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Exclusive Community of God's Chosen

Time is reckoned differently in Tenganan Pegringsingan. Here, each new day begins with 21 deep, throbbing drumbeats and lasts until the same pulsating tones are struck the next morning. Tourists arrive when the sun is at its zenith and the valley is glowing with light. They leave towards evening, when the all-important religious ceremonies commence. A month in Tenganan lasts exactly 30 days. Modifications to the calendar are needed to adjust to the lunar-solar year; altogether 15 days are added every three years.

The ancient, ritualistic Bali Aga ("original Balinese") society of Tenganan has now opened up and become accessible to non Tengananese - especially since its festivals have been publicized, and since the village itself has become known as a result of its proximity to the new beach resort at Candidasa one are the days when it was isolated and difficult of access.

It is said that all footprints of visitors to Tenganan were once literally wiped out once they left. Now the village faces new and different problems. It needs more parking space for the cars, minibuses and limousines tourism brings, and the art shops which distort the community's divine plan now have to be placed outside the village gates.

Microcosm of the universe

The desa adat Tenganan Pegringsingan is a microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm an imago mundi. According to this divine plan, it is arranged systematically both in its delimitation from the outside world, as well as in its separation into distinct private and public areas within the village precincts itself.

The village is laid out in a large rectangle measuring some 500 m by 250 m, encircled by natural boundaries and walls. Three pub corridors rise in terrace-like fashion, running along a north-south axis from the sea toward the sacred volcano Gunung Agung. There are six lengthwise rows of compounds; the pairs located in the center and to the west are striking because of their closed house fronts, which resemble palm-leaf covered longhouses

The buildings and areas for public use are situated on the central axes of the central western streets. There are a number of walled temple areas, longhouses, smaller pavilions rice granaries and shrines here, all of which suggest a strong communal life with pronounced ritual ties. This is where the 300 inhabitants of Tenganan Pegringsingan live.

In the eastern compounds of the banjar pande live those who have been banished from the village, together with those whose customs are more like the majority of Hindu Javanized Balinese. Labor in the surrounding gardens and communal rice fields behind the hills is performed by them, or by tenant farmers from neighboring villages who receive half of the crop yield. With approximately 1000 hectares of arable land belonging to it, Tenganan is one of the richest land-owning communities in all of Bali.

Divine origins

Tengenan VillageUnlike other Balinese villages, Tenganan traces its origins and its social institutions back to a written source - a holy book known as the Usana Bali (a chronicle of Bali). According to this text, the Tengananese have been chosen by their creator, Batara Indra, to honor his royal descendants through communal offerings and sacrifices. It states, furthermore, that descendants of the original villagers have been chosen to administer the surrounding lands, a consecrated place of devotion and ritual, and to use all available means to keep them pure.

The concept of territorial and bodily purity and integrity plays an exceedingly important role in the village culture. It is reflected not only in many important rituals (purifications and exorcisms), but also in the idea that only if a person is healthy, physically as well as mentally, may he or she take part in rituals. No one with a disability and no outsider can be admitted to the adat organizations of the village.

As a result of this divinely ordained scheme, the original layout and social organization of the village may not be changed. Houses, compounds, gardens, village council and youth groups are to be left as the gods have created them. Should anything be changed or taken away, the curse of the gods would fall upon the village and its people would perish. Anyone guilty of not respecting the inherited order is banned from participating in village rites, and thus from sharing in communal property. In the gravest of cases, they are even banished from the village altogether. The desa adat is itself regarded as divine and almighty as far as the traditional social order is concerned.

Exclusive membership

It is not surprising that a community regarding itself as divinely blessed would strictly define its own members and place restrictions on outsiders. This exclusivity is expressed very clearly in the qualifications needed to enter the all-village council or krama desa. Only men and women without mental or physical defects who were born and live in Tenganan, having duly passed all ritual stages of initiation by the time they marry, are eligible to join the council. The practice of village endogamy (marrying within the village) also has a restrictive effect. With respect to the krama desa, endogamy is an absolute requirement. Men with second wives or wives from outside the village may not become members. The same is true for women who have violated the marriage rules.

Newly-weds take their place at the lowest end of a hierarchical seating in the huge bale agung - the forum and sacred meeting pavilion of the village council. With the entrance of a new couple, the parents retire and everyone moves up a step, receiving new ritual responsibilities. The layout of the 50-meterlong hall is eminently suited to the numerous rites that bring together the gods, ancestors and villagers. Here, members of the krama desa meet, dressed in ritual clothing, for communal meals with deities and ancestors, whom they worship with prayers, offerings, dances and music. In many cases, youths will take part in the performance of these rituals, either because the girls have been formally invited by the married women to dance before the bale agung, or because the village council requires one of the sacred iron gamelan orchestras (selunding) maintained by the boys' organizations to be struck.

For such a society to work, a long initiation period is needed, allowing its members to prepare for their complex ritual duties and activities within the village council. When children enter a youth club, between the ages of 6 and 8, they go through a "school of life" in which the behavior required for participation in the krama desa is learned, and where the manual skills and esoteric formulas n ed for rituals can be practiced.

The three boys' associations of the village are named after the location of their as assembly houses, located on three consecutive terraces along the western street. There are also three girls' clubs, with a strict and formal relationship concerning mutual help exchange of gifts, offerings, meals and entire rituals existing between them. A girl must be at least 7 years of age to join a sekaha daha or girls club, whose meetings are held in the compounds of retired village elders.

Some years ago, the girls would still bring their looms to the meeting houses so they could practice weaving. In the 11t month of the Tenganan year, they had to bring yarn and beast along to their clubhouses to un 10 dergo instruction in the exceedingly complex art of double ikat. Unfortunately, this custom so vital to the preservation of the local textile craft has been abandoned for several years.

The sacred geringsing cloths

GeringsingRitual clothing is an indispensable part of the sacred order of Tenganan Pegringsing. The double ikat cloths known as geringsing produced here rank among the masterwork of traditional textile art, providing a further sign of the divinely-ordained exclusivity of the society. The cloths are said to have directly inspired by Batara Indra, the Creator who was once sitting in a tree enjoying the beauty of the moon and stars. While contemplating the heavens, he decided to teach the women of Tenganan the art of ikat patterning. Since then, the community has obeyed a divine commandment to wear kamben geringsing or double ikat cloths. In this way, the villagers evince purity and the ability to perform rituals qualities, which these clothes protect from harmful outside influences.

Festival of the swings

Tengenan womenAmong the most important religious duties of the villagers of Tenganan is the festive reception of gods and ancestors, who from time to time descend to their megalithic thrones and altars in and around the inner village precincts. The presence of deities and ancestors is of great significance, above all during the fifth month of the Tenganan year, Sasih Sambah, for it is then that the universe, the village and the religious community are renewed and given strength through the performance of extensive, solemn rites.

The ceremonies that take place then are reminiscent of old Vedic swinging rites performed during the mahavrata winter solstice celebration, which focuses on Indra. The swinging unites sun and earth, and together with textile techniques and recent genetic research, suggests that Tenganan may be connected with immigration from east or southeast India during Vedic times.

In a legendary account, the people of Tenganan are said to have arrived here while searching for the favorite horse of the king of Bedahulu. Although it was dead when found, the king showed his gratitude by promising to give the searchers all land in the area where the horse's decomposed body could be smelt. So a representative of the court, accompanied by the village head, walked around the huge area which today forms

Tenganan, finding that in fact the horse's flesh could still be smelled for quite a distance. After the court officer had departed, the cunning village chief pulled a piece of bad smelling horsemeat from under his waistband. The remnants of the horse are believed to be scattered around the village as megalithic monuments.

There are other indications, too, that the people of Tenganan have not always lived here. A copper inscription dated A.D. 1040 speaks of a relationship between the powerful governor from Java, a certain Buddhist reformer Mpu Kuturan in Silayukti (near Padangbai), and a nearby village named "Tranganan" that was then on the coast at Candidasa and later moved to the interior.

Proof that the villagers of Tenganan moved from the seaside to their present location is provided in the design and placement of the original altars (sanggah kamulan) in the house compounds. In other parts of Bali this altar is always built in the corner facing east and toward the mountains. In Tenganan it is placed towards the sea.

When a member of the community of Tenganan dies, his or her body is not cremated. Once the sun is past the zenith, the corpse is carried from the compound to the cemetery. At the grave the body is' undressed, then it is returned to Mother Earth (Pertiwi), head seaward and face down.

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