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Island of the Gods from a Balinese perspective

Bali is called the Island of Gods.

The catchy title is meant to intrigue potential buyers. It hints that ancient rituals, sometimes in archaic form, still occur on Bali despite digital age and modernization.

17 Décembre 2018 - 22:48

BALI - Ancient Rites in the Digital Age Photography Ida Bagus Putra Adnyana Text by Diana Darling.
BALI - Ancient Rites in the Digital Age Photography Ida Bagus Putra Adnyana Text by Diana Darling.
Photographer Ida Bagus Putra Adnanya, born in Sanur from a Brahmin priestly family, can claim that he is purely Balinese and enjoyed access to most intimate Hindu Balinese religious rites since he was a child.

Photographer purely Balinese

Gustra, as he is known familiarly, is proud of his heritage, assembling a huge personal portfolio of digital images taken on the island, a compendium of religious events.

The photographer travelled to remote regions of Bali seeking to portray ceremonies that many Balinese themselves have never witnessed.

However he also wished to show how the island was reacting to the modern world. Ida Bagus Putra Adnanya documented the tolerance shown between Hindu Balinese and Balinese Muslims at the usaba dangsil ceremony at the Pura Puseh Merita for example. Meanwhile harmony was also displayed between Hindu Balinese and Kong Hu Cu (Chinese Confucians) at the temple festival at Besakih, Sanur or other important temples on Bali.

The challenge in such photography is colour separation when printing them on glossy paper. Here the publisher has succeeded most of the time, although some images could show more sophisticated colour use and composition in layout.

Many images do attain painterly quality like that of the young boys tooth filing in Tenganan Karangasem or the inner courtyard of the Pura Dalem in Gianyar with towering offerings amidst the mists of burning incense. Others are dramatic in the way processions are portrayed winding their way through verdant rice-fields to a tiny temple in Tirtagangga, an effect probably achieved with a drone camera or small airplane.

Five categories of rituals

Rituals on the island or yadnya (a Sanskrit word meaning sacrifice) are classified into five categories : Dewa yadnya (rites for God and his manifestations) ; Rsi yadnya (rites for priests); Pitra yadnya (rites for ancestors) ; Manusa yadnya (rites of passage or life-cycle ceremonies) and Buta yadnya (rites for the underworld or demons/bad spirits). Balinese believe that human beings have three existential debts to God, to the priesthood and to the ancestors.

Diana Darling, American writer and long-time inhabitant of Bali, is a Jero, honorary title bestowed on the women who marry into a higher caste. She is part of a large Anak Agung family, inhabitant of the banjar of Ubud Tengah, and is therefore qualified to write about these rituals due to her intimacy with the Balinese way of life.

Balinese rituals, as Diana Darling points out, are known for their beauty, richness and occasional extreme violence. Bali, Ancient rites in the Digital Age is an intricately woven interpretation of the ancestral island. The images were taken between 2004 and 2014.

Bali, often called the island of a thousand temples, has long been exposed to the outside world, including the rest of the Indonesian archipelago, and has been featured in glossy magazines inciting visitors to come and spend time on the island. However, the island has had its share of historical tragedies, together with continuing series of earthquakes and violent volcanic eruptions. Sekala and Niskala, the seen and the unseen realms are tangible, but still endowed with magical mystery.

According to Diana Darling, after the photographer and the writer edited the huge number of images together, the text began to flow in a straight-forward manner as the two discussed the topics involved. The detailed explanations of the rituals are clear and concise.

Just as holy water, or tirta, the basis of the Balinese Hindu religion, which is sprinkled in every ceremony by either the high priest or priestly assistants, may now be disappearing from ancient sources, this book witnesses the passing of an age. However, the churning waters of the surrounding ocean still receive the ashes of its inhabitants after the final death ceremonies.

The publisher Rafli Sato brought out the book end 2016. This is the first hard-back edition in the now increasingly modern square format, and is to be found in the National Library of Indonesia. ISBN 978-979-8926-31-0.
(Price unknown by the reviewer Kunang Helmi)

Mots-clés de l'article : Bali, Gods, Indonesia, Indonésie

Kunang Helmi-Picard
Fatma Kunang Helmi was born in Yogjakarta, Indonesia. Education in Switzerland, Australia and... En savoir plus sur cet auteur

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