Perang Pandan, Another War Entirely. Tenganan Pegeringsingan Traditional Village. In the month of June this year I was fortunate to have the opportunity where so many things I love came together in such a beautiful tapestry. History, especially the one you can still breathe in, art in all its beautiful unexpected forms. Culture, the kind that runs thick with conviction and wisdom. Society, changing and searching, messy with human limitations that inevitably fumbles. Friends, true and steadfast that will walk this journey with you and take no shortcuts. Nor hide behind pretty curtains.
The village I visited is not unknown. Tenganan Pegeringsingan Village in Karangasem Regency of Bali is well established and respected as one of the oldest traditional villages in Bali. With its own unique traditional laws. It is a Bali Aga village, meaning its culture is that of the original tribespeople of Bali. Not touched by the influences from the Majapahit Era that came into Bali in the 14th century.
Tenganan Pegeringsingan Traditional Village is well known for its beautiful Ikat. A type of double weave geringsing that is considered to be quite rare. They are known for their strict adherence and practice of their Ancient traditions passed down by their Ancestors. It is known for its first class Tuak, a traditional beverage sought after by many. Also, for its centuries old architecture that is maintained according to the town planning designs from many centuries ago. For its own unique calendar, that runs over a three year cycle. For its earthy and idyllic landscape as well as its spiritually evocative rituals and ceremonies.
Unique things Tenganan Village is known for..
In June specifically this year, there is a ritual called Perang Pandan that takes place here over a few days. I have been to Tenganan Village over 20 years ago and not on such a special occasion. The location is open to tourists, for it remains a remarkable site that resonates with living history. Tourists come and they are not entering a staged area. They walk amongst a living thriving community. That still to a large degree, keep their environment and living practices as unchanging as is realistically possible today.
It is not the lack of change that we should admire here. For there is definitely change. it would be foolish to deny that. It is the effort and the collective commitment that has survived even to this degree the ravaging changes that time and progress has brought everywhere else. I admire the fact that there is evidence that change may come, but there is still choice.
There is a lot of ground to cover from this one visit. I caution myself so as not to simply do a re-write of something you can easily find in another article. One of the fortunate opportunities I’m given is time to speak with the Klian Desa, Head of the village, for a one on one time interview to assuage my well known curious nature. By way of an introduction from friend and colleague ManButur Suantara, I was welcomed into the home of Yudiana Krenteng.
We gathered here in the home of Yudiana Krenteng, along with ManButur Suantara and Kaprus Jaya. We were immediately welcomed with the true hospitality that you can not demand more of. On a day as busy as this, on one of the most important ceremonies of their calendar year. The tasks and demands required by the Klian Desa is more than considerable.
Yet, here he is relaxed and affording me his generous time, thought and consideration. For to my questions, he welcomed them and answered them with the same down to earth frankness that I could see flowing through this village.
Yudiana shared a lot of history and information about his villages’ traditions and I could do little else but write and record as much as I could. I won’t repeat all the details here. Because, I realised early on that you don’t capture this in an article. Hundreds of years in the making, you don’t get that in one blog post.
Perang Pandan Ceremony
The ceremony that draws the attention of visitors from all over the world is called ‘Perang Pandan’ or otherwise known as ‘Mekare-Kare’. Within the first 10 minutes in the home of Yudiana Krenteng, I learned that this one ceremony does not stand alone. It is part of a continuous cycle in their unique calendar. Within the Tenganan Village calendar year, if one ceremony is cancelled then the whole year of ceremonies must be cancelled.
If you are in the third month of your calendar year and two ceremonies have been done, regardless of the circumstances (like that of a world pandemic..) nothing can stop the fact that the rest f the ceremonies must also go on. So during Covid, they were able to do the ceremonies but restructured a little to follow health protocols, by closing Tenganan village to the outside world. No tourism activities were allowed no outside visitors. In order for the rituals to be able to continue as required by their laws.
The simplicity of this reasoning makes me smile. The fairness of it. Regardless of complications and not withstanding cost and inconvenience, the rightness of the law, it is what is done. I love the beauty of that.
So, how can I write a piece simply about the Perang Pandan without writing about the other 10 or so ceremonies that is equally as important and is not separate from this one? The answer I think, is I could not. I would need to return and learn and learn some more.
What I can share is the fullness of what my senses took in that day. Of Yudiana Krentengs’ home and the streets of the village and some of the pertinent impressions that resounded strongly with me throughout the day. And Of course the Pandan War and the ceremonies that I witnessed and all that I learned of them.
The Pandan War itself is a pivotal reflection of Tenganan Pengrisingan’s spiritual faith as Hindu, in the Sun God Indra. To understand the differences between Tenganan villages’ traditions and that of other Hindu practices in Bali, all returns to this point. Yudiana Krenteng said ‘the war itself is to commemorate that we were once warriors’.
The Art of War
This practice is to show that we still worship and are obedient to Dewa Indra. With the shedding of our own blood of our own people. But it is important in Tenganan that there is no winning or losing. This is a peaceful practice.Yudiana Krenteng
This Pandan War is such an attraction that it is not surprising that the understanding slants a little heavy on the side of the ‘War Deity’. Whilst the wholeness of their tradition and its unique balance with the earth gets completely missed. It goes back to the point that no one ceremony is standalone. It is connected to the others. There is an intricate umbilical chord with Nature here that is so beautiful. The day of the Pandan War is a pinnacle. Celebrating one particular aspect of their faith.
The God of War and Fertility
The Deity Indra is an ancient Vedic deity in Hinduism. He is the God of Svarga and the Devas. He is associated with the sky, lightning, weather, thunder, storms, rains, river flows, fertility and war. Indra’s myths and powers are similar to other Indo-European deities such as Jupiter, Zeus, and Thor.
A Legacy of Purity at the Heart of Tenganan Village
According to legend, the people of Tenganan Pegringsingan were chosen by the the God Indra to manage a territory that is conceived in accordance with his divine plan to be a microcosm of the world. They were instructed to use every means to keep it pure and clean. The concept of territorial, bodily and spiritual purity and integrity is of paramount importance in the village.
The War itself, is a fight we have with ourselves. Its emphasis is to master the emotions. It is an offering. It is a ceremony of self reflection and self control.Yudiana Krenteng
Perang Pandan of Tenganan Village is a spiritual enactment for prayer and offering. But the battle against commercialism is a war that wages real.
One of the strongest impressions I will take away with me of this day, is the scene I saw before me as I walked towards the ceremony. From Yudianas’ home, we were directed to the top part of the village where the first ritual of the Perang Pandan takes place. Today is meant to be one of two phases of this ceremony and one that is the ‘quiet’ more private one. I made my way to the location to find a throng of onlookers already pushed against the boundaries. Setting up cameras and getting ready to get their best photos.
I surrendered myself to experience the pressures and hunger of being a ‘human interest’ paparazzi for the thriving tourism trade. It is no easy walk in the park. I felt like a piece of cattle being pushed and shoved every which way. It was a war in itself just to keep my position and remain standing for the rights of my camera.
It is no secret, my deep love of our culture and traditions. It is realistic enough to know that you cannot pack it up in a bottle away from time and progress and inevitable change. But, I hope for the changes that do take place, that they happen with awareness and deliberation. As much as a community may have together. So that, perhaps there isn’t undue regret. There are things in our culture that are too valuable to be lost forever simply from ignorance or lack of forethought.
It was inevitable that I ask Yudiana ‘what are your concerns? what changes do you see that causes you concern in the sustainability of your villages’ cultural heritage?’
Changes are there.. of course, we still accept change as long as it does not challenge the traditional foundations.. In the education system, influences from technology are affecting the social behaviours of the people in Tenganan.. But we will endeavour to continue to do what has been passed down to us from our ancestors’
Concerns For the Future
Another concern that Yudiana and I spoke about are of the effects of tourism. You can manage the logistics, establish laws that prohibit the building of hotels. There are ways you can limit the physical impact of external traffic on the village but the subtle changes happens in the mind. Inevitably, through daily conditioning, thinking changes. For example, before there was tourism the practices of this village is done for the simple intention of offering and prayer.
A Threat to the Purity of Intention
With the presence of tourism as an element of life in Tenganan Village, you cannot take away the reality that with it comes profit. Whether you like it or not, this can erode the purity of intention behind the rituals and ceremonies that are at the heart of this community’s identity. Offering was a private enactment of faith, now there is a worldwide audience. An audience that comes to you and brings all manner of popular culture and profit with it.
The Effects of Tourism
However, now there is money because of tourism. I hope this does not become a change that is too negative.. positive negative is also there from tourism.Yudiana Krenteng
So, on my visit to witness the first Pandan War of Tenganan Pegeringsingan Village what did I learn? That you can walk the earth and time can converge. Our histories can be a reality that is a living breathing part of our lives today. That the traditions of the past, when they are held true and pure can be part of our lives today. Not all things are washed away by progress and commercialism. That this does not mean there are no risks of a far more deceptive changes. For the threats that are coming into traditional villages like Tenganan are certainly still coming strong. But I like to think the hope of cultural survival is strong. Perhaps very beautifully embodied in the spirit of the Pandan War that it is so well known for.
A Fighting Spirit
It requires a fighting spirit to survive against any enemy. And this is a war against the most powerful enemy. The Self. This Pandan War is an act of collective self reflection. Of self control. It is a war enacted to remember that ‘we were once warriors’. Warriors of a race assigned the birthright to safeguard purity in all aspects of their life. This spirit of altruism that resonates within the community is powerful. This strength is perhaps what has brought the traditions of Tenganan Village to have survived so strongly today.
Hopefully, amidst the younger generation, this wisdom passed on from the Ancestors, stays true and strong in the next generation. That the spirit of the Pandan War will continue each year, and yield fruits rom true self reflection. Of better inner understanding of the real enemies that must be conquered. To bring the beauty of an ancient legacy many years yet into the future. To set an example for the world of an ancient wisdom. So it can be with us for many generations to come. Yet only if they do not lose the battle waging against their gates and creeping into their thoughts.
I hope to return here and visit as many of the ceremonies of Tenganan Pegeringsingan Villages’ future ceremonies. It is a precious gift to be in the presence of such a rich and spiritual community. The world is a much smaller place today, and we create impacts wherever we go. Through the sharing of information, hopefully a conscientious but honest sharing, we can be part of what helps to keep the purity of ancient traditions alive.