In Bali, everything is alive. Everything has a soul, so they say. Shrines, statues, even trees and boulders are ornamented with sacred black and white sarongs, as if they are human. Some ‘in the know’ people have suggested to me that if you start making offerings to an object, you can arouse its spirit. From this point on you must be prepared to constantly prepare offerings for it on certain auspicious days. Neglecting to do this could cause unrest, disharmony and even sickness.
At some stage, certain objects are determined sacred by the Balinese. It may be due to their great age or historical; sometimes they ‘come alive’ by themselves without warning and I’ve heard numerous stories about such phenomena. Giant fiery boars in the banyan trees, weeping maidens in the rocks, faceless musicians in the gamelan – hardly a day passes without hearing an anecdote or two.
Many traditional Balinese musical instruments known as gamelan have peculiar, unexplainable powers, and depending on the nature of the gamelan, it may have to have offerings made to it just to touch it or use it. The ultra-sacred gamelan selonding orchestras from Tenganan Village, for example, may only be touched and played by certain members of the village. Any outsider, including Balinese from other villages, may not touch or photograph the gamelan, or even record certain gending (pieces). The villagers told me of one occasion recently when a tourist intentionally touched the instruments, in spite of the fact he was aware of the rules of the village, and a huge purification ceremony was required. I bet you he was surprised when he had to foot the bill for numerous offerings including a mother pig!
The way that certain objects are treated can even harm people directly. The ancient semar pegulingan gamelan housed in Payogan Agung Temple, Ketewel is one of these magical relics. Hundreds of years old, perhaps dating back to the time of the Majapahit kingdom of Java and Bali, this orchestra cannot even be tuned for fear of causing great sickness amongst the musicians. A priest and expert on the history of this gamelan once told me that if the instruments are misused – for example thrown around or stepped over – they can cause paralysis in the matter of days.
An old gamelan gong kebyar set in Banjar Dangin Peken, Sanur is so revered for its magical powers that certain instruments are given special names and referred to as such. What’s more, the resonance of the large gong is great enough to crack any gong that is paired with it in a matter of months – no amps needed here!
Balinese firmly believe that certain gamelan can play by themselves: for example, I’ve heard that the large gong of the Gong Gede of Sulahan Village in Bangli will sound when there is imminent danger. The mysterious ‘self-playing’ was prophesized before the fall of the Klungkung Palace, the original home of the orchestra. In vain, the king at the time moved the gong to another village to stop it playing by itself. By the time it found its final home in Bangli and stopped ringing, the kingdom had fallen and the prophecy a reality. Now, on auspicious occasions the gong ‘weeps’, dripping water for no known apparent reason – could it be homesick?!
I’m convinced that a ‘Bali’s Believe It or Not’ could be next on the cards for Bali TV, and it may just leave the Ripley’s version for pixie dust. One thing’s for sure – on the Island of the Gods, things are not always as they seem.
© 2012 Vaughan Hatch