It ‘s no wonder that anthropologists and photographers have always been in love with the Bali Aga village of Tenganan. From Margaret Mead to Urs Ramseyer and beyond, people have taken delight in examining the cultural intricacies and habits of this walled village. Traditions run a tight ship, and almost every week of the year there will be some arcane ceremony being enacted behind its high stone walls. And while visitors are very welcome, and the mysteries remain pretty much unexplained, it is always a great pleasure to spend time there.
The biggest ceremony of the year is the month long round of festivities in June and July, culminating with the Great Pandan battles where young and not so young men beat each other ceremonially with weapons made from batches of prickly pandan. The aim is to draw blood, to spill a few drops on the bare earth to appease the spirits and keep them at peace.
But before the pandan shenanigans start, the procession and spirit party begins. Tranced women and men precede the procession, to get the festivities underway. The men dance about and while in a state of deep trance try to stab themselves with the razor sharp krises. The spectacles never cease.
Trance is rife in Bali and it is not just at the clubs of the south. Trance is an integral part of life for the majority of Balinese who seem to be able to fall into trance at the drop of a mangku’s vajra!
Spiritual possession is not a new thing as it exists in many religions and cultural belief systems. Bali’s Hindu- Buddhist religion stems from more ancient influences of animism and shamanism and the strong connection to the spirit world is understood as a normal part of life.
If you are lucky enough to visit a sacral or sacred ceremony in Bali, you may notice, people falling about. They may start dancing or appear to be fainting and after they are carried off centre stage they need to be revived with a splash of Holy water from a mangku.
As people fall into trance they serve as a medium between the two worlds – a conduit for the spirits. Anything may happen when a person is in a state of trance – live chickens devoured, or more usually, razor sharps kris (daggers) are turned in on the Tranced person but they are rendered immune to harm and the kris will never pierce the skin.
In Bali, trance is an important shamanistic tradition and many spirit conscious people use it as a healing mode. Others visit the spiritually connected, to help with life or love problems or even to find lost objects or people.
One other important area in Bali is the Sanghyang – a scared state where spirits or deities temporarily inhabit the body. It can be a sacred ceremony and if you are lucky enough to witness it, be amazed. It is becoming more rare as people embrace the more materialistic way of life. Sanghyang is ceremonially used to restore balance or to cleanse a village,
In Tenganan, on this day, a huge procession preceded the Makare Kare Pandan war, and part of the procession includes several tranced people. What was the reason in this instance? Perhaps as an extra cleansing to ensure harmony and prosperity for this most intriguing of villages.