Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Stranger in Paradise: Bangli – Bali’s quiet Kingdom

Bangli – Bali’s quiet Kingdom
Young Malet Gusti Pemecutan noble  shows off his Pemecutan tattoo at the cremation
Bangli is an ancient mountain kingdom tucked in to the hills between Karangasem, Klungkung and the  scenic districts of Lake Batur and Kintamani. The regency’s palace, Puri Bangli, is the oldest on the island.
Last month I was bidden there, to Malet Gusti village, which is about 20 minutes north of Tampaksiring, for a cremation being held by a Denpasar warrior prince clan who have lived up in the hills, some 1000 strong, for the last 300 years.
Denpasar’s reigning raja, Cokorda Pemecutan XI is wildly popular with his mountain cousins and I was dispatched early on the day as a sort of advanced paleface groupie, to take snaps.
The village is as delightful a mountain Balinese village as you will find — and it is in full cremation swing when I arrive.  All the beefy men-folk (a Pemecutan clan feature) are sporting the family whip, embroidered on shirts or tattooed on chests.
The local prince Gusti Dapat receives us in a disco-palace VIP lounge veranda, part of an otherwise simple rural home. It turns out that Gusti Dapet is a traditional architect: the Malet clan annually send 40 exquisite jaka leaf penjor (woven banners) to the main palace for the tenth full month ceremonies and build all the funeral biers for big Pemecutan cremations.
One learned senior tipped me off about a 10th century temple nearby, in Malet Dalem, and the family’s house shrine in Tiga, a short drive away. I vowed to check them out.
•    •    •
The cremation was a riotous affair, as mountain cremations usually are, with the Cokorda arriving just as the coffin was being conveyed out the house gate. He looked incredibly regal in a maroon headdress and black jacket — ikat secured  at the waist in the Pemecutan style. His wife, the Cokorda Istri, looked stunning in a long blue chemise. The villagers were thrilled when the Cokorda had a pee roadside and then loaned himself for photo ops at the cremation ground before dragging us all off to Grahadi, the family’s pleasure palace in Kuta, for seafood.
•    •    •
The next day I went back to investigate the temples. Pockets of traditional architectural excellence  are rare in Bali these days — the stampede to restore and ruin is out of control — but I did find out some real gems in the temples near Tiga and Malet. This area had once served the ancient 10th century kingdom of Tampaksiring so one does find the occasional archaeological treasure — such as the exquisite lingum in the Pura Penataran Aer Malet in Malet Tengah, and a beautiful Majapahit-style  boma carving in the Merajan Pemecutan in Tiga (see photos below).
Bangli Temple Architecture
23 May, 2015
Many of the houses had photos of the Cokorda and his father in their ceremonial pavilions — rather like the photos of King George V one finds in the far-flung mountain villages of Fiji!!
26 May 2015: Barong Suwung Kajeng dances at Pura Desa Kepaon 
Last month I wrote about the lovely teenage trancees invading South Bali temple festivals. It’s a trend I first observed in this village when a phalanx of pretty miss from Mogan flew into trance at our temple the night their barong danced for the first time in 90 years. The teenage girls were all descend auts of the barong’s female devotees from the 1920s and had no previous trance experience.
26 May 2015: Young trancer at the Barong Suwung Kauh trance-fest at the Pura Desa Kepaon.
Since then, temple festivals from Canggu to Jimbaran have featured tripped-out teenagers, as a part of a coastal trend (Bali’s South coast temples are famously spooky).
Tonight, at Pura Desa Kepaon, the barong dance had barely started when tour lovely teenage trancers invaded the stage — one even dancing a spirited pas-de-trois with the two witch queens.
It was mesmerizing to behold — the lithe writhing of the young trancee combined with the stylized stomping of the witch queen.
•    •    •
The once in a generation, seven-week Ngusaba Desa rituals are now over and the village is going to have to return to normal: no more daily dance performances and processions. More than anything, the rituals have enforced a heightened solidarity between village members, village elders and our village priests (there were 70 from over 30 local temples).
Was it worth the $200,000? To guarantee better community relations for the next generations at least — I’d have to say yes. For two months, 5000 people had tickets to the greatest show on earth!

1 June 2015: Ida Pedanda Buda and son at the climax of the Pura Desa Kepaon Ngusaba Desa rituals.
See video Ngusaba Desa: