Tale of Two Kingdoms
Many social observers (expat experts and such) falsely believe that the Age of Rajas is over in Bali. The truth is, the feudal nature of Bali and the pre-eminence of the nobility in civic government is still strong.
In the mid-14th century, the prime minister of the Hindu-Javanese Majapahit Empire sent a young prince, Sri Kreshna Kepakisan, to set up a vassal princedom in Bali, in a village near present day Klungkung. The prince’s mother was a saintly brahmin; his two brothers controlled two other important vassaldoms in East Java — Pasuruan and Blambangan.
At around the same time, the Prime Minister, Gajah Mada, also sent a few military expeditions to Bali — to, basically, conquer Bali and make it a part of the Majapahit Empire. These expeditions were lead by ksatria (princely cast) warriors from Majapahit.
The most important — and one presumes the largest force — was lead by Arya Kenceng, a blood-relative of the Majapahit King.
His forces landed near Muara Braban, an estuary south of Kerambitan village in Tabanan Regency. They quickly took South Bali, eventually setting up a palace in Tabanan.
Over the centuries, the descendents of Sri Kreshna Kepakisan became the Rajas of Klungkung — titled Dewa Agung in pre-independence Bali — the descendents of Arya Kenceng became the rulers of the royal houses of Tabanan and Pemecutan, and all their offshoots.
Klungkung Palace relatives include Gianyar, Sukawati, Ubud and Mengwi palaces.
The first Raja Pemecutan had 500 ‘wives’, so there are Pemecutan palaces in every corner of Bali. Pemecutan palaces tend to be rather ‘macho’ as they are descended from a warrior prince. The Klungkung palaces, descended from the priestly Sri Kreshna Kepakisan, tend to be more refined.
Nearly all of the island’s major temples — Pura Besakih, PuraLuhur Uluwatu, Pura Tanah Lot, Pura Taman Ayun, Pura Dalem Sakenan — have one of the palaces as their custodian (pengamong).
In 1979 the sister of the present Raja Pemecutan married the present Raja Klungkung, Ida Dalem, taking the rather grand title Dalem Istri (Dalem being the title of all of the emperors and important gods in Balinese history).
Last month, their son, Cokorda Agung, married a sweet cousin in a lavish ceremony at the Klungkung Palace (photos following pages) attended by nobles from all of the royal palaces in Bali. It is rare that they all come together — there have been such inter-palace rivalries over centuries.
Many social observers (expat experts and such) falsely believe that the Age of Rajas is over in Bali. The truth is, the feudal nature of Bali and the pre-eminence of the nobility in civic government is still strong. At the moment, both Bali’s police force and the local Laskar Bali vigilante group are headed by a Pemecutan family member.
The mayor of Denpasar is a Dalem dynasty descendent.
Many hotels are owned by the leading Brahmin and Ksatrya families. Puri Peliatan palace still churns out the island’s best legong dancers. Jero Seminyak runs the Harley Davidson Club; Kuta is immensely influenced by its Dalem dynasty palace (see past Stranger columns featuring the village-wide palace-lead ceremonies). This list could go on and on.
24 March 2016: Guest appearance by Barong from distant at local temple
Barong are prone to long periods of ‘hibernation’ — sometimes for a century or more, when they ‘sleep’ in a temple gedong (garage).
When they wake up (metangi) huge ceremonies are held and the barong go on a sort of inaugural walk-about to all the major barong temples in the land — such as Pura Sakenan, Pura Dalem Petilan, Kesiman, Pura Desa Sidakarya, Pura Petitenget (in the case of South Bali).
By barong temple I mean temples where barong be-ins are frequent events. Many temples go for years on end without ever seeing a barong; in others, such as Pura Apuan in Tabanan regency, and Pura Samuan Tiga, Bedulu with its revolving doors.
Barong are capricious.
Last month the barong from the bus station temple at Ubung, West Denpasar decided that he needed to visit Pura Dalem Mertasari on the beach near me, in Sanur. (Well, it used to be on the beach — now it is on a vast municipal carpark but the barong don’t know that, because they come to Pura Mertasari to ostensibly pay respects to a spooky coastal temple).
The performance tonight was fabulous: the Ubung troupes striped rangda was a novel treat — Sanur has barong of every exotic hue, the most rare being the Barong Singgi with its black crow feathers.
The Balinese are amazing the way they march into someone’s village and start going into trance and flailing about throwing themselves onto sharp daggers. their Making a map of major barong migrations across the island would be a fascinating exercise.
15 March 2016: I am invited back to the Pura Dalem Temple in remote Selumbung village, East Bali for a major ceremony
Since I discovered the ceremonial attractions of East Balinese villages in the Manggis-Bebandem-Jasi belt I have been back regularly to document the unique rituals and trance spectacles.
Today is the climax of a mighty, once every 50 year re-consecration and Tabuh Gentuh ceremony and for the village’s important Siwa Temple.
I arrive at 10 a.m. to find the courtyards in full swing. The towering pagoda-like dangsil and sarad offerings are lined up under thatched temporary shelters; five high priests are ringing bells and intoning Vedic mantras; priests and priestesses (lead by a Brahman supervisor form Buda Kling) are spring-cleaning the newly refurbishment shrines; albino cow carcas offerings — called titi mamah — are laid at important junctions in the inner sanctuary.
At noon the god effigies (daksina) are all bought down from the shrines and conveyed three times around the temple’ inner wall. A very pretty Rejang Dewa dance has started at the lower end of the vast main court, but it is soon superseded by a special Baris Gede granddad warrior performance from the mighty Pura Tambang Badung of Denpasar.
Myriad ceremonies proceed for over four hours before the climax, when the lead lady high priest supervises the planting of the pedagingan (organ) in the base of the shrines, bringing it to life for another generation.
The whole morning has been beautifully organised and has been supremely artistic, with all the villagers sitting politely, witnessing the spectacle.
East Bali sure knows how to put on a good show!
See my video links: