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Welcome to Karangasem RegencyThe beautiful eastern regency of Karangasem is truly something special distinguishing itself in so many ways from the rest of the island. Physically it is dominated by the towering presence of Mt Agung (3142 m), the island's most sacred and highest volcano, whose dramatic foothills and lava flows provide some of the most spectacular landscapes found anywhere in Bali. High up on Mt Agung's southern flanks perches the great "Mother Temple" of Besakih, while to the south and east lie a number of more or less isolated villages that have played a key role in Balinese history.

Culturally, Karangasem is in fact a very conservative area. Here, for example, the use of the various Balinese speech levels is more strictly adhered to and a number of archaic ritual, dance and musical forms have been maintained right up until the present day. 'I lie eastern and northern parts of the regency are quite arid, and overall this is a less densely populated area than southern Bali. In fact, it has many affinities with the drier and more rugged islands of eastern Indonesia more so than any other part of the island.

For several centuries after the decline of the great Javanese empire of Majapahit, the king of Klungkung just to the west of here was, at least in name, the paramount ruler of Bali. The other Balinese rulers became more and more independent over time, and by the 17th century, Karangasem was able to successfully oppose Klungkung. It subsequently emerged, during the 18th and 19th centuries, as the most powerful kingdom on Bali. Its rulers were particularly influential in northern Bali (Buleleng) and Lombok, and frequently allied themselves with other Balinese rajas in times of war and intrigue.

During the 17th century, Karangasem forces already occupied much of the neighboring island of Lombok, fighting there against Macassarese from Sumbawa and eventually colonizing the western rice-growing areas of the island, with the result that today there are large numbers of Balinese living there who regard Karangasem as their homeland. After the middle of the last century, the tables turned and Karangasem became a vassal of the king of Lombok himself a Balinese prince from Karangasem.

After Buleleng and Jembrana, which fell into Dutch hands in the middle of the last century, this was the next Balinese kingdom to be conquered by the Dutch when they invaded and "freed" the indigenous Sasak population of Lombok from Balinese rule in 1894.

Altogether Karangasem encompasses an area of 861 sq km, and according to the 1987 census the population numbers around 350,000 souls, meaning that the average population density is about 400 per sq km. Most of the populace, however, lives in central and southern Karangasem, especially around the capital of Amlapura, and population densities here are much higher than the average.

Many areas of Karangasem suffered great devastation as a result of the eruption of Mt Agung in 1963. Traces of this eruption can still be seen today, particularly in the Kubu and Tianyar areas on the northeastern coast. Already very dry, the northeast became all the more so after the eruption. A government project to encourage the planting of jeruk (a citrus species) here was not much of a success, but nowadays grapes are very much in vogue, as is cacao. South and southeast of Mt Agung lay the traditional rice-growing areas, with their spectacular terraced and irrigated rice fields. Higher up coffee, cloves and other cash crops are grown on steep mountain slopes. The coastal areas of Ujung and Seraya to the south, and Amed, Kubu and Tianyar to the north are the site of traditional fishery and salt-panning communities.

A Get-Away Seaside Resort

Candi Dasa is a new but rapidly growing beach resort located on the black sand coast of Karangasem Regency. It is the perfect base for explorations of the area, as well as a quieter alternative to the southern tourist centers.

Following the main road from 10ungkung, you cross the border into Karangasem shortly after the village of Kusamba and the well known temple of Goa Lawah. The road continues eastward through coconut groves for several kms before reaching a turn-off. To the right is a road leading to Padangbai, a major harbor for ships to Lombok and points east, as well as for smaller boats to Nusa Penida. It is worth the 2 km detour to see the picturesque, semi-circular hills surrounding a sparkling blue bay.

The village itself has several small hotels and restaurants. A famous temple, Pura Silayukti, where the Buddhist sage Mpu Kuturan is said to have lived in the 11th century, is also located here. The temple's anniversary is on Wednesday-Tliwon of the week Pahang (consult a Balinese calendar)

Back on the main road, one arrives at the village of Manggis a few kins to the east. There is a lovely path from here leading up to nearby Putung in the hills overlooking the coast. The path runs through woods and gardens and reaches Putung after a distance of some 5 kms, where one has a splendid view across the sea to the nearby islands.

Another possible side trip is from Manggis east along a small road through the isolated villages of Ngis and Selumbung. The road finally rejoins the main road in Sengkidu shortly before Candi Dasa. It is also possible to continue from Ngis on to Tenganan.

Candi Dasa town

Continuing east another 7 km, past the villages of Ulakan and Sengkidu, the main road enters Candi Dasa just after the Tengenan turn-off. The name Candi Dasa was originally applied just to two small temples, one for Siwa and the other for Hariti, that overlook a beautiful palm-fringed lagoon by the beach. Hariti is mainly worshipped by childless parents who pray for children.

Toward the end of the 1970s the first bungalows appeared by the beach here. From 1982 onwards a building frenzy set in, and is still continuing so that new hotels, shops and restaurants seem to open almost weekly. As a result, Candidasa is now encroaching on the l3uitan area to the west - site of several luxurious bungalow-hotels, which specialize in snorkeling and diving trips.

Candidasa today is a bustling seaside resort with the full range of hotels, home stays, disco-bars, moneychangers, shops and restaurants. How long the development will continue is an open question, as the beach is eroding quickly and the once-spectacular view across the sacred lagoon to the beach is now blocked by two-story bungalows.

Dance and music performances for visitors are being developed, but these do not seem to be of high quality. The main attraction of the area is as a base from which to visit the neighboring village of Tenganan, some 5 kms away. Swimming is only more or less possible at high tide. Despite these disadvantages, Candidasa enjoys cool breezes and is a good resting point for trips to the east and north.

Bugbug and environs

Four kms to the northeast of Candidasa lays Bugbug, a sizeable rice-growing and fishing village that is the administrative center for the sub-district. Along the way, the road climbs the unexpectedly steep Gumang Hill. 'Mere is a beautiful panorama from the top of the sea, the Buhu River, rice fields and Bugbug, with the mountains of Lempuyang and Seraya in the distance. On a very clear day one can see Mt Rinjani on Lombok from here.

Bugbug and the surrounding villages are quite old-fashioned. Apart from the official village head, there is a council of elders responsible for all religious affairs. The elders are not elected, but enter the council on the basis of seniority. Another atypical feature of these villages is communal land tenure, and the presence of associations for unmarried boys and girls which have to fulfill duties in the context of village rituals.

Two rituals are especially important. The first takes place around the full moon of the first Balinese month (between mid-June and Mid-July). This ritual worship of the village gods is carried out in the central temple (Pura desa), and lasts for several days. Most spectacular are the dances by unmarried boys (abuang taruna) clad in costumes of White and gold-threaded cloth, with headdresses and keris, the traditional weapon.

After the dance there follows the so-called daratan in which older men in trance carrying keris approach the main shrine of the temple, to the accompaniment of special music. Three orchestras play simultaneously: the sacred selunding (iron met allophones), the gong desa with drums and cymbals, and a gambang ensemble which has bamboo xylophones and bronze met allophones.

During the same full moon period there are similar rituals in other nearby villages like Asak and Perasi. Perasi lies just northeast of Bugbug on the main road, and from its eastern end there is a nice walk through the hills to the beach. Swimming here is hazardous, since the beach is not protected by a reef.

A second major ritual occurs in Bugbug every two years on the full moon of the fourth month (around October). Four villages (Bugbug, Jasi, Bebandem and Ngis) participate in a ritual "war of the gods," which is in fact the enactment of an old legend:

The god of Bugbug had three daughters and one son. One of the daughters was to marry the god of Bebandem. But she eloped with the god of Jasi. To appease the former, the god of Bugbug gave his second daughter and son to him, and the third daughter was married off to the god of Ngis. The war is to resolve the dispute, and the ritual battle takes place near the temple on top of Gumang

Exclusive Community of God's Chosen

Time is reckoned differently in Tenganan Pegringsingan. Here, each new day begins with 21 deep, throbbing drumbeats and lasts until the same pulsating tones are struck the next morning. Tourists arrive when the sun is at its zenith and the valley is glowing with light. They leave towards evening, when the all-important religious ceremonies commence. A month in Tenganan lasts exactly 30 days. Modifications to the calendar are needed to adjust to the lunar-solar year; altogether 15 days are added every three years.

The ancient, ritualistic Bali Aga ("original Balinese") society of Tenganan has now opened up and become accessible to non Tengananese - especially since its festivals have been publicized, and since the village itself has become known as a result of its proximity to the new beach resort at Candidasa one are the days when it was isolated and difficult of access.

It is said that all footprints of visitors to Tenganan were once literally wiped out once they left. Now the village faces new and different problems. It needs more parking space for the cars, minibuses and limousines tourism brings, and the art shops which distort the community's divine plan now have to be placed outside the village gates.

Microcosm of the universe

The desa adat Tenganan Pegringsingan is a microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm an imago mundi. According to this divine plan, it is arranged systematically both in its delimitation from the outside world, as well as in its separation into distinct private and public areas within the village precincts itself.

The village is laid out in a large rectangle measuring some 500 m by 250 m, encircled by natural boundaries and walls. Three pub corridors rise in terrace-like fashion, running along a north-south axis from the sea toward the sacred volcano Gunung Agung. There are six lengthwise rows of compounds; the pairs located in the center and to the west are striking because of their closed house fronts, which resemble palm-leaf covered longhouses

The buildings and areas for public use are situated on the central axes of the central western streets. There are a number of walled temple areas, longhouses, smaller pavilions rice granaries and shrines here, all of which suggest a strong communal life with pronounced ritual ties. This is where the 300 inhabitants of Tenganan Pegringsingan live.

In the eastern compounds of the banjar pande live those who have been banished from the village, together with those whose customs are more like the majority of Hindu Javanized Balinese. Labor in the surrounding gardens and communal rice fields behind the hills is performed by them, or by tenant farmers from neighboring villages who receive half of the crop yield. With approximately 1000 hectares of arable land belonging to it, Tenganan is one of the richest land-owning communities in all of Bali.

Divine origins

Unlike other Balinese villages, Tenganan traces its origins and its social institutions back to a written source - a holy book known as the Usana Bali (a chronicle of Bali). According to this text, the Tengananese have been chosen by their creator, Batara Indra, to honor his royal descendants through communal offerings and sacrifices. It states, furthermore, that descendants of the original villagers have been chosen to administer the surrounding lands, a consecrated place of devotion and ritual, and to use all available means to keep them pure.

The concept of territorial and bodily purity and integrity plays an exceedingly important role in the village culture. It is reflected not only in many important rituals (purifications and exorcisms), but also in the idea that only if a person is healthy, physically as well as mentally, may he or she take part in rituals. No one with a disability and no outsider can be admitted to the adat organizations of the village.

As a result of this divinely ordained scheme, the original layout and social organization of the village may not be changed. Houses, compounds, gardens, village council and youth groups are to be left as the gods have created them. Should anything be changed or taken away, the curse of the gods would fall upon the village and its people would perish. Anyone guilty of not respecting the inherited order is banned from participating in village rites, and thus from sharing in communal property. In the gravest of cases, they are even banished from the village altogether. The desa adat is itself regarded as divine and almighty as far as the traditional social order is concerned.

Exclusive membership

It is not surprising that a community regarding itself as divinely blessed would strictly define its own members and place restrictions on outsiders. This exclusivity is expressed very clearly in the qualifications needed to enter the all-village council or krama desa. Only men and women without mental or physical defects who were born and live in Tenganan, having duly passed all ritual stages of initiation by the time they marry, are eligible to join the council. The practice of village endogamy (marrying within the village) also has a restrictive effect. With respect to the krama desa, endogamy is an absolute requirement. Men with second wives or wives from outside the village may not become members. The same is true for women who have violated the marriage rules.

Newly-weds takes their place at the lowest end of a hierarchical seating in the huge bale agung - the forum and sacred meeting pavilion of the village council. With the entrance of a new couple, the parents retire and everyone moves up a step, receiving new ritual responsibilities. The layout of the 50-meterlong hall is eminently suited to the numerous rites that bring together the gods, ancestors and villagers. Here, members of the krama desa meet, dressed in ritual clothing, for communal meals with deities and ancestors, whom they worship with prayers, offerings, dances and music. In many cases, youths will take part in the performance of these rituals, either because the girls have been formally invited by the married women to dance before the bale agung, or because the village council requires one of the sacred iron gamelan orchestras (selunding) maintained by the boys' organizations to be struck.

For such a society to work, a long initiation period is needed, allowing its members to prepare for their complex ritual duties and activities within the village council. When children enter a youth club, between the ages of 6 and 8, they go through a "school of life" in which the behavior required for participation in the krama desa is learned, and where the manual skills and esoteric formulas n ed for rituals can be practiced.

The three boys' associations of the village are named after the location of their as assembly houses, located on three consecutive terraces along the western street. There are also three girls' clubs, with a strict and formal relationship concerning mutual help exchange of gifts, offerings, meals and entire rituals existing between them. A girl must be at least 7 years of age to join a sekaha daha or girls club, whose meetings are held in the compounds of retired village elders.

Some years ago, the girls would still bring their looms to the meeting houses so they could practice weaving. In the 11t month of the Tenganan year, they had to bring yarn and beast along to their clubhouses to un 10 dergo instruction in the exceedingly complex art of double ikat. Unfortunately, this custom so vital to the preservation of the local textile craft has been abandoned for several years.

The sacred geringsing cloths

Ritual clothing is an indispensable part of the sacred order of Tenganan Pegringsing. The double ikat cloths known as geringsing produced here rank among the masterwork of traditional textile art, providing a further sign of the divinely-ordained exclusivity of the society. The cloths are said to have directly inspired by Batara Indra, the Creator who was once sitting in a tree enjoying the beauty of the moon and stars. While contemplating the heavens, he decided to teach the women of Tenganan the art of ikat patterning. Since then, the community has obeyed a divine commandment to wear kamben geringsing or double ikat cloths. In this way, the villagers evince purity and the ability to perform rituals qualities, which these clothes protect from harmful outside influences.

Festival of the swings

Among the most important religious duties of the villagers of Tenganan is the festive reception of gods and ancestors, who from time to time descend to their megalithic thrones and altars in and around the inner village precincts. The presence of deities and ancestors is of great significance, above all during the fifth month of the Tenganan year, Sasih Sambah, for it is then that the universe, the village and the religious community are renewed and given strength through the performance of extensive, solemn rites.

The ceremonies that take place then are reminiscent of old Vedic swinging rites performed during the mahavrata winter solstice celebration, which focuses on Indra. The swinging unites sun and earth, and together with textile techniques and recent genetic research, suggests that Tenganan may be connected with immigration from east or southeast India during Vedic times.

In a legendary account, the people of Tenganan are said to have arrived here while searching for the favorite horse of the king of Bedahulu. Although it was dead when found, the king showed his gratitude by promising to give the searchers all land in the area where the horse's decomposed body could be smelt. So a representative of the court, accompanied by the village head, walked around the huge area which today forms

Tenganan, finding that in a fact the horses flesh could still be smelled for quite a distance. After the court officer had departed, the cunning village chief pulled a piece of bad smelling horsemeat from under his waistband. The remnants of the horse are believed to be scattered around the village as megalithic monuments.

There are other indications, too, that the people of Tenganan have not always lived here. A copper inscription dated A.D. 1040 speaks of a relationship between the powerful governor from Java, a certain Buddhist reformer Mpu Kuturan in Silayukti (near Padangbai), and a nearby village named "Tranganan" that was then on the coast at Candidasa and later moved to the interior.

Proof that the villagers of Tenganan moved from the seaside to their present location is provided in the design and placement of the original altars (sanggah kamulan) in the house compounds. In other parts of Bali this altar is always built in the corner facing east and toward the mountains. In Tenganan it is placed towards the sea.

When a member of the community of Tenganan dies, his or her body is not cremated. Once the sun is past the zenith, the corpse is carried from the compound to the cemetery. At the grave the body is' undressed, then it is returned to Mother Earth (Pertiwi), head seaward and face down.

Tour of Bali's Fascinating Eastern Tip

Once the seats of the powerful Karangasem court, the district capital of Amlapura at the eastern end of Bali, it is now a sleepy market and administrative town. Formerly known as Karangasem, the town was given its present name after the eruption of Mt Agung in 1963 nearly wiped it out; black lava flows can still be seen from the road on the way into town. There are several interesting palaces here, and the surrounding countryside contains superb scenery and some of the most interesting traditional villages in Bali.

The palaces of Karangasem

The main attraction of Amlapura is its traditional palaces or puri. There is a western, a northern, a southern and an eastern puri as well as several others - all still occupied by members of the royal family. Of these, only the Puri Kangin (the eastern palace) on the main road to the market is easily visited. This is worth a look, as it gives a vivid impression of how local royals used to live. The palace buildings themselves are in fact an eccentric blend of Chinese and European details set in what is essentially a traditional Balinese compound with several pavilions and room surrounded by pools and connected by walk ways. The main hall is called the "Bale London" and the furniture curiously bears the crest of the British royal family. One can even rent rooms here the perfect accommodation for the aspiring aristocrat.

The ruling family of Karangasem traces its ancestry back to the 14th century Hindu Javanese Empire of Majapahit, claiming to be direct descendants of a certain Batan Jeruk who was Prime Minister of Bali during the 16th century. There is also a tale concerning the dynasty's divine origin.

A woman who lived near the palace was once overheard talking to a stranger in her house. When asked who it was, she replied that it was the god of Mt Agung. After some time, the woman became pregnant and not long afterwards a miraculous fire descended from the mountain to the woman's house. She soon gave birth to a son atop a hill to the east of the town this son, the "god of the eastern hill," is said to be the founder of the royal Karangasem line.

Karangasem conquered Lombok in the 17th century and in turn became a vassal of the neighboring island in the middle of 19th century. As a result, there are today several Sasak settlements in and around Amlapura, and these have had a significant influence on the culture of the area. Family and trading relations with Lombok still exit until the present day, and intermarriages are common.

When Lombok was occupied by the Dutch in 1894, Karangasem was transfered to Dutch control as well. Nevertheless, the ruler of Karangasem was kept on as "governor" of the region, and his status a, confirmed in 1938 when the Balinese kingdoms were granted partial self-rule. After independence in 1945, these princely realms vanished and were replaced by the present-day, kabupaten or regencies. Until 1979, however the regent or bupati of Karangasem was a prince of the royal house, and was still considered "raja" by most people in the area. Even today, members of the royal family participate in rituals held in the nearby villages.

Ujung and Mt Seraya

Apart from being a man well-versed in letters, tile last king of Karangasem, Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut, was also an assiduous builder of opulent pleasure palaces for his frequent excursions to the countryside with his wives and children. In fact, during his lifetime he built no less than three different "water palaces" at Ujung, Tirtagangga and Jungtitan respectively.

Ujung, 8 km to the south of Amlapura, is a small fishing village with distinct Islamic arid Hindu-Balinese quarters. The lavish palace complex here - a vast pool bordered by small pavilions with a massive stained glass and stucco bungalow in the center was completely destroyed by the eruption of Mt Agung and subsequent earthquakes. Little else but a few sculptures and portals remain, though there are plans afoot to restore the palace to its original condition as it tourist attractions.

Just before Ujung there is road to the left leading toward Bukit Kangin ("eastern hill") where there is a panoramic view of the area and a temple dedicated to the founder of the royal dynasty. On the full moon of the fifth month (usually in November) several villages with close ties to the ruling dynasty participate in a festival at this temple.

From the beach at Ujung, a new road climbs up to the village of Seraya, perched on the southern flanks of Mt Seraya Bali's easternmost peak (1175 in). This is one of the most and areas in Bali, and the road here hugs the hills high above the coast, offering splendid panoramas of the surrounding terrain and across the sea to distant Lombok. From Seraya, the road continues around the mountain and descends gradually on the northern side to the fishing and salt-making village of Amed. Though a distance of only about 30 km, the entire drive take several hours as the road is quite steep and winding.

From Amed one can return to Amlapura or continue along the northern coastal route through the villages of Kubu and Tianyar toward Singaraja. The north coastal region suffered greatly from the eruption of Mt Agung, and was transformed into an arid wasteland with dramatic, black lava flows reaching right down to the sea. Until well into the 1980s the road was not very serviceable, but it is now in very good condition and offers beautiful views of the rugged northern slopes of Mt Agung. There is also excellent diving in the coastal reefs off Tianyar, where the sunken wreck of a WW 11 ship provides a home for a host of colorful marine life.

Refreshing pools at Tirtagangga

The cool, spring-fed pools at Tirtagangga which literally means "Ganges Water" and refers to the sacred river of the Hindus - are located some 15 km northwest of Amlapura along the main road toward Singaraja. A dip in the pools is deliciously refreshing after a long drive, and they are surrounded by a captivating landscape of terraced rice fields. The village itself is small and quiet, and is a good place to pause and rest for several hours or even several days - to take advantage of the many delightful walks from here.

One can stay overnight inside the pool complex itself, known officially as Tirta Ayu ("lovely waters"), where a son of the last king of Karangasem operates a small home stay. Another exciting possibility is to stay in a small lodging on a nearby hill with a view over the famous Tirtagangga rice terraces.

Trekking around Tirtagangga

From here there are a number of excellent treks through the surrounding countryside. One of the most spectacular begins to the north in the village of Tanaharon, quite high on the slopes of Mt Agung. One may reach it on foot or by car. To get there, follow the main road north from Tirtagangga in the direction of Singaraja for several kilometers, then turn left at Abang and follow a small climbing road up to the end. From here one may continue on foot, enjoying the broad panoramas in all directions and the thick, tree-fern vegetation. There is no short-cut back to Tirtagangga, and it is best not to get too far off the main path, as the ravines are quite steep and dangerous.

Another, less taxing trek begins in Ababi, just 2 km north of Tirtagangga on the main road. Turn left in this village and follow the road through Tanah Lengis to Budakling. On foot one can also reach this road by climbing the low hill behind the Tirtagangga spring.

Ababi is an old-fashioned village, and in the fourth Balinese month (around October) a major ritual is held in the village temple an agricultural ceremony marking the end of the dry season. In Tanah Lengis, which closely linked to Ababi, are several unusual music clubs. One is an angk1ung orchestra and the other is a so-called cekepung group.

Cekepung is a form of music known only in Karangasem and on Lombok, from where it originates. It is performed by a group of men. The leader begins by singing a text in Sasak (the language of Lombok); this is then paraphrased by another man in Balinese. After a while the other men join in, and perform a very rhythmic, interlocking song without words - imitating the interplay, rhythm and punctuation of a gamelan orchestra with their voices. Villagers drink palm-wine during and in between the singing. Both groups perform commercially, and will sometimes play for visitors in Tirtagangga.

One enters Budakling just after crossing a broad river, which is almost completely dry during the dry season. This village is well known for its Buddhist brahman priests, of whom there are only a dozen or so left in Bali (whereas their Sivaite colleagues number the hundreds). It is also a famous center for gold and silver smiting. Here are produced jewelry pieces of very high quality, which are occasionally offered for sale in Tirtagangga. It is possible to obtain or order pieces in the village, and Budakling also has several ironsmiths who produce household and agriculture tools.

To go back to Tirtagangga from here, turn left at the first crossroads in Budakling and ask for Padangkerta, a few km south on main Amlapura-Tirtagangga road. For a longer trip, continue on to the important market village of Bebandem. Entering from this direction, the traveler encounters ironsmiths by the side of the road, which usually work in the mornings on market day (every three days), producing cheap knives Keris daggers and cock fighting spurs. There is also an important cattle market here and once back on the main road one has the choice of going back toward Tirtagangga, south to Candi Dasa, east to Amlapura or west to Besakih and Rendang.

A walk due east from Tirtagangga through the rice fields brings you to Pura Lempuyang, one of the Sad Kahyangan or six main temples of the whole of Bali, perched at the summit of Mt Lempuyang (1058 in). Pass the villages of Kuhum and Tihingtali and continue on to Basangalas. From here, it is a strenuous climb up to the temple. Basangalas can also be reached by car from a turn-off to the north of Tirtagangga at Abang.

A large temple festival takes place at Lempuyang every 210 days on Thursday of the week Dungulan. Ten days later, on Sunday of the week Kuningan, there are festivals in the temples of origin (pura puseh) in many villages around Basangalas, including Lempuyang. These feature fine rejang dances by the unmarried girls of the village accompanied by various orchestras.

Traditional villages near Amlapura

The several neighboring villages of Subagan, Jasi, Bungaya, Asak and Timbrah just to the west of Amlapura are all very traditional resembling the archaic Bali Aga village of Tenganan in many ways. Like Tenganan, Asak for instance is a caste-less village. Bungaya, on the other hand, has groups of brahmana but they do not take part in village rituals.

These villages may be reached quite easily by car or on foot. Coming from Candidasa and Bugbug in the west, turn left at the village of Perasi onto a picturesque back road leading to Bebandem via Timbrah, Asak a Bungaya. Jasi and Subagan lie on the main road between Perasi and Amlapura. There is also a lovely back road connecting Subagan with the Asak and Bungaya road.

The village of Jasi, close to the beach, is well known for its earthenware casks, bowls and pots. They may be purchased locally as well as at the Amlapura and Klungkung markets. Subagan has an Islamic quarter that was completely leveled in 1963 when Mt Agung erupted.

Timbrah, Asak and Bungaya are village with several fascinating festivals. The biggest and best known is called usaba sumbu held once a year with certain variations in all three villages (as well as in Perasi, Bugbug and Bebandem). This is an agricultural rite in
honor of the rice goddess, Batari Sri, and the god of material wealth, Batara Rambut Sedana as well as the deified ancestors and other village deities. It is held in Bungaya around the full moon of the 12th Balinese month (May or June), in Timbrah during the waning moon of the second month (July or August), and in Asak around the full moon of the first moon (check a Balinese calendar).

Several exquisite dances are performed during the daytime. A rejang is performed by unmarried girls, an abuang by unmarried boys, and several different groups take part in mock-fight dances called gebug. The dancers are beautifully dressed in costly ritual costumes, and the gold headdresses of the girls in Asak and Bungaya are justifiably famous.

The dances are accompanied by some very rare and unusual music. Especially noteworthy is the sacred selunding orchestra consisting of iron-met allophones that are rarely played, and then only for specific ceremonies. A particular selunding in Bungaya, for instance, is only struck once every ten years during a huge temple festival.

In Asak, Timbrah and Bugbug, the selunding is played once every year during the usaba sumbu. Other interesting festivals are held on Galungan in Timbrah, on Kuningan in Asak and Bungaya, and during the seventh and eighth lunar months (January or February) in Asak and Subagan. New years' festivals (March or April) are worth attending in any of these villages.

Spectacular back road to Besakih

The back road leading from Amlapura up to Rendang and thence to Besakih is one of the most scenic in Bali. From Amlapura the first villages passed are Subagan and Bebandem (see above). Shortly after Bebandem there is an intersection, and a turn to the right takes you to the small village of Jungutan, site of the third famous Karangasem water palace.

Jungutan is not so much a palace, actually, as a small complex of ponds situated in a quiet and relaxing setting - a nice spot to stop and walk around. Back at the intersection, the road continues west through Sibetan, well known throughout Indonesia for its delicious salak - a crisp, tart fruit encased in a rind that has the look and feel of snakeskin. The winding road through Sibetan is lined by densely-planted salak palms and trucks may be seen loading them for market. These fruits are better here than anywhere else in Indonesia - peel the scaly skin and enjoy the thirst-quenching pulp.

Soon after the salak plantations, a road to the left leads a short distance to Putung, where there is a small bungalow hotel and restaurant with a view of the coast. The main road continues on from here to Duda, at the foot of Mt Agung. This village holds a large festival in the temple of origin on the full moon of the fourth month (around October). After Duda there is another intersection. The road to the left from here goes through Sidemen to Klungkung. The road straight ahead leads to Rendang and the turn to Besakih.

Sidemen, southwest off the road between Duda and Selat, is well worth a visit. The scenery is gorgeous, and traditional varieties of Balinese rice are grown. There is a good home stay with a magnificent view down across a valley of rice terraces to the sea and south Bali. Closeby is a weaving factory where high quality traditional textiles (endek) are produced. In Sidemen there are also several places where the costly kain songket is woven from silk, with gold and silver threads added to create the patterns.

The road onwards to Rendang leads first through the old village of Selat, an area that suffered badly from the eruption of Mt Agung. It is possible to climb the volcano - a sign reading "Gunting Agung, 10 km" marks a turn-off where a road leads a good way up the sacred mountain. Don't attempt the climb unless you are well-prepared and have a guide. If you speak Indonesian, guides are locally available but be sure to bring along food, water and warm clothing for the steep climb to the summit. At 3142 in, this is Bali's highest peak and it gets quite cold. Only to be attempted between July and October.

The village just after Selat, Padangabai, is known for its gambuh association. Gambuh is a classical dance-drama with slow and stately music that is only irregularly performed these days. The road then continues on through Muncan, past one of the most exciting rice field landscapes in Bali. The terraces are at their most spectacular when flooded, just before the young rice is transplanted. Finally at Rendang you arrive at the main Klungkung Besakih route; a turn to the right will bring you up to Bali's "Mother Temple."

Bali's Lofty 'Mother Temple'

Driving up to Besakih from Menanga the silver-grey cone of Mt Agung looms above, its summit still bare from the ravages of the 1963 eruption. At 3142 meters, this is the highest peak on Bali, and a major locus of divine power in the Balinese cosmos. The huge temple located here, Pura Besakih, is the greatest of all Balinese sanctuaries - the most sacred and powerful of the island's innumerable temples. For this reason, it has always been associated also with state power. It lies at an altitude of 900 meters on the southwestern slope of the mountain, offering spectacular views over the whole of southern Bali.

Pura Besakih is not a single temple but a sprawling complex consisting of many separate shrines and compounds, united through ritual and history into a single sanctuary. 'Mere are 22 temples in all, spread along parallel ridges over a distance of more than a kilometer. The highest of these, Pura Pengubengan, lies amidst beautiful groves in a state pine forest. Most of the temples, however, cluster around the main enclosure, Pura Penataran Agung.

In this same area there are many ancestral temples (pura padharman) supported by particular clan group. Four public temples also form a distinct sub-group (catur lawa or catur warga) and are associated with certainkin groups. Local kin groups of Besakih village lagers also have temples here.

It is busy almost every day at Besakih. Balinese often come in order to obtain holy water for ceremonies back in their home villages as a symbol of the god's presence. For most major rituals, the witness of the god of Gunung Agung/Pura Besakih is required. Balinese come to Besakih also at the end of the long series of funeral rites, after the post cremation purification of the soul has taken place, to ready the soul for enshrinement in the family house temple. In all cases, the worshipper is sure to pay reverence at the triple lotus shrine of the Pura Penataran Agung.

The symbolic center

Pura Penataran Agung, the "Great of State" is the symbolic center of the Besakih complex. Originating probably as a single prehistoric shrine, its six terraces suggest a history of successive enlargements, the lates being in 1962. In all, there are 57 structures in the temple, about half of which are devoted to various deities. A study of these provides glimpse of important developments in the history of the temple.

The meru or pagodas were probably introduced no earlier than the 14th century, whereas the lotus throne (padmasaanna) dates from about the 17th or even 18th century. With the introduction of the padmasana, ritual focus of the temple seems to have shifted from the upper terraces to the second, lower terrace. The padmasana is now the ritual center of Pura Penataran Agung and of the Besakih complex as a whole.

The three seats in the lotus throne are dedicated to the godhead in his tripartite form as Siwa, Sadasiwa and Paramasiwa or, more commonly in the popular tradition, to Brahma (right), Siwa (center), Wisnu (left). These deities are associated with the colors red, white and black respectively. Behind the padmasana lies the Bale Pasamuhan Agung where the gods of the Besakih temples take residence during major rituals.

Of all the present structures in the temple, only one or two predate the great earthquake of 1917. Although visitors are normally not allowed inside the main courtyard, there are several vantage points from where one can get good views of the shrines.

Temple categories

A dual structure underlies the Besakih sanctuary as a whole through a division of the sacred areas into two parts. Pura Penataran Agung is the main temple "above the steps." Its counterpart "below the steps" is Pura Dalem Puri, the "Temple of Palace Ancestors." This small but very important temple, associated with an early dynasty of the 12th century, is dedicated to the goddess identified as Batari Durga, goddess of death and of the graveyard, as well as of magic power.

The Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa is the basis of a three-part grouping that links the three largest temples. Pura Penataran Agung, the central temple, honors Siwa; Pura Dangin Kreteg ("Temple East of the Bridge") honors Brahma, and Pura Batu Madeg ("Temple of the Standing Stone") honors Wisnu. On festival days, banners and hangings in their colors represent these deities. Pura Batu Madeg in particular has a fine row of meru.

A five-way grouping links these three temples with two others, each being associated with a cardinal direction and a color. Pura Penataran Agung is at the center. Surrounding it are Pura Gelap (east/white), Pura Dangin Kreteg (south/red), Pura Ulun Kulkul (west/yellow) and Pura Batu Madeg (north/black). This five-way classification, the so-called panca dewata, is extremely important in Balinese Hinduism. At Besakih, however, it seems to have been a relatively late development, as it is not mentioned in Besakih's sacred charter, the Raja Purana, which probably dates from the 18th century.

The gods descend

The unity of the complex of 22 public temples becomes manifest, above all, in Besakih's great annual festival, the Bhatara Turun Kabeh or "Gods Descend Together" rite. This falls on the full moon of the 10th lunar month (purnama kadasa), in March or April. During this month-long festival, the gods of all temples on Bali take up residence in the main shrine at Besakih. Tens of thousands of people from all over the island come to worship at the triple lotus throne, and solemn rituals are conducted by brahmanaa high priest

In terms of numbers of worshippers, the annual ritual at Pura Dalem Puri is also quite remarkable. Within the 24-hour period of this festival, soon after the new moon of the 7th lunar month (around January), vast crowds pay homage here, presenting special offerings with which to insure the well-being family members whose death rites were completed the previous year.

But these great rituals are only the most in important out of a total of more than 70 held regularly at the different temples and shrines at Besakih. Almost every shrine in Pura Penataran Agung, for instance, has its own anniversary, almost all of which are fixed according to the indigenous Balinese wuku calendar. The most important festivals, however, follow the lunar calendar. These include rituals conducted by brahmana priests at four of the five main temples, and also a series of agricultural rites culminating in two of Besakih's most interesting ceremonies the Usaba Buluh and Usaba Ngeed, which center around the Pura Banua dedicated to Bhatari Sri, goddess of lice and prosperity. With the exception of the brahmana rituals mentioned above, most ceremonies at Besakih are conducted by Besakih's own pemangku.

State and temple

The performance of rituals and the physical maintenance of the temples demand considerable resources, and throughout the temple's history these have been at least partly provided by the state. During pre-colonial times, the relationship between state and temple was expressed in a largely Hindu. Idiom of religion and statecraft, but in the course of the 20th century this changed to one couched in legal and constitutional terms.

The earliest history of Besakih consists of legendary accounts that associate the temple with the great priests of the Hindu traditions in Bali, beginning with Rsi Markendya. In the 15th century two ancient edicts inscribed on wood, now regarded as god-symbols of an important deity of Pura Penataran Agung, indicate heavy state involvement.

The Gelgel and Klungkung dynasties (15th to early 20th centuries) regarded Pura Besakih as the chief temple of the realm, and deified Gelgel rulers are enshrined in a separate temple here, called Padharman Dalem.

Through the turmoil and shifting politics of the 19th century, which saw the rise of Dutch power on the island, the temple was seriously neglected. The great earthquake of 1917 completed its destruction, but at the same time galvanized the Balinese, who then rebuilt the temple with Dutch assistance. Control was maintained by the princely houses, who were responsible for rituals and maintenance. After independence, the regional government of Bali took over responsibility. Only in recent years has the Hindu community itself taken on a greater share of the burden involved in the temple's upkeep.

Cosmic rites of purification

The involvement of the Balinese with Pura Besakih is at no time more in evidence than during the great purificatory rites known as Panca Walikrama and Eka Dasa Rudra. Ideally these are held every 10 and 100 years respectively, but in practice they have been irregular. The Panca Walikrama was held in 1933, 1960, and 1978 and most recently in 1989.

The Eka Dasa Rudra, greatest of all rituals known in Balinese Hinduism, is an enormous purification rite directed to the entire cosmos, represented by the 11 (eka dasa) directions. Rudra is a wrathful form of Siwa, who is to be propitiated. It has been held twice this century, once in 1963, and again in 1979. The Eka Dasa Rudra of 1963, held at a time of great political tensions, was an extraordinary catastrophe, for right in the midst of the month-long festival Mt Agung erupted with violent destructive force for the first time in living memory. Such a strange coincidence prompted various interpretations, the most common being that the deity of the mountain was angry, perhaps over the ritual's timing.

According to certain sacred texts, the rite should be held when the Saka year ends in two zeros. Such was the case in 1979 (Saka 1900), and it was decided to hold the Eka Dasa Rudra once again. The mountain remained calm and hundreds of thousands attended the main day of celebration, including President Suharto. This marked Besakih's new-found status as the paramount Hindu sanctuary not only for Bali, but for all of Indonesia.







Getting to and Around Bali




A Get-Away Seaside Resort

Candi Dasa town

Bugbug and environs

Exclusive Community of God's Chosen

Microcosm of the universe

Divine origins

Exclusive membership

The sacred geringsing cloths

Festival of the swings

Tour of Bali's Fascinating Eastern Tip

The palaces of Karangasem

Ujung and Mt Seraya

Refreshing pools at Tirtagangga

Trekking around Tirtagangga

Traditional villages near Amlapura

Spectacular back road to Besakih

Bali's Lofty 'Mother Temple'

The symbolic center

Temple categories

The gods descend

State and temple

Cosmic rites of purification













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