Amongst the Bali Aga – Bali’s original people – are ceremonies difficult to penetrate and really challenging to understand but they are surely good to look at. Recently Bungaya held a ceremony that happens only once every twelve or fourteen years so when news of this reached my ears, it was almost mandatory to attend.
Named the Usaba Dangsil Ceremony, it is, amongst other things, the coming of age ceremony for the youth of the village. Boys and girls, Dahas and Tuhunas, each have many rituals to follow, which enables them to become grown ups or fully fledged members of the village.
The partakers, dressed in yellow and swathed with flowers, enter group by group into the inner sanctum of the temple to receive the sacraments that will change them. In Bungaya, the ceremonies are secret society not to be witnessed, or photographed by outsiders. Foreigners will never enter that inner sanctum. At best, we will be bystanders or visitors that are barely tolerated.
Thousands of people are involved and fourteen of the surrounding villages come to join in this very sacred set of rituals. One of the most visible signs of the ceremonies are the Dangsils – seven huge three story wooden edifices that are said to represent Mt Meru, just like the many black thatched tiered roofs in the temples do. These Dangsil are made of fruit tree wood found in the surrounding villages. Each weighing several tonnes, they are then carried by teams of men to Bungaya and then hauled up to standing position by hundreds of red sarong garbed men straining at the ropes. It is truly a sight to behold.
Measurements and perspectives are all controlled by the village priests and must totally follow the laws of Adat. The last ceremony of this kind was fourteen years ago, so that the ages of the partakers, vary from very young to young adults.
Rules and regulations follow the most important ceremonies and on the one most important day, the rules were strict. No Accessories, no necklace, no hand bags, no handphones, no traders, no cameras, no drone cameras except with a permit. Nobody was allowed in the village unless they wore bare chests and sarongs for the men and sarongs with an upper wrap for the women. Security was tight and the rules were observed. Even the typical Balinese relaxed attitude was nowhere to be seen. Pecalang, the village security guards dressed in all their finery were seen patrolling the village perimeters to ensure that rules were followed.
Because this is such a sacred ceremony that lasts over many days, entry to the sacral or sacred initiations were restricted to people of the village. Secrecy ensured that the photographers had plenty of time to meditate on life and figure out how to get their best shots. To know that life goes on regardless of the invasions of modern technology can be quite exciting and the only exception to the rule was the ever present smart phone outside the temple confines.