Kamis, 18 September 2014

Stranger in Paradise: Ancestor Worship – The Hard Way

Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, September 2014

Dayu Tu (left) and Dayu Pon, two Geria Kepaon beauties, with the puspalingga of Nini Geria and
that of the
sangge mascot god of the ancestor spirits

Most people don’t know that Bali is called ‘Island of the Gods’ (Pulau Dewata) not because of all the temples, but because the spirit of every Balinese is eventually beatified to become a dewata (deified ancestor).
Most tourists  today don’t even know or care that Bali was once known as the Island of the Gods because it’s now  marketed  differently, as a cheap exotic holiday destination, but that’s another story.
I want to tell you about last month and my 35 bliss-filled days in a traditional village that was once surrounded by the world most perfect rice fields but is now surrounded by urban sprawl.
Nothing has changed, ceremonially speaking, in the 40 years since I used to go hunting ricefield frogs at night. Balinese courtyard homes face inwards: what happens between houses is kind of irrelevant when your head is in the netherworld most of the time.
Ida Bagus Gede, Ratu Kakiang, (90),
sitting on the stairs of the grandstand of
the ancestor spirits, where sits the spirit
effigy of his late wife of 70 years,
Nini Geria (Biang Agung)
The press keep talking about Bali on the brink and Bali bursting at the seams but all I see is bakti yoga brinkmanship — bakti yoga being the worship of the divine through umpteen ceremonies; and that’s how many there were last month at my Balinese Mum’s beatification — and loads of offerings, priests, and dancing girls who just kept coming, and coming, and coming.
Mid-June, my village house garden, which is about the size of three badminton courts, was razed and in its place a temple-like enclosure rose, constructed almost entirely out of bamboo and betel nut palm trunks. The enclosure was replete with grandstands for the spirit effigies — 54 other families sent ancestor spirits to join in the beatification — a tall pavilion for the high priests and a special shrine for Surya, the sun god, to witness the month-long proceedings.
The enclosure, called a peyadnyan, was built by relatives and fellow villagers. My Balinese Mum, Nini Geria, had been an offering-maker most of her life — she died aged 90 — and was much loved in the community. The ceremonial side of the show was assisted by a band of a dozen or so village priests and Brahman aunties from out of town. High priests, called pedanda, were delivered at climactic moments, such as the consecrating of the payadnyan, the fashioning of the puspa (spirit effigies) and the return of Nini’s spirit into the pantheon of ancestor gods from where she had come in the first place, according to Balinese belief. My Balinese brothers and their wives played ring-leaders and masters of ceremony.

For the Balinese, reincarnation is a practical business: a return to this world is guaranteed, basically, if you play your cards right.
Playing your cards right  involves going through seven life rituals (rites de passage) which includes three month ceremonies, tooth-filing and marriage and then seven after-death ceremonies which are performed by one’s family and fellow villagers.
The most important of these after-death ceremonies are the cremation (ngaben), which takes a minimum of a week of organization, and then a secondary cremation, or purification of the soul, called (mukur), which  takes a few months to arrange.
As a Balinese a million offerings will eventually be made in your name accompanied by tens of thousands of sticks of incense and the slaughter of a zoo-load of animals, as offerings, as well as to feed the thousands of guests who will come to all your ceremonies.
Shortly after your final ceremony is complete you will be reborn and the whole process starts again.
And you wonder why Balinese are such bad drivers! Ha!
The most amazing thing about the whole 35 days of euphoric ordeal I went through — part documenting, part partaking in the series of  ancient rituals — was the way the family came together to perform as one three ring circus, despite the fact that many of them have been locked into decades, old feuds.
When this happens in business the Bali expats called it ‘two-faced’; in the traditional community it is called ‘a matter of priorities.’
Making great ceremonial beauty and appearing to be nice to relatives all the time is basically the Balinese main reason for being alive.
I made 13 videos over the 5 weeks of ceremonies, starting with the ritual measuring of my Balinese Dad by a high priest before the building of the peyadnyan; certain measurements were used as in the setting out of the enclosure. This South Indian Hindu geomancy, called Asta Bumi Asta Kosala-Kosali, is as old as the hills.

Perambulations (the Buddhist part of the Balinese Siwa-Buddha religion) were a big part of the ceremonies. Here the priests and
the participated circle the table of freshly collected Banyan tree (bringin) leaves

The final video documented ending of the 30 days of ceremonies with the burying of the remnants of the male and female spirit surrogates that had accompanied the deified ancestor spirit of Nini Geria the last few days of the purification rituals.
In between there were mass tooth-filings, processions to Kuta at dawn, the fashioning of over 120 spirit effigies and over 20 costume changes. We collected holy water at Sakenan, Uluwatu, Besakih, Batur, Goa Lawah and Sidakarya.
Gus De a sleep at the Kuta Beach finale
Every day I posted my outfits on Facebook to amuse the plebs and received, for my efforts, such abuse from the Bukit surfers and other assorted manbag-bashers on Facebook.
During the post-dawn Kuta ceremonies I discovered a band of industrious Kuta Balinese setting out neat rows of bait (stubby holders in tidy boxes) for day-feeding marsupials (Perth tourists).
All of the ceremonies went off without incident; if you don’t count the one overly zealous follower’s gas canister almost exploding at the spirit effigy burning and the fact that the high priest Pedanda Sidemen, staying in my new blessed apartment, couldn’t find the shower tap. We never ran out of chickens and ducks (which accompany all major ceremonies in Bali) or cakes for the myriad guests, or fags for the gamelan players.
It was like a production of ‘Loaves and the Fisherman’ meets ‘Hindu Holiday.


 Ida Ayu Suryawati Manuaba, during the month of the Penileman ceremony

30 June - 30 July 2014



Ida Bagus Gede Ratu Kakiang (90), during the month of the Penileman ceremony

30 June - 30 July 2014


White Raja Buduh mukurwear for the modern era


30 JUNE - 30 JULY 2014

30 June 2014: 
Nyukat Piadnyan Kepaon (Measuring the enclosure)

6 July 2014: 
Geria Kepaon WEEK 2

9 July 2014: 

17 July 2014: 
Neteg Beras Ceremony (The offering making kick-off)

20 July 2014: 
Nunas Tirta Sidakarya (Collecting holywater in Sidakarya)

21 July 2014: 
Ngingsah Beras and Pemelaspasan Piadnyan (Consecrating the enclosure)

22 July 2014: 
Ngangget Don Bingin Kepaon, Geria Kepaon (Plucking Banyan tree leaves)

23 July 2014
Tooth Filing Geria Kepaon

25 July 2014: 
NGAJUM PUSPA (Making spirit effigies) 

26 July 2014: 
Puncak Karya Penileman (The Climax)

 26 July 2014: 

 27 July 2014: FINALE : 
THE 'NGANYUT' at Kuta Beach (The confining to the ocean)

30 July 2014: 
NGELINGGIHANG CEREMONIES (Returning Nini to family house shrine)