Beauty Pageants in Paradise
Balinese in classical dance costumes fl ung fl owers at Dewa Baruna, God of the Oceans, co-opted for the occasion, as she-males on pontoons in digga-digga-do-do jungle costumes twirled fl aming batons. It was what the Indians call Caca-phoney, but with greased loins
It is amazing what passes for a ceremony in New Age Bali, especially if one considers the high levels of loveliness and grace that all real Balinese ceremonies exhibit. New Age Bali ceremonies invariably involve hundreds of candles and a sexy person in a white sheet, wafting around, and a fl oral arrangement on the fl oor/ beach. Often people are wailing and, if the event is at night, Hawaiian cultureshow- type fi re-dances are standard. One recent protest ceremony stands out from all the other New Age Bali ceremonies, as it involved ‘Superman Is Dead’, Bali’s hippest band. I fi rst became aware of Superman Is Dead ten years ago, when I saw their poster at ‘Rocket’, my pirate DVD and bondage outfi tters in South Sanur, now a Vegan restaurant. I thought the name brilliant, and even posted a photo of their poster in this column at the time. Over the years their handsome, wildly popular lead drummer — I Gede Ary Astina (Jerinx) — has lent his name to various causes. The latest is the noble TOLAK REKLAMASI cause, which has seen tens of thousands of mostly young Balinese rally — for almost two years now — against environmental vandalism in the name of estate development, i.e. the fi lling in of half of beautiful Benoa Bay. This climaxed last week with a megaevent at the bay’s edge, which involved Superman is Dead — Rolling-Stone-like on a fl oating stage — and a sinewy male
dancer in a white sheet walking into the water in a nice Isadora Duncan/Virginia Woolf way. Balinese in classical dance costumes flung flowers at Dewa Baruna, God of the Oceans, co-opted for the occasion, as she-males on pontoons in digga-diggado- do jungle costumes twirled fl aming batons. It was what the Indians call Cacaphoney, but with greased loins. Meanwhile, in downtown Sanur and Denpasar, I witnessed the real deal — in the form of two ceremonies and three processions of such exquisite beauty that I was gasping for breath. Now read on:
25 January 2015: Cremation of Ida Pedanda Gede Ngurah Karang, the family patriarch at Geria Tampakgangsul, the glam-bram brahma house in Denpasar Thirty years ago, at Geria Tampakgangsul, I watched as society beauty Dayu Tuttie Kompiang shed tears while praying in her family house temple as she said good bye to her ancestors. It was part of the ceremonies leading up to her marriage to the son of the Raja Gianyar. Well, today, she is back, big-time, some husbands later, with her Jakarta friends, and the Sanur rent-a-crowd as are thousands of her very extended brahman family, exquisitely dressed. Dayu Tuttie and her family have been planning this mega-event for over a month, since her father died mid- December after a long illness. Her mother, Pedanda Istri Karang, former
tourism pioneer, has been a picture of grace during the weeks of ceremonies leading up to today’s climax. For decades a legendary society beauty, her transformation into a high priestess has been remarkable, and she has become a great addition to ceremonial Bali — always with Tuttie at her side. Today she is like Lady Diana Cooper in The Miracle — stoic and beautiful, as courtyards of organized chaos swirl around her. I arrive early with 68 members of Denpasar Baladika vigilante gang, who will today be conveying the funeral bier from the palace to the graveyard. Outside, the palace forecourt is rather like the red carpet at the academy awards, but with a stately gamelan, battalions of armed forces (the deceased was a war hero), and a giant white bull, a gift from the Prince of Ubud. Inside is like the royal enclosure at Ascot, with people on their knees eating chicken curry. At noon the Indonesian fl ag-draped coffi n is conveyed out by Baladika and, after a brief military ceremony, carried up the ramp to the funeral bier (badé) by the deceased’s sons and grandsons. And then the parade is off , pell-mell, down the main drag. Two beleganjur gamelan — positively ballistic is their theatrical clanging — and hundreds of beauties in classical gold and white Balinese dress. A pair of pedanda are riding the badé, dispensing rice and waving the goldbeaked, stuff ed bird of paradise (product placement). The governor of Bali, the mayor of Badung (Denpasar) Regency,
the princes of all realms are present. It is one of the greatest cremation spectacles I have ever seen — and the mood is euphoric. At the cremation ground an honour guard delivers a salvo of shots, witnessed by a grandstand of 25 high priests and priestesses. The bull sarcophagus and coffi n are burned and the family settles into coff ee and cakes, and rice meals, while they await the late afternoon ashes-scattering ceremonies at Sanur Beach. It is a fabulous farewell for one of Bali’s great cultural tourism pioneers. 27 January 2015: SHOCK AND AWE IN NORTH SANUR: 35 years ago, when working for the Sunday Bali Post with Rio Helmi and Sarita Newson, I fi rst covered the legendary Baris Gede dance at Pura Dalem Kedewataan in the Brahman stronghold of North Sanur. I took some great blackand- white snaps which ended up in my Stranger in Paradise 1979-1981, a book available at a bookstore near you. At that time I remember thinking how similar were the costumes and dances to the 1930s photos of the same ceremony by Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoots in their great book Dance and Drama in Bali, so I was intrigued to go back now and see if it had changed. I arrived at 3.30 pm to fi nd the magnifi cent temple — heritage red-brick gates and shrines, and grass courts still intact — stacked to the rafters with off erings, and decorated to within an inch of its life. Were all the ebony-hued North Sanur
ladies not dripping gold jewellery, it would have been overkill. The overall impression was of extreme grandeur and beauty in a classic Majapahit temple setting. As I arrived in the inner court, high priest’s off ering trays were being conveyed through the gate that the temple shares with the vast Brahman compound to its west. The Jero Gede brahman families of North Sanur are the royal custodians of the temple. They own the splendidly traditional Santrian hotels, Starbucks Sanur, and The Village restaurant. They have lately pulled away from the competition in the GlamBram stakes. Their house ceremonies are bigger and more opulent than Ben Hur; Geria Tampakgangsul, Denpasar’s answer to Victoria’s Secret, is an off shoot (see last Thursday’s video). I quickly spied my buddy and fellow photographer Luciana Fererro, who had tipped me off about the ceremony, in a gaggle of appallingly-dressed bulé photographers, just as a phalanx of immaculately dressed and groomed palace aunties glided past. I recognized a few of the families making prayers, but North Sanur is quite famously aloof and I felt a tad alien. But I did manage to capture the gorgeous calm-before-the-storm atmosphere. Noone I asked was quite sure of the order of proceedings (what time are we to process to the beach to the east? etc), including Luciana — who had been here, pressing Lurex, for half an hour already. Then I heard the clangour of an approaching procession, so I sped to the temple’s main gate to fi nd, fi ling past, the Hotel Bali
Beach’s rangda, Ratu Ayu (who resides in Pura Manik Sari, the spookiest temple in Sanur, beside the hotel’s pizzeria), plus a bevy of votive statues borne aloft and parasol-ed, accompanied by a troupe of pretty baris juniors, carrying gilt bows and arrows, plus a corps de ballet of Rejang Dewa ballerinas. They were all heading west, into the setting sun, to the old Jero Gede brahman house which I had not visited since the family high priest’s padiksaan ordination three years ago (see video on Wijayapilem2/you tube. Link: http://youtu.be/6OxCl49Ys_s). The bearer carrying Ratu Ayu’s black velvet umbrella was over six feet tall, and big and black and so dashingly good-looking that my lens cap popped in pursuit. Arriving at the Brahman palace’s outer reception court people got very excited. The Pura Dalem temple gods were somehow already there in front of a magnifi cent gate, with the senior baris dancers in their voluminous marigold crowns, forming a welcoming committee for the arriving gods. The house gamelan played a soulful tabuh agung in the adjacent garage. I followed the procession into the palace — through court after magnifi cent Balinese classical court of seated Brahmans in temple dress — till we fi nally reached the palace’s house
temple, with its fabulous limestone gedong shrine. The house temple was packed with gods and their attendants. In one high pavilion I caught a glimpse of the family head, Ida Bagus Ngurah, with his brothers, all unravelling a big roll of white kasa cloth. I spied the ballerinas praying at the gedong shrine as I chased a gajahmina elephantfi sh statue (arca) around a corner. There I suddenly found myself at the tail end of yet another procession of glittering deities, gamelan and handsome North Sanur bearers speeding out. Swept up in the joyous jet stream, I was dragged through a few gates, and popped out into the palace’s front court
again where the seniors’ Baris Gede performance was in full swing. My procession joined the arca of deities and rangda and a barong which had appeared from no-where. I congratulated Ida Bagus Ngurah on the magnifi cence and classical beauty of his palace and asked who the architect was. “Just the family”, he replied. I stood with the bearers and the god’s standards as the palace priest off ered a mat of off erings to the gathered deities, and someone bit the head off a chicken. I barely caught my breath before the now sizeable party was off again, to North Sanur beach via KFC and Dunkin Donut. I spied the wife of the supervisor of my
Lembongan project garden (AWOL for a year now) — it seems she has taken refuge in the beard of the Bali Beach barong. She beamed as I took her photo and sent it to my supervisor with the message, “Spotted with a barong”. The procession to the beach was quite surreal — not unlike a scene from the Ava Gardner vehicle On the Beach, set in a post-nuclear apocalyptic Melbourne. Six lanes of by-pass were held up for at least ten minutes as we all processed past. I walked with Ida Bagus Ngurah, who was conveying the long train of kasa cloth. We talked about the lack of interest in these magnifi cent ceremonies shown by the new mass tourists. “What to do?”, was his comment: why cast pearls before swine?. At the beach the deities lined up at the western end of a corral formed by bearers and banners. At the edges, tourists in skimpy beachwear nibbled. A gangrenous dog in a yellow BAWA gift collar sat centre-stage. After ten minutes of soft ceremony I heard the unmistakeable bleganjur beat of an approaching barong — it was the mighty black crow-feather barong of Singgi, my old home, and I was thrilled to video its arrival. Off erings were made, and the gods and bearers walked to the beach in a stream of crisscrossing lines before heading off , pell-mell, back to the temple. (About an hour had passed since I fi rst arrived at the temple, and my feet were raw, my DALEM KEPAON shirt soaking wet, my skirt cloth (saput) askew, and my face burning from setting sun. Ten seconds down the road a brace of priestesses fl ew into trance — the silhouette of their wiggling wobbling forms like Paris catwalk models as we all processed west. Arriving at the temple — half the procession already in trance — all hell broke loose. Yet another mat of welcoming off erings was wafted off , among much fl ailing and kris-dancing — and more black chicklets decapitated. I could barely move or think, pressed between rangda manes and tranced-out bearers struggling to escape the strong arms of their guards. The gods fi led into the temple’s inner court where the Baris Panah juniors were dancing, with extraordinary grace, forming a cloud of golden wonderment, (see interview with lead dancer in video later today). A very ancient priestess, in mild trance, danced in front of the performing and barks, making off erings of sajeng (rice wine or brem) to the ground spirits as she danced.
I sped to the nearest vendor for a Pocari. I spent about ten minutes adjusting my saput — my arms seemed to have gone numb — and then saw that the temple gates were closing as the star attraction — the Baris Gede Tombak dance — was about to begin on the grass in the outer court. I fi lmed the fi rst part of the dance from high up on the stairs, in the middle of a band of tall pecalang vigilantes in black safari jackets with braid and medals rampant, to recharge my batteries, then moved through the pit of photographers (Jill Gocher in Noosa beachwear) and parked myself at the feet of the gamelan drummers. This was a bit of a mistake: fi ve minutes later the dancers, who had worked themselves into quite frenzy, suddenly charged the gamelan. For a good minute I had peacock feathers and spearheads jabbing at my face. I kept
filming. In fact, the force of the advance knocked the stuffi ng out of me, briefl y, and I rocked back, momentarily exposing my lack of undergarment. A huge cry went up from the front row of photographers opposite. Weak men fainted. And then the real show was on again. I was asked to move out of danger, but I couldn’t: in a half-lotus I get pins and needles and my legs don’t work. I started up an animated chat about the baris in the old days with a neighbouring priest, and I was let stay. … The rest of the dance was magnifi cent; with the warrior-dancers fi nally all in wild trance — a riot of spraying marigolds and fl ashing spears — until a furious fi nal melee before they fl ed into the inner sanctum. The sun set, peace was restored.
Text By Made Wijaya