Ubud, Pelebon, Puri Saren
15th July 2008:
To Puri Saren, ‘Ubud, Bali’s prettiest palace’, for the gargantuan cremation of Ubud’s popular prince, Tjokorda Gede Agung Suyasa, and other family members
The two main lembu parked outside the palace
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On a visit to Ubud two weeks back, fresh from Solo, I was reminded of the difference in Balinese and Javanese palaces at times of ceremonial activity. The Javanese palaces are vast and sedate: courtiers and nobles are everywhere, plotting intrigues in courtyard corners. The ceremonies happen according to a programme with general lounging in the off-limits (to most) royal apartments in between. In Ubud, serfs, tourists, priests and princes intermingle to an extent. Balinese palaces, particularly Puri Saren, Ubud, are alive with ceremonial/social/logistical (offering-making etc.) activity for the weeks that surround the big events! While the cremation atmosphere is hardly ‘festive’, the mood is relaxed and jovial, with lots of comic relief; unlike the rather sombre courtliness of the rituals of Javanese palaces.
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Jero Asri and her daughter, Tjok Sri Maya Kerthyasa
Today Jero Asri is surrounded by her Australian ladies-in-waiting; her friend la Barone Gill Marais, author of ‘Sex in the Puri’, a new film series on Balinese palace life, chats to her first grandson.
Stepping out of the rarefied atmosphere of the puri into the New Year’s Revellers at Luna Park atmosphere on the now closed main road, alive with battalions of funeral float bearers in bright purple, is like “stepping on to a giant tab of acid” (to quote Bill Dawson).
Dignitaries are surveying the amazing scenes form the palace’s corner belvedere: there is the Minister of Tourism, Jero Wacik; the new governor-elect, Major General Made Mangku Pastika; Sukmawati Soekarnoputri (again!); ex-minister Moerdiono (upon whose life a new “The Sopranos—style TV series is to be based); and handsome Gung Bagus from Peliatan, the elder-Puri!
One by one the floats are hoisted up and moved into position. The crowd cheers. Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa is commanding. (“He was particularly close to the deceased,” Wayan Juniartha reports, in a fabulous feature story in today’s Jakarta Post).
Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa and family members in the Semanggen court on the morning of the cremation
“It’s vulgar,” I hear woolite heiress and puri refusenik Carole Muller complain as vigilantes start chopping down trees to clear the path. Spectators are lined ten deep and up the side of the buildings! All the rooftops along the one mile of the processional route are crammed with people.
As the palace seniors frantic—on the float—struggle to free the trapped beliemoth, I race down the mall like a streakier in a fancy dress—”Run Fat Boy Run”, screams the crowd—just in time to catch the first float (bearing the coffin of Tjok Suyasa’s auntie) as it turns up the hill to the cremation ground.
The beleganjur marching band has gone berserk: the relief drummers are dancing in the street, so joyous is the mood (“Ubud is a mood,” screams Leonard Leuras from a nearby massage parlour). This royal family, so beloved by the masses, is sent off with great style.