Pride and preservation in Desa Tenganan Pegringsingan Traditional Village

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Located 3 km north from the famous coastal town of Candidasa, Desa Adat Tenganan Pegringsingan (Traditional Village of Tenganan Pegringsingan) is the cultural and administrative center of the Tenganan area. This land, from the floodplains to the dramatic rolling hills of Karangasem, was said to have been granted to its inhabitants by Indra, the god of war himself.

Referred to as the Bali Aga, or indigenous Balinese, the people of Tenganan Pegringsingan are a window into the manners and customs of an ancient Bali. The community here has a distinct culture from most of Bali; protected within their “God-given” land, their unique laws and customs have helped maintain the traditional structure of the village and its way of life to this day.

Pandan Wars and the double ikat cloth are what Desa Tenganan (Tenganan Village) is best known for, but this Bali Aga community is so much more than what it shows in blood and cloth.

Pride over prejudice

The term But is an old Javanese word for mountain, and thus Bali Aga is more accurately translated as “mountain people of Bali”. It is used as a word to describe the indigenous people of Bali.

The story goes that between the 8th and 14th centuries Bali was ruled by two dynasties (Warmadewa and Jaya) of the Bedahulu Kingdom. This was centered in Pejeng, Gianyar, related to many of the archaeological sites nearby including Goa Gajah, Yeh Pulu and Gunung Kawi. This was Bali’s “ancient period”, which ended when the Hindu-Javanese Majapahit empire swept into Bali in 1343, successfully invading the island and beginning its long and defining reign. The influence of this empire was the source of much of the Balinese culture we see today: the rituals, temples, palaces and arts.

The Bali Aga Communities: Better terms are Bali from (Balinese original) or Bali Kuno (Old Balinese) – they were often located in remote or hard to reach areas, reducing their involvement and thus the influence of Majapahit culture. As a result, some villages will have their own customs which do not conform to today’s established Balinese Hinduism.

For the villagers of Tenganan Pegringsingan, however, non-acculturation to Majapahit was a deliberate choice, stemming from the pride of their ancestors and the legend of their foundation.

Dewa Indra’s Chosen People

The story of the village’s origins helps explain why the Tengannese are so proud of their heritage.

After the bloody war between Dewa Indra, god of war, and the evil king Mayadenawa who ruled over Bedahulu (the origin story of Galungan), the world was considered dirty and a sacrifice was needed for purification. Indra offered his sacred horse, Oncesrawa, to be sacrificed. The horse, sensing its imminent death, ran towards the hills. Indra asked the assertive person, warriors of the kingdom of Bedahulu, in search of Oncesrawa. Upon finding the horse, though already dead, Dewa Indra rewarded their efforts and said that they could have the lands as far as the smell of the horse’s carcass could be smelled. Cleverly, the suppressor the troop hacked up the horse’s body and spread it to the valley corners, with the right legs taken to Bukit Kangin (East Ridge) and the left legs taken to Bukit Kauh (West Ridge). Indra noticed their bravery and ingenuity, exclaimed that they were allowed to claim this land – and they would worship him from then on.

Hence, in this valley guarded beneath the mountains, Tenganan was claimed by these warriors of Bedahulu, its name derived from being the ‘central point’ (half meaning center) between the east and west ridge. Also identified by their unique craft, double ikat smiling fabric, the central village and its community became known as Tenganan Pegringsingan.

Inside the village of Tenganan

The area of ​​Tenganan is 917 hectares of thriving forest and agricultural land, managed by the main village (Desa Adat Tenganan Pegringsingan) and its community of around 760 people. Visitors are welcome to explore the surroundings and witness the daily life of the residents.

If coming from the coast, from Candi Dasa, the main entrance to the village is in the south, where visitors are asked to register and make a donation before entering. Most of the main village lies along a long corridor, extending from south to north, terraced towards the slopes. To the left and right, the family compounds are behind the stone walls, and between this central band are the council buildings, THE meeting roomwhere different groups gather, ceremonies take place and ritual tools and accessories are kept.

On normal days, residents will set up tables of their arts and crafts for visitors to view and purchase: palm leaf manuscripts and drawings, paintings, sculptures and textiles. Of course, the Tenganan Pegringsingan cloth of the same name is the original and most famous handicraft in the village.

Grindingtakes its name from two words: green AND sing, meaning sickness/illness and no/rejection respectively, or ‘no disease’. Considered sacred, legend claims its ability to ward off disease and grant prosperity to the wearer. They are worn by the Tengananese during important rituals and ceremonies, becoming an iconic visual element during auspicious days. Sanctity aside, handmade fabric is highly coveted for its impressive craftsmanship; its creation takes a lot of time and work, using a ‘double ikat’ process found in only three other places in the world.

Visitors can see the yarns being pulled and arranged on the fronts of the houses, clumps of naturally dyed yarns drying in the sun, or even enter one of the houses to see the weaving in progress, women working on their traditional shoulder frames.

At the northern end of Desa Tenganan, a gate leads into the hills, where there is an ancient temple courtyard, Pura Puseh Tenganan, where the village’s sacred buffaloes often graze.

Theater of the Universe

According to one of the reliable sources on Tenganan, Urs Ramseyer, who wrote the book “The Theater of the Universe”, the isolation of this village comes from a profound mission. He explains that Tenganan is a settlement created by Indra, created as a “microcosm” of the greater universe following his divine design of him. Lord Indra has instructed the inhabitants to safeguard the purity and cleanliness of the land. “The concept of territorial, bodily and spiritual purity and integrity is of fundamental importance to the culture of this village,” explains Ramseyer. This belief explains the insular nature of the village over the centuries, protecting itself from external impurities. It also explains the endless cycle of rituals and ceremonies done to ensure that ancestors, gods and demons are appeased and the surrounding lands remain pure.

Thus, during the great village ceremonies, it is when visitors can see Tenganan in all its regalia when its philosophy is made visual, tangible.

The Tenganan calendar is similar to the Gregorian calendar, consisting of 12 months (known as month). Each month will have its important ceremonies, lasting from one to three days, but the fifth month (sasih fifth) it is the apex of the ritual year. This is the month of Usaba Sambah, a month-long ceremony filled with prayers, sacred dances, sacrifices, ceremonial foods, ritual swings, gatherings… a long time agoOR ‘War of the Pandanesi.e. the famous Pandan Wars.

The Pandan Wars, which last for two days at the end of the fifth month, are therefore the best time to visit Tenganan Pegringsingan. Normally during June or July, these two days are an ultra condensed showcase of what Tenganan is all about and one can witness so much of the uniqueness of the community in a short time. Traditional clothing, tools, dances, food and rituals will be on display.

The most visible rituals include: Manyunan, where all young people Moreover (young women), dressed from head to toe at your best smiling cloth and other accoutrements, take their places on centuries-old ritual swings, which are then turned by the young (young men). The seesaw symbolizes the cyclical nature of life: these young Tengannese are spinning the wheels for another generation.

Then comes the Pandan Wars. It takes place in front of one of meeting room pavilions, the stage is set for battle. The young man young the men take turns facing an opponent with piled, prickly pandan leaves in one hand and a rattan shield in the other.

Then, on the notes of the sacred sell gamelan, the fighting begins. Chaotic scenes where each warrior scrambles and struggles as he tries to scrape his opponent’s skin with the sharp thorns of the pandanus. Beat Ra. Blood sacrifice. They honor Dewa Indra, god of war, with their bloody battle, their blood is a gift to the earth. The atmosphere is electric and the surrounding crowd cheers and jeers in unison as each exciting but short-lived fight unfolds.

Yet, with every blow, with every thorn that pierces the skin, with every drop of blood that quenches the ground beneath their feet, there are smiles all around. After each round the radiant fighters embrace each other, their deed is done. There are no winners or losers here, just a commitment to the community. When enough has been spilled, the warriors take turns tending to each other’s wounds, then sit together at a shared meal known as megabung.

The Usaba Samba ritual is the epilogue of this particular Bali Aga community, before the curtain closes on this ‘theater’ for another year.

A more detailed account of Desa Adat Tenganan Pegringsingan can be found in “TIMELESS BALI – Volume 2,” a special annual release of by NOW! Bali.

Edward Speir

Edward Speir

Edward, or Eddy as he prefers to be called, is the managing editor of NOW! Bali and host of NOW! Bali Podcasts. He enjoys photography, rural travel and he loves that his work introduces him to people from all walks of life.

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