The Island Of Bali, Indonesia



Towards the end of the Balinese year, during the last months of the rainy season, epidemics of malaria and tropical fevers make their appearance because evil spirits and leyaks are in the ascendancy; then even the earth is said to be sick. It is believed that the fanged demon living on the little island of Nusa Penida, Djero Gede Metjaling, comes to Bali then in the form of a fiery ball that, upon coming ashore, explodes into a thousand sparks that spread in all directions. As their glow dies, they release evil forces that go to spread illness and misfortune.

This is a propitious time for leyaks to prey on human beings; because of the predominance of evil forces, the village is then magically weakened. The dogs gather at the crossroads and howl all night and the owls hoot, predicting deaths in the village. Quantities of offerings are made to placate the devils, and the benign spirits are implored to come down to earth, through the body of a medium, to advise and protect the distressed community.

A performance of sanghyang dedari is one of the most effective exorcisms; two little girls, trained to go into a trance, are chosen from all the girls of the village for their psychic aptitudes by the temple priest, the pemangku, to receive in their bodies the spirits of the heavenly nymphs, the beautiful dedari Supraba and Blue Lotus (Tundjung Biru) .

Choruses of men and women are formed and the training begins. Every night, for weeks, they all go to the temple, where the women sing traditional songs while the men chant strange rhythms and harmonies made up of meaningless syllables, producing a syncopated accompaniment for the dance that the little girls, the sanghyangs, will perform. By degrees the little girls become more and more subject to the ecstasy produced by the intoxicating songs, by the incense, and by the hypnotic power of the pemangku.

The training goes on until the girls are able to fall into a deep trance, and a formal performance can be given. It is extraordinary that although the little girls have never received dancing lessons, once in a trance they are able to dance in any style, all of which would require ordinary dancers months and years of training to learn. But the Balinese ask how it could be otherwise, since it is the goddesses who dance in the bodies of the little girls.

When the girls are ready, they are taken to the death temple, where a sanggar agung, a high altar, has been erected, filled with offerings for the sun. The Pemangku sits facing the altar in front of a brazier where incense of three sorts is burned. The little girls wear ear-plugs of gold, heavy silver anklets, bracelets, and rings. Their hair is loose and they are dressed in white skirts. They kneel in front of the altar on each side of the priest. The women singers sit in a circle around them, while the men remain in a group in the back. Their jewellery is removed and is put in a bowl of water; small incense braziers are placed in front of each girl. After a short prayer by the priest the women sing:

Fragrant is the smoke of the incense, the smoke of the sandalwood, the smoke that coils and coils upwards towards the home of the three gods.
We are cleansed to call the nymphs to descend from heaven.
We ask Supraba and Tundjung Biru to come down to us, beautiful in their bodices of gold.
Flying down from heaven, they fly in spirals, fly down from the North-East, where they build their home.
Their garden is filled with golden flowers that grow side by side with the pandanus, the scorpion orchids, the tigakantju, pineapples, soli and sempol, their tender leaves gracefully drooping; drooping they spread their perfume through the garden.
Our thoughts shall rise like smoke towards the dedari, who will descend from heaven.

Soon the girls begin to drowse and fall in a sudden faint. The women support their limp bodies in a sitting-position, and after a while the girls begin to move again, as if suffering intense pain, then trembling all over and swaying faster and faster, their heads rolling until their loose hair describes a wide circle. From this time on the girls remain with closed eves and do not open them until the end of the ceremony, when they are taken out of the trance.

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