The clocks shows midday when I arrive at Tenganan Pengrisingan Village. The village was like a fortress, surrounded by hills and forests. I walked down into this living museum to satisfy my curiosity about the eerie yet meaningful tradition of the Pandan war.
Tenganan is one of few traditional villages, known as Bali Aga or Bali Mula. It has a vast area of approximately 1,500 hectares. Houses and customs were retained in their original form. This is because the Tenganan society has very powerful customary village rules, which they call the awig-awig. Located in Karangasem, east of Denpasar, it took more than 70 minutes by motorcycle from the airport. It is home to a community that traces its lineage back to pre-Hindu times and which strictly adheres to a life of traditional customs.
In ancient times, Tenganan village was ruled by King Maya Denawa, who was a wicked and cruel ruler. He considered himself a God and disallowed the Balinese to perform their religious rituals. Legend has it that this made the gods in heaven furious, and they sent the god Indra as the battle leader to destroy Maya Denawa. A bloody war ensured, and eventually Indra conquered the ruler Maya Denawa. The tradition of Pandan War comes to this very event and has been carried out by every generation since.
Pandan War, also known as Mekare-kare, is an annual ritual ceremony conducted to honor the Hindu god of War, Indra and the ancestors. This ritual is usually held in June. In the present day, Pandan War, now listed as Indonesia’s Annual Tourism Events, is practiced to avoid any kind of epidemic. It was held two days on Sasih Kalima (the fifth month of Balinese calendar) and is part of the ceremony Sasih Sembah, the largest religious ceremony in the village of Tenganan.
I saw several bare-chested men carrying thorny pandanus. Each one of them used gloves (kamen), scarves (saput), and a headband (udeng). There were also a group of women wearing the famous hand-woven double-tied textiles known as ‘geringsing’. The show was about to start.
THE WAR BEGINS
In the center of the arena stands a stage, approximately five meters squared and one meter tall. The ritual begins with the ceremonial pouring of a local palm wine into banana-leaf vessels, which are then scattered around the edges of the stage. This represents the warriors begging for salvation.
Mangku Widia, Tenganan’s Indigenous Leader began the ceremony, and two warriors readied themselves for the fight. Each held a bunch of pandan leaves in his right hand and a shield made of woven rattan in his left. The fight was mediated by referee, who stood between the two fighters. He raised his handsom the air and the fight commenced.
The fighters hit and grappled each other, sustaining scratches from the pandan leaves that flailed against their backs. The other war participants cheered encouragingly, backed by the music of up-tempo gamelan. Each fight is over in less than a minute and followed immediately by the next.
The Pandan War has its own value, that the humanity of a society is not just measured by how people treat their friends but how the care for their enemies. After the ceremony, all scars were treated with traditional herbal medicines made from saffron. Indeed, once the war was concluded, I saw expressions of suffering or disappointment; it was clear that all participants had given their all for the sake of their god.
The sun started to set, time for the tourists to leave the village. I stopped by at the art shop to buy some souvenirs before leaving. The thousand-year-old traditions of Tenganan left me in awe. If you happen to be in Bali, you can take a break from the beaches and surf to experience this tradition yourself. It certainly will give you another perspective on the Island of the gods.
Source: Journey Magazine, November 2015.