Pecatu, who yesterday, ran the show like a benevolent tyrant yesterday delivered the gods into the competent ROYAL hands of the Puri Agung Jero Kuta(Denpasar) pengempon temple custodians. Your “dusty little Pecatu” 'pengayah' and 'pemedak' (not so dusty any more, Doris, in Ray-bans and Puma fashion) were thrilled to have the god statue of a Javanese Tiwangsa (Dhang Hyang Dwijendra) on their head for even 5 seconds  and are ever-grateful, as is all Bali, for the devoted royal patronage (lése majesté)of the Jero Kuta royals.
See my video PEMAPAGAN from last Monday for another correct take on the devotion of the people (in this case the formerly dusty Medwi villagers) to their princes). I mean you arm-chair liberals make me sick!! Do you think for one minute that the show would go on if the much-anticipated bukit bule surfy shroomers' revolution eventuated?? POWER TO THE PRINCES, I say." 
Such is the wonderful exchanging of views going on in the social media in Bali today.
Sunday, 23rd September 2012: To a  garden party to talk about change
This magazine’s publisher stages an annual event to raise money for charity.
This year, to keep people away, they had a panel of experts discussing the “Changing Face of Bali”. It didn’t work: people came in droves; expat school children in skimpy outfits performed on the grass. There was an African gamelan (Green School), and a Brazilian martial arts group and big band sounds from The Bali Angels (see photos below).

This is the changing face of Bali: a swirling multi ethic expatria making a lot of noise in the margins around the Balinese doing things.
Congratulations Phoenix Communications on a brilliantly organized event.
 7 October 2012: Puri Grenceng  A royal cremation rocks downtown Denpasar 
Unlike the Garden Party there are no expats or even tourists at this street party.
Not so long ago, at such mega events, with floats and marching bands and magnificent processions, the streets would have been lined with amateur-anthropologists in Barong shirts.
The palaces themselves are changing too — not just the audience for palace spectaculars or lack thereof — as most are now empty. The royals, wary of Noblesse Oblige, are mostly huddled in a blue ribbon suburbs like Renon, to be close to MacDonalds and Pizza Hut outlets.
The royal palaces of Gianyar, Sukawati and, to an extent, Karangasem are under-inhabited. Today at Puri Grenceng I see that all the Grenceng’s  relatives from Denpasar’s first families (a sort of royal rent-a-crowd who move from palace to palace witnessing wedding after cremation after tooth-filing, often just on big screens in outer courts) are all immaculately dressed and primed for action.

Amazingly, despite the new, less palace-bound lifestyles, the young royals still know what to do. They never miss a beat — splashing corpses or pulling heads off chickens. Without them Bali would be a much duller place.
Die-hards can watch my video of this event: for a complete coverage of the magnificent cremation.

Images from the cremation of Wayan Gede Sumastra at Kepaon,
25th September 2012.