Wednesday 10 July 2013

Stranger in Paradise: Tenganan’s Great Day

After Tenganan I went on a North Bali architectural expedition and discovered a few temples that have escaped the current craze for ‘Transformer-Brontosaurus (Andesite stone)’ renovations, and, along the coastal stretches of the far North East, a few remarkable Bali Mula (Pre-Hindu) villages.
Now read on

Tenganan village youths gathered in the long pavilion watching the perang pandan battles.

The annual Perang Pandan (Battle of the Pandanus Sheaths) at Tenganan Village in East Bali is Bali’s premier sporting event. It combines venue — staged as it is, alongside the island’s most elegant long pavilion — with the most mesmerizing, if muted, cheerleaders on the planet (see photos below).
As street ‘theatre’ goes, it is sensational.

1979 Stranger Archive photograph of two Tenganan lovelies.

Wednesday 26 June 2013: To the Bali Aga (Ancient Bali) Tenganan Pegringsingan Village near Manggis, East Bali, for the climax of their annual village ‘fete’
I usually visit Tenganan early early morning or late late afternoon, otherwise one really can’t see the unique village for the tourist handicrafts stalls that get set up in the village common.
Today I arrive at 11. A.m. for the 1 p.m. event and the village is packed with motor bikes and Balinese tourists sporting big cameras.
I slink around to the quieter eastern lane — there are only two long lanes — to visit the home of my new friend architect Putu Wiadnyana who is just back from a spell at a college Delhi, in India.
His classic Tenganan home is brimming with girls in traditional costumes — all pruning themselves for their appearance later in the day in the village’s central long house, next to the battle arena stage.
Putu I find around the corner in the northernmost long-house making armadillo satay with the youth group.
As we are talking about the delights of Delhi, a gamelan procession led by two tripped-out trance masters waving daggers turns the corner; a line of bare-chested combatants  bearing colourful umbrellas takes up the  rear.
Just below us, on the mid-terrace in front of the village’s  most important shrine, the Pelinggih Penyawangan, villagers from nearby Ngis Village are praying to Tenganan’s main village deity as the village’s head priest, Mangku Widia, scrambles  up and down a narrow bamboo ladder.
At 1.30 p.m. the sacred gong selonding starts up and the battles began. Pairs of combatants protected only by rattan shields  go at each other like bats out of hell. There is one tourist combatant, a blond Andy Murray-type, who equips himself well, and two tiny tots who seem amazingly happy to rip at each other’s flesh with sharp pandanus leaves.
As the battle rages teen-aged girls climb up into the long pavilion and drape themselves over the railing that delineates the sacred end of the long pavilion.
It is one of the prettiest back-drops in the history of ritual ceremonies and I am reminded of the title of the great Swiss ethnographer  Urs
Ramseyer’s book on Tenganan,  “The Cosmic Theatre”. Today it is full house and the theatre is alive and kicking!
For a fuller report watch my video “Perang Pandan;
15 July 2013, To North Bali to find some architectural gems
In a few weeks I have to give a lecture on regional style at the North Bali Conference and I’m dedicating a few weekends to topping up my knowledge.
I’m afraid that most of the unique examples of the florid and phantasmagorical North Bali School have been wiped out by progressives bent on ‘Rehab’ (I often think of the refrain in Amy Winehouse’s immortal song —“No, No, No — when I look at the results of most temple restorations on the island). Mercifully,  there is a small band of concerned conservationists in the North, in Bungkulan and Bila villages in particular, who are doing their best to save some North Coast gems (see the Julah village temple photos in last month’s Stranger in Paradise column at
Today I cruise the colonial era trading town of Tejakula once home to a suite of the most extraordinary colonial Hindu hybrids this side of Mysore.
Colonial era Communal baths and holy spring, Tejakula.

Statue in shrine at Tejakula baths.
Singa on wall at Punggawa’s house, Tejakula
Pura Dhangin Carik gate detail.

In the town centre I find many miniature neo-classical bungalows similar to those one finds in the towns all along the North Coast of Java — Gresik, Lasem, Tuban — and on Madura Island (Sumenep and Bangkalan in particular). These tight-packed walled compounds have ‘low slung’ shrines and house temples, similar to mountain Bali villages. I can work that into my lecture, as evidence for my mountain to the sea cultural migration theory, but I need a living example of the old temple architecture once existing at  Tejakula which I have seen suggestions of in books and museums (most recently at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco’s 2010 “Bali” Exhibition (see photo below)).

Early 19th Century Tejakula temple door, at Asian Art Museum, San Fransisco (Courtesy of Bali Art Ritual Performance Book)
By great fortune at Tejakula Beach, I get a tip about one very old temple called Pura Dhangin Carik, next to the football field.
With my heart pounding I race there and find the architectural equivalent of the holy grail — the last surviving example of the great neo-colonial, Balinese Baroque Tejakula school(see photo opposite page and video Road to Tejakula Part 2
What is particularly exciting for me is the artwork on the carved stucco and stone walls as there are very few examples of such carvings and of original 19th century paintwork left on Balinese temples. The typical Buleleng (North Bali) palette of pretty pastel and indigo blue colours used here, has been preserved on the walls due to the unusual colonial era ‘particos’ on the shine vaults (gedong) these frame classic Majapahit (Hindu-Java 14th century) doors coloures in of black and red (kincu) and gold.
Detail of one of the shrines at Pura Dhangin Carik temple, Tejakula
The lovely temple garden — which still has a  grass coutyard — has likewise resisted the trend  for hardscape and municipal features.
All in all it is a feast for the eyes, and well worth the detour.