Monday, November 17, 2014

A Visit to the Royal Palace & Trance in Klunglung

Mr. T (center) with a Prince from the Royal Family (L) and Budi, a local photographer (R)

A few days after the ceremonies in Ubud, plans were made with Mr. T to follow another procession and ceremony, this time in Klungklung... the former center of Government for the island. Following the procession later in the day, we were to return the village of Peliatan to join in a cremation for a Raja of that village.

The procession in Klungklung involved two different temples, attendants and Gods (effigies carried in ornately carved shrines) converging from different directions at the crossroads in the center of Klungklung and then proceeding on to the beaches just north of Sanur for a ritual cleansing. One set of Gods and the accompanying procession originated high in the mountains several miles away at the Mother Temple of Bali, Besakih. The other group comming from somewhere south of Klungklung.

I began the morning with Mr. T picking up in front of the Ubud Palace and driving to Klungklung. Here, we stopped and waited for the grand convergence at the Royal Palace in Klungklung. Mr. T had lived here with the family during his early years in Bali... the princes of the palace were like his brothers and we were welcomed in to sit on shady, cool, open-air bales.. offered strong, sweet coffee and the ubiquitous kreteks (Indonesian cigarettes laced with clove oil). Mr. T caught up with his adopted "brothers" while I chatted and shared photos with a handfull of local photographers who had also arrived at the palace awaiting the festivities to begin.

A Prince of the Royal Palace of Klungklung

A short time later, we began to hear the sounds of drumming in the distance... a sign that one of the processions were rapidly approaching. Grabbing cameras and quickly saying our goodbyes, we headed out to the main crossroads just outside the Palace walls. Roadsides were lined with villagers out to witness the procession and arrival of the temple gods as the leaders of one group bore down on us.

In the center of the crossroads, a giant Hindu sculpture loomed. Around this sculpture were dozens of priests, their attendants and hundreds of offerings piled high for the welcoming of the gods as they approached from two different directions.

We busied ourselves making photographs of the crowd and festivities when suddenly, the procession carrying the gods from Pura Besakih appeared in the distance from the opposite direction and with an even larger crowd. As this procession approached, many of the women and some of the men began erupting into spontaneous trance all around me. Some, with eyes glazed over or shut completely, danced a graceful pendent style of dance, a welcoming for the approaching gods.Others began shaking, shouting, screaming & thrusting fists violently in the air. One woman, far gone by the looks of it, begins to spill small amounts of rice wine on the ground to appease negative ground spirits, then begins a pendent herself before grabbing a handful of burning incense sticks. She begins chewing on the smoldering incense, smoke coming from her mouth. Suddenly, attendant priests appear from the crow to douse her with holy water and bring her out of the trance state... she is apparently unharmed, unburned.

Trance is a common phenomenon in Balinese religious rituals, explained as the gods communicating thru the vessels of the faithful. Those "in trance" will often attempt to harm themselves by pressing sharp, pointed ritual daggers (kris)into their chests or in the case of one of the women pictured above, by eating smoldering incense. No harm ever seems to come to them while in the state of trance and, should things appear to be getting out of hand, attending & watchful priests are always nearby with holy water to douse the trancees and bring them back to a normal state of conciousness. In fact, as the two processions began to converge at the crossroads and the trancees were in their most frenzied state, a small pick-up truck appeared in the crowd and made it's way... bearing a bed-load of priests who began dispensing holy water to the entire assembled crowd.

My guess is at the peak of the processional convergence, there were easily 50,000 people in the crowd. At times, things got a bit scary but overall, the ceremonial demeanor prevailed and the two crowds converged and moved on to the seaside destination a few miles away.

Wishing there was time to stay and follow the procession further as they made their way to the sea, we had other plans. The Royal Cremation in Peliatan was scheduled to start in an hour or so. We quickly said our goodbyes to our Klungklung hosts, hopped in the car and headed back towards Ubud.

Read on... more to come!

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