Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Stranger in Paradise: The Brahmans are coming

The Brahmans are coming

Ida Pedanda Gede Sadhawa Jelantik & his wife, Ida Pedanda Istri Agung Ratna Sadhawa, at their Pediksaan ceremony
at Geria Sadhawa, Tegal Tugu, Gianyar, 23 September 2015
So many princely houses have folded lately — sold due to gambling debts, or just deserted under the weight of the combined ceremonial responsibility — that one starts to worry for the future of feudalism. The great palaces of Gianyar, Sukawati, Karangasem and Mengwi are all but empty: their liege lords having chosen to live in the Civic Centre district (Renon) so that they can be nearer Pizza Hut and away from the constant demands of their braying subjects.
Meanwhille, the Brahman houses are thriving. There are more Brahman priests (pedanda) on Bali than ever before and a new sect — theglambram  (Brahmana-glamourd an elite division of hotel-owning, Jaguar-driving Brahmans — are consolidating.
Will it eventually be like Hindu India, where the Brahmans now rule the roost and control the land deals; the ksatria having disappeared up their collective bottoms and down their perfume bottles decades ago?
The great Brahmana-kuasa villages of Bali — Sanur, Munggu, Buda Keling, Banjar, Kesiman, Mas, Manuaba, Tegal (Denpasar, Bajra, Sidemen, Kesiman (Denpasar), Kamasan (Klungkung) — are infinitely happier than ones controlled by the princely families, with their constant bickering over Tahta Harta Wanita  (Throne, Wealth, Women).
Ceremonial objects as part of the ordination
Last month I went to the pediksaan (priest ordination) of the ex- head of the P.D.I. political party in Gianyar — a dashing, tall Brahman I have seen on the ceremonial circuit over the years. The ceremony was immaculate: during the climax of the weeks of ritual, the novices have to ceremonially ‘die’ and be brought back to life with a kick to the head by their Nabe/guru.
The atmosphere in the Geria Sedawa in Gianyar is magical — all the palace ladies are fluttering about with offerings and special tantric power object and such.
The courtyards were packed to the gills with representatives from all the major brahmana houses in the regency. On the high pavilion sat the Mayor of Gianyar  A.A. Berata, the local prince, and Cokorda Pemecutan XI, my big love, whose son-in law’s uncle was being ordained. The princes roared and joked (about recent conquests) while the gathered brahmans sat pretty, doing real estate deals.
At one point, I escaped the fashion show-cum-ordination and visited the 12th century temple next door, which has a 500 year old inscribed lontar palm book the Tantra Dwijendra, telling of the visit to the temple of Dang Hyang Dwijendra Pedanda Sakti Wawu Rauh in the 16th Century. The temple, Pura Tugu, is a classic example of Majapahit-Bali architecture. Dwijendra is the great ancestor of nearly all of the present-day Brahmans (only the Buda Keling Brahmans are descended from Dang Hyang Astapaka, Dwijendra’s cousin).
Pura Tugu in East Gianyar
By chance, last month also, I visited the home town in Java, near Kediri, from whence the brahmana Bali originate. There, in a temple dedicated to Empu Baradah, was a family tree showing how all of Java and Bali’s high priests are descended from three Indian Brahmans who came to Java in the 9th century.
No ksatria family can trace their line back that far.
 22 September 2015: Sanur for 6 month (3 month) of my gorgeous niece Dayu Mas’ daughter.
Last year, my favourite niece from my adopted Balinese family married a Sanur brahmana — a sweet skinny lad from a major Brahman house.
It was considered something of a coup as our little geria (Brahman house) — an offshoot of the Brahmana Manuaba palaces of Bajing and Sidemen — is small fry compared to the great Brahman houses of Sanur, which all own at least one petrol station and whose women-folk carry designer hand bags.
Dayu Mas & her daughter at the Oton ceremony of her daughter at Geria Ngayasan, Intaran, Sanur Kauh, 22 September 2015
The high priests officiating were like Mr and Mrs Santa, beaming good will as the tiny tot had her hair cut, ceremonially, and bangles put on.
The Balinese Brahmans have an expression, “Jaga Kulit” (noblesse du peche), which relates to their specialness, being born Brahman.
The rites de passage of young Brahmans are therefore especially joyous, and quasi-sacred affairs with extra care being taken by the officiating priests to ensure that the young child is properly covered with spiritual insurance.
Willem Aarnout van den Wall BakeEditor, Wijaya Words, 2008-2015

Born Den Haag, 16th December 1940, Died Bali, 19th October 2015

14 October 2015: Bali’s best hospitals deal with medical emergency, brilliantly. 
Early this morning I found my house guest, old friend Willem Bake, prostrate, face up, barely breathing in the cottage.
My staff fashioned a palanquin from an Anglo-Indian antique chair and we conveyed him down the garden to the car and then sped off to S.OS.
They directed us to Emergency — a wide back door V where the trolley and staff were ready with oxygen and drip.
Meanwhile Willem  had turned blue, cradled in Amir’s arms in the back seat of my strassenpanzer (not a bad way to go for an old colonial).
“To Siloam Emergency” came the scream, and Willem was put into an ambulance, with Amir, who has barely left the compound in the 20 odd years he has worked for me. I followed in the strassenpanzer.
At Siloam Sunset Hospital it was 2 metres from the kerb to the door, a further 5 metres to the sliding door into emergency where a team were waiting.
“Dutch Ambassador’s cousin,” I told the waiting admissions nurse, “Mother of Queen Juliana lady-in-waiting.
Well, with that the defribulation paddles flew off the wall and before you could say “Kompeni….” we had him back.
I was then lead to a long arched reception desk to arrange finance — it was like the reception counter at Emirates First Class lounge at Dubai International, but surrounded by big cake shops. Willem’s wallet was produced, thank God all the cards work.
In the wallet there was $15 which I gave to Amir. Willem, a millionaire, went to the ATM once a day, to withdraw $25 in the ancient Dutch tradition.
For years Willem has edited this column from his eyrie in Den Haag; he would most certainly edited out that last paragraph, he was a stickler for propriety.
•        •        •
Willem Bake's ashes confined to the ocean (Ngayut Abu Pak Willem, Pantai Matahari Terbit, Sanur, 22 October 2015)
Postscript: Willem passed away a few days after admission to the I.C.U. He will be sadly missed by all of us here at Wijaya Words, and by a host of friends in Jakarta and by his family in Holland, especially his mother.

Travel Diaries: Kediri - Tulungagung - Ponorogo

Kediri - Tulungagung - Ponorogo

Reog dancer backstage at the Ponorogo festival
This year the governments of East and Central Java held a south coast  cultural festival  involving Banyuwangi, Blitar, Kediri and Tulungagung,  with the highlight a Larung Sesaji procession of offerings to the sea on the 25th October.
I decided to attend and take in a few days sightseeing on the Malang – Tulungagung – Ponorogo – Yogyakarta road. I flew into Malang with a few friends — staying one night at the lovely Tugu Park, my favourite hotel in the world — and left early the next morning to visit the Hindu Majapahit-era candi temple in Pare, north of Kediri, an easy three-hour drive through the mountain  west of Batu.
Pare must have been some capital in its height day, from the 10th – 15th century: there are monuments in the district to King Joyoboyo and pioneer priest Empu Beradah (who achieved moksha there after a stellar decade long career re-shaping the Balinese Siwa-Buddha religion and funerary monuments to various Majapahit rulers in Bali).
The erotic carving at Candi Surowono, Pare, Kediri

Carvings on Candi Tegowangi, Pare, Kediri

Carving on Candi Sangahan in Tulungagung

Exquisite 15th Century Majapahit Era carvings on Candi Surowono, Pare, Kediri
We first visited the Majapahit-era temples Candi Tejowangi and the nearby Candi Surowono, which are nestled in a pretty rural countryside outside the city. Both feature bases carved with stories from Panji tales. The carving style is very lyrical and dynamic — late Majapahit/Proto Bali-Majapahit, I would call it — and feature amazing temple architecture depictions and even some Hindu hanky panky (see photo this page) reciting the famous Khajuraho temple in India.
Five kilometers away is the enigmatic Situs Semen, where a pair of giant   granite naga (dragon) heads on a picturesque river meander, rumoured to have once been the site of a major palace, and now the site of a major archaeological dig.

Photographer Tim Street-Porter and assistant
at Situs Semen
Top: Statues beside Candi Tegowangi, Pare.
Bottom: The Naga heads at Situs Semen, near Pare
One kilometer south is the holy spring Tirta Kamandanu — now a Hindu theme-park — where King Joyoboyo bathed before achievingmoksha under a tree in a field nearby (today it is marked by a small patilesan shrine). Just beyond the complexe’s car park is a Kediri Hindu temple commemorating  the great Kediri priest Empu Beradah, brother of Empu Kuturan.
Empu Kuturan founded the mighty Pasek clan in Bali; and he held a unifying summit (pesamuan) at Pura Samuan Tiga in Bedulu near Ubud in the 10th century, during the reign of Raja Airlangga, the Balinese-born ruler of the Kahuripan kingdom.
From Pare we drove to Kediri to the charming colonial era Merdeka Hotel and shopped for the local ikat ndek weave sarongs in the market nearby. Just near the markets off the main street is the 16th century Muslim century Setono Gedong once the site of an important Hindu temple during Kediri’s classic Hindu Java era. Many relics from this era have been preserved at the cemetery including a huge lotus base, once the stand for a Hindu deity, and some stone column bases.

Kediri by Tim Street-Porter

Gudang Garam engineers at breakfast at the Hotel
Merdeka, Kediri

A young Ustad cleric and friend in the lobby of the Merdeka
Hotel, Kediri
The cemetery itself features three important tombs built in the red-brick islam-Majapahit Kudus style. (The Imam of Demak, the first Islam Majapahit sultancy who lead a decisive victory over the Majapahit troops was the father of Sunan Kudus). The cungkup tombs, all exquisite, are to Sunan Demang, Amangkurat IV and to a mysterious Persian Syiek that local legend has it brought Islam to Kediri as early as the 11th century.
Exquisite 17th Century Islam-Majapahit brickwork on tombs at Setono Gedong, Kediri
After Setono Gedong we visited the Airlangga Museum in the culture park near the marvelous 10th century Goa Selomanggleng meditation cave. A daughter of the 10th century ruler of Kediri — the crown princess  renounced her claim to the throne at a young age and spent the rest of her life meditating in this exquisitely-carved (almost Khmer style) cave complex.
The museum below is a bit underwhelming but well worth the detour — many of the few surviving statues from Kediri’s classical era (10 – 30th century) are housed here.

In the store room of the Museum Airlangga, Kediri
Goa Selomanggleng, South of Tulungagung,East Java, 9th century
From Kediri we drove west two hours to the town of Tulungangung, famous for its marble production.
We visited the other 10th century Goa Selomanggleng (the other Selomanggleng, which means hanging rock) in a teak forest south of the township. It features the most beautiful wall carvings. Nearby we visited the 15th century Candi Sanggaran, a Majapahit temple complex presently being restored. It’s remarkable how far west extended the realm of monumental Majapahit.
After the intense mid-day, dry season heat of the morning programme, we were delighted to be lead by our local guide to an oasis-like restaurant, the Tiga Dapoer Batavia on the outskirts of town. Built in a quasi-Majapahit courtyard style, the Javanese colonial  architecture and lush gardens are a treat; the food was excellent too.

The Kala head at Beji Sirah Keteng, Bedingin
The last stop on our south coast cultural excursion was Ponorogo, the home of the spectacular National Reog Festival. Reog is an ancient dance form originally performed in  village squares, as part of fertility rites, but lately transferred to the stage with eye-catching choreography.
On the way to Ponorogo, just 15 minutes short of the town, we stopped at the old Majapahit temple site called Beji Sirah Keteng in Bedangin, Sambit where a very large Kala head sits in a cungkup-like pavilion. Local legend has it that this commemorated battle between an evil Majapahit nobleman (Raden) and a good one.

The fishing tank near Beji Sirah Keteng, Bedingin, outside Ponorogo
In Ponorogo we stayed at a delightful colonial bungalow hotel called La Tiban in the centre of town. The owner Ibu Ida was born in the house and at Rp. 400.000/night it is a steal!
Before sunset famed photographer Tim Street-Porter and I went to see the dress rehearsal of SMAKN 2 Wonogiri’s Reog troupe in the forecourt of the delightful Tamanarum graveyard, which featured an architecturally-interesting 18th century cungkup tomb for a Solo Prince.
That night Wonogiri’s troupe danced and sang the roof off the stadium at the Nationals. Prima ballerina assoluta Lilin was sensational.

Reog dancer backstage at the Ponorogo festival

Inul of Wonogiri, superstar dancer at the Ponorogo Reog Festival