A whisper came to me from a friend – a fabulous ceremony would be happening in the PuraDalemKedawatan at the northern end of Sanur. I quickly whispered the news on to a couple of other colleagues and on the appointed day, made my way down to Sanur’s salubrious flatlands.

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The temple was already busy by the time I arrived. Offerings were piled high and the procession was about ready to head to the beach. A sea of humanity headed down the wide road, crossing Sanur’s bypass while all traffic stopped as Barongs, temple umbrellas, offerings, effigies, holy relics, gamelan and gongs and all manner of religious paraphernalia was escorted to the beach for prayer. Pecalangs in their fabulous checked saputpoleng blew whistles while police held up the six lanes of traffic. It was a traffic stopper for sure – as the procession wandered by, nonchalant and seemingly unaware of the amazing sight they made.

A few tourists stopped to gaze, amazed, and curious at the fabulous spectacle, while the mostly Brahmin procession continued on – a sea of white shirts and udeng headdress for the men and beautiful white and gold outfits for the women.

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The congregation arranged itself on the beach for prayer and cleansing, before returning to the Pura. The inner sanctum was already piled high with offerings and I could not help but wonder how everything fitted in to a relatively small space.

The main attraction was the group of Baris Dancers. Men in hats covered in marigolds would later perform the sacred BarisGedeTombek but for now they stay on the beach. One old man held every photographer’s attention and at any one time, he seemed to have a dozen or so tele-lenses focusing on his ascetic but strong face. He turned out to be the leader and the man who would send the other dancers in to deep trance states.

Returning to the temple, the procession idled forward and already many glazed eyes revealed a trance state, even before the main event. Propped up by friends and relatives, they all made it back to the sanctity of the PuraDalem, where they would be brought back with the help of a Mangku.

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After more prayer and preparation, the BarisGedeTombek started softly, giving no clue as to what would be happening a little later. The long lances were moved about, the leader seemed to taunt the other dancers. The crowd pressed forward. The pecalang pushed them back. Photographers moved into any possible nook or cranny to get a good angle. The energy was high. Then suddenly, all hell broke loose as tranced out dancers flailed about, their long lances striking the air. It all happened so fast. Men were held down, Mangkus were called upon, and holy water was showered over the crowd.

Just as suddenly as it began, it finished, the energy level abated and it was over. After this main event, we left, slightly shell-shocked by this enormous display of the latent power that lurks just beneath Sanur’s benign, almost sleepy, surface. There would be more events that would last long into the night after a rather long break, and one can only guess what other amazing performances would be in store.

Text & Photos by Ayu Sekar

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