Dream or Reality (32)
From Prince to Priest
text and image by Hans Smeekes
Like most of the other nights in the palace Fifi and I have, sitting close to each other on the big romantic bed in the magical room, a meeting with our dear friends Tu Kodok, the frog and Tu Tokeh, the gecko, both sitting opposite of us on the edge of the window.
“You spent a lot of time in Bali and attended so many ceremonies,” Tu Kodok starts the conversation, ”we are wondering what experience has made the biggest impression on you?”
“I don’t have to think too long about that,” I answer, “specially for me it was the ceremony of a friend becoming high priest, which took place a half year ago.”
“It was our dear friend Ruslan of Ubud Community himself,” I continue, ”who told us about a ceremony for someone becoming high priest. This someone was a friend of him. He asked me if we were interested. I said: ‘Of course, already for some time I am longing to attend such a ceremony.’
So the next day I went in the company of Ruslan to his friend in the Jalan Andong. To my surprise he stopped at the sign of Daya Putih at the right side of the road. Fifi and I visited this place several times.
Kanjeng Madi Kertonegoro is living there and it happens to be that he is also a friend of us. For years we are visiting him and his Balinese wife. Only we did not visit the family for the last two years. He is originally from Java. He teaches a special yoga practice which he brought from Java, called Daya Putih. He is also a writer, published some books and is a very good painter in a realistic style. We bought two of his paintings some years ago.
He welcomed me warmly as good old friends and then told me that it all went very quickly. It was his teacher from Bongkasa, called Guru Nabe, who told him about the ceremony just a few weeks before.
He explained me all the ins and outs of the ceremony, called the ‘munggah bhavati’, as far as he knew. Most important and essential is that his old soul dies and he is being reborn with a new soul after midnight.
For me it was interesting if I could film it. Yes, that was possible, but provided that I stay at a distance.
It should start at seven o’clock in the evening with the welcoming of all the guests. And would last until one or two o’clock in the night. Leaving before midnight he did not recommend because just then at that hour the most essential part should take place. And he would like me to be there, knowing my spiritual background.
I realised this would be for Fifi too much, regarding her physical state.”
“Yes,” Fifi says, “so I stayed at the homestay in Ubud, no problem, I heard from Hans later the whole story when he enthusiastically came back in the night, and I shared his experience in that way.”
The two friends in front of us are listening silently with great attention and gazing at us with bulging eyes.
So I continue: “On the day of the ceremony it was pouring. But it stopped just at seven. Remarkable. It was in Bongkasa, in the ‘griya’ (palace/house) of the high priest Guru Nabe (full name: Ida Pandita Mpu Nabe Siwa Putra Prama Daksa Manuaba). My driver dropped me but could not pick me up again. Because that should be after midnight. And that was exactly the problem because the Balinese believe very strongly that by then the bad spirits are attracted to the place specially because of the dying aspect.
But I did not worry so much, immediately after arriving at the ‘griya’, crowded with people in white - it was white everywhere - I started to inform whether I could go back with someone. Soon I found a very friendly mangku from Blahbatu. With him and his wife I could return.
Of course I was also in the traditional Balinese clothes, also almost white, and soon I had contact with the friendly people. They offered me coffee and food. Then I broke my tooth on a very hard piece of meat. I considered it as an offering and thanked the gods to be able to attend this fantastic happening.
Most striking were the seven high priests in a row in the temple, starting with the preparations. In the meanwhile a wayang puppet player started. Close to the temple in front of a rich decorated wall many VIPs were sitting. There were speeches. I saw Kanjeng Madi in a black jacket (wearing the princely clothes with decorations) sitting on the floor, on one side his brother (also in a black jacket), on the other side his wife.
After a short speech of Kanjeng Madi himself, ending with keeping up the ‘keris’ in the right hand, he undressed himself until he was only dressed in white underwear, as the symbol of not being a prince anymore.
They put a white cloth round his shoulders and led him and his wife in the direction of the temple, where the seven high priests, now with the high hats on and ringing with the bells, were waiting. As fast as I could I went in the direction of the temple too, but entered it from the other side, I discovered this possibility before, so I could film very well the entering in the temple of Kanjeng Madi and his wife. The priests with in the middle Guru Nabe started immediately with sprinkling the holy water in their direction when they came in through the small gate. The narrow space was crowded with people. The gamelan made its fascinating tunes. The air was saturated by the smell of incense and flowers.
I realised I was part of something very special and holy. Tears came up in my eyes. It went on for minutes and minutes, the priests going on with the holy water action. The brother of Kanjeng Madi was holding him, preventing him to fall, it looked like he was in trance or unconscious . His wife was in that state too.
Still in that state the bodies of Kanjeng Madi and his wife were being laid in a high ‘balé’. Covered by a white cloth, on which I could recognize Balinese writing.
People sat themselves on the floor in front of the bed and started singing/praying. In the meantime the topeng performance started. Very loudly. And the ordination ceremony for 50 people to become mangku (assistent priest) was taking place. So many things together. It was a cacophony of sounds.
After two hours Kanjeng Madi and whis wife ‘waked up’. The hair was being combed and priests made Balinese letters with the holy water as ‘ink’ and the precious stone on the ring as ‘pencil’ on many spots of the body. Each spot needed its special letter, it is all written on a paper, which the priest was holding in his other hand. He told me later that by this writing remembering the letters or mantras is more easy. It is written on a blank body. It makes them alive. And surely very alive on that moment was Ida Bhawati Kanjeng Daksa Kertonegoro Panembahan Jawi, because that was his new name, given by his Guru Nabe.
A week later we went to visit Ida Panembahan Jawi in his house. Fifi was joining me and very happy to see him again, specially now being a high priest.
Spontaneously he started to tell about his experience.
‘The water’ he said, ‘it felt like stones, like ice,’ going with his head backwards like he was being hit by something hard.
‘And I was thinking,’ he continued, ‘oh I die, I die ... but then I was relaxed and I open myself ...’
Fifi wanted to know whether his wife had the same experience.
‘She just felt unconcious, she told me later and finally after a long time (lying), opening the eyes, she was wondering: where am I, where is my husband? She did not realise I was at her side, but that was also the case for me: I did not realise she was next to me.
Lying there for two hours I had the experience that sometimes I go out (of my body) and then come back. The first time coming back I felt: why I am here and wanted to move, but that was not possible. And then I felt stiff starting with my legs, then it rised until my neck, also my hands were stiff. I felt my blood slowly moving in my arm and I said to the blood: oh blood when you stop, I am dead, it was a tickling feeling, like many ants walking, I was thinking I might die but at the same time the thought came up: let it happen. And then my spirit was going up (made a gesture like it was leaving from the head) and then it came down again. Many times it went up and down.
Actually when I was out again, I did not want to come back, because it was so nice ... so nice.’
I asked if he could describe it, but he couldn’t. ‘Just nice, nice ...’ he continued.
‘And then it was like someone was pulling me, holding me and then I realised the priest was saying: wake up, wake up. I was shaking a little bit and slowly the stiffness disappeared and I became normal.
You know you pass the line of death. And when I felt the stiffness coming up my body felt sick, very sick. It was like all the sickness was going out. And I could not do anything because my body was stiff, it was scaring, it was like it was covered with cement.
And the blood was going so slow, it was like climbing, going step by step. Very scaring, because I was thinking: when it stops I die ...
And then there was a voice in a strange language, but I could understand the meaning. It was saying: I will kill your thinking, your desire.’
‘Your ego?’ Fifi asked. He did not know.
Later the priest told him this was the purification. So he went through different phases, ending in a kind of surrender. They also told him the people were scared because they noticed not any breathing.
After a short silence he concluded his explanation with: ‘I feel very changed now.’ On which Fifi reacted: ‘You look younger.’
I wanted to know whether he got any explanation beforehand. No he didn’t. The reason is, that it can be different for each individual. ‘They only tell you that in the process you die ...’
At the end of our very interesting conversation with Ida Panembahan Jawi he told us about the many things which are so different in practical life now for him. For instance he is not allowed to paint or to write novels or stories anymore.
‘But yóu can, Hans,’ he said with a big smile, ‘From prince to priest, dream or reality.’
And ... are you two still awake?” Silently Tu Kodok and Tu Tokeh are looking at us.
“We are impressed, what can we say more. Thank you.” And as quickly as they appeared they are vanished.
Dream or reality?
See on youtube: BALI - High Priest Ordination (Munggah Bhavati) of Kanjeng Madi (overall film) and the many other videos (youtube channel: Hans Smeekes)