Kamis, 02 Mei 2013

Stranger in Paradise: Tale of two Puris

The chief priest Gusti Mangku Gede and his assistants in the Paruman Agung shrine distribute holy water
to the frenzied parakan devotees, 28th April 2013
Tale of two Puris
Denpasar has four royal palaces, if one counts Puri Agung Jero Kuta, the custodian of Uluwatu temple.
Of the three main palaces, Puri Pemecutan takes up most of the oxygen — so manly and worldly its princes, descended, as a they all are, from Cokorda Pemecutan III who had 500 wives. Next comes the rival Puri Satria Palace whose prince has political ambitions and some very fine clothes, and then the sweetie-Puri Kesiman, known for its gentle princes and the spiritual prowess of the line's founder, Cokorda Sakti (1813 – 1861).
Last month I went to functions in the royal 'chapels' (temples, in fact) of two of the palaces — Pemecutan and Kesiman —  both of which involved the mighty god of Uluwatu and a battalion of followers from Pecatu village, the surfer’s paradise of Bali.
Above (left): the main gate of Pura Penambangan Badung and (right) the main gate of the Puri Kesiman palace.
I was so impressed by the verve and macho mastery of the first event — a night event  at Pura Tambangan Badung which included a frantic race of palace groupies three times around the temple with all the pengawin (spears and flags) that I almost didn't go to the lesser palace the next day. I am so glad that I did because the atmosphere in Kesiman was equally electric and the processions exquisite. Kesiman palace rivalled with tenderness and beauty all the bravado of Pemecutan, where the prince sits in state, as it were, while delectable young maidens in “hit and run” chemise parade to and fro.
“Hit and run” is a fashion term coined by Gianyar's Hawai'i-born fashion policeman Garrett Kam (a.k.a. parekan Nyoman Hawaii) of the mighty Samuan Tiga Temple. The term describes the outfits of the Denpasar elite temple fashionista who are these days stretching the boundaries of the Paris Hilton meets Hindu Holiday look.
At Kesiman it was less show but more go.  The show started late afternoon outside the palace’s grand walls on the main Denpasar to Gianyar road.  The gods of Uluwatu arrived in a phalanx of loveliness at the crossroads at 5 p.m.: Mangku Juri, Pecatu village's celebrity priest, leading the procession. It was a full on spiritual face-off, with Kesiman's superior pageantry and plethora of palace temple gods rather outshining the simple but stately Pecatu juggernaut.
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Climactic moments at the 11 day temple festival at Pura Samuan Tiga. The 10th century temple annually holds the ombak-ombak ritual of 400 screaming parekan hurling themselves around the temple courtyards in a King-congo line, 28th April 2013
I went to another amazing temple festival last month too and made some fashion notes.
At the mighty Samuan Tiga Temple festival it was a relief to record that some chic young temple devotees have deserted the white-on-white psychiatric-nurse temple dress look — with its stiff jackets and headscarves — in favour of a more louche ‘Olde Bali’ look. The truth is: the culture is just so dynamic that fashion changes every week and it is hard keeping up with the latest trends.
In temple decoration the fashion is moving away from the simple-classical towards the Imee Marcos' wedding look (see last month’s column). Even the once classically simple boxes which house the spooky witch masks (rangda) now resemble chocolate boxes from Darrel Lee, Melbourne-based purveyor of glitzy-looking confectionery to the Australian public.
Despite the sometimes scary fashion trends, the culture continues to roar!
Now read on:
25 April 2013: Pura Penembahan (Tambangan) Badung for the annual tenth full moon festival
Tambangan Badung Temple is actually the Merajan Agung (royal chapel) of the old Pemecutan Palace; the original palace having been destroyed during the puputan suicide battle against the Dutch in 1906.
It is one of Bali’s largest and grandest Merajan Agung, on a par with Pura Taman Ayun (the Mengwi royal family’s temple); it is also one of Denpasar’s most important temples.
The annual odalan is the height of Denpasar’s ceremonial calendar: the rituals run all day and well into the morning, when the barong and trance dances finally wind up.
Tonight the guards are all in special Tambangan Badung canon-motif skirt clothes (saput) and shirts and all are sporting batik udeng head scarves tied in the Javanese manner; the temple is, after all, the home of Dalem Majapahit, the Javanese ancestor spirit of the Pemecutan clan.
I find the Cokorda asleep at his post on the verandah he likes to occupy in the kitchen section. It is 7 p.m.: it has been a long temple day.
The Grebeg  ritual is just starting and the fabulous Bleganjur Pemecutan marching band is whipping up frenzy. Soon all the temple’s pengawin (spears and flags) are being raced around the temple three times.
For 5 hours I watch the constant stream of Denpasar devotees, and priests and barongs, waiting for the pray-in. In the kitchen all the king’s men lobby for position with the charismatic Cokorda.
At midnight the crowd parts and the royal family come forward to pray. The Pecatu (Uluwatu) devotees are ordered down from the semanggen pavilion they have occupied with their god: no-one sits higher than the raja at Tambangan Badung.
This year the chief priest is wearing a portable microphone as are the septuagenarian dancers inside the giant Barong puppets — technology meets temple.
After solemn prayers the temple turns into a stage for Legong, Barong and Jauk dance offerings.
It is an amazing 18 hour series of rituals right in the heart of Denpasar.
26 April 2013: To the Puri Kesiman Palace, East Denpasar, for their temple festival
Last night one of the Kesiman princes reminded me that the Uluwatu god moves to Kesiman today to pay respects to that palace. I decide to go and pay my respects.

The Kesiman palace gods line up.
I arrive at 4 p.m. to find a gorgeous gong suling (flute ensemble) from Peliatan playing in the outer ancak  saji  court as retainers hurry to and fro with umbrellas and spears and pieces. Panjak devotees are arriving and filling up the ranks. The Cokorda, Ngurah Agung Kusuma Wardhana, is holding court from his garage-side perch behind a pile of books and bottles. He has a student radical personality and bulging eyes. His wife, Agung Istri Mas, is working the crowd: she is a saintly dance instructor and fashion plate (See photo below).
Images from Mendak Batara Luhur Uluwatu ceremony
at Puri Kesiman, Denpasar 26th April 2013.

Ngurah Putra and Agung Istri Mas.

The Kesiman palace priests greet the God of Uluwatu.
There are but a few pecalang guards accompanying the procession of palace gods which files out at 5 p.m. to meet the arriving Uluwatu god and his contingent (800 strong).  The kulkul drum sounds from its massive red-brick tower. With the main Gianyar road closed, and the afternoon sun picking out the brightly coloured umbrellas and gilt arca deity figures, it is an enchanting scene. The flute ensemble purrs in the background. The gods meet in a ‘face-off’ and the Kesiman priests collapse into trance — so overpowering is the presence of Bathara Luhur in the middle of the road on a Friday afternoon.
Eventually all the gods head off to Pura Musen and the beji holy spring for a ‘wash’ before the night’s rituals begin.
Both puris have put on wondrous spectacles: it’s hard to imagine downtown Denpasar without its palaces.