There I was, far from home, surrounded by hundreds of wild eyed men, each brandishing a wicked looking Kris – the killer dagger used in many countries of the Asian world.
While the scene sounds slightly surreal, strangely enough, it was far from dangerous! These beautiful folk were all in deep trance, as part of their special once a year, Odalan temple ceremony – but this one was a ritual with a difference.
Called Daratan, it involves connection with the spirits, something that happens in Bali far more than we realise. Living in a small village, not far from Candidasa, but hidden away in the hills, the people make a strong connection with the spirits or, as they explain, they connect with the gods, who then enter their bodies. They dance freely, while embracing the spirits of animals. While one man will become a horse, another a will become a goat, or even a rooster – and distinctive animal moves will be incorporated into their dance. It is also a happy ceremony and almost all the dancers have a smile on their face, while they move around the inner temple courtyard.
The ceremony takes place late in the afternoon, when the sun drops behind the hills and long shadows form, as the heat of the day starts to drop. Through atmospheric smokey fires, and gamelan music playing soft but strong at the side pavilion, the men appear bearing big boxes called Jempana, supported by poles. The boxes contain relics and holy objects, which seem to help cause the men to fall into deep trance. Others come brandishing Kris, which they wave in the air and sometimes even cut themselves a little. The pull of the music and the tranced state is so strong, that even some of the pecalang (temple guards) and members of the gamelan orchestra feel compelled to leave their posts to dance, succumbing to a force stronger than themselves. Several women join the throng, while the attendant Barong acts as a kind of master of ceremonies who everyone pays obeisance to – at once a protective figure and an object of respect.
To witness a ceremony like this is to believe in the stronger forces that still rule this beautiful island, far beyond the more accessible south.