Tenganan Pegringsingan between Mirror & Make Up

Dr. Citra Aryandari M.A

Colloquium Muziekwetenschap

University of Amsterdam

13 November 2014



Tenganan Pegringsingan between Mirror & Makeup





The village Desa Adat Tenganan Pegringsingan is located in the east part of Bali Island. The life of its society is closely related to the myth of how the village is created at the first place. Like other myths of Balinese societies, the myth includes the stories of deities. According to the popular myth, the land of Tenganan Pegringsingan is bestowed by Dewa Indra to Wong Paneges for their loyalty and intelligence. It is noted that since the 11th Century, Wong Paneges discovered Onceswara and started to live with the natural resources of the land. The ancestors of Tenganan people were wise people who thought not only about the continuity of their life at that time but also about the life of their descendants. They made the vilage’s awig-awig carefully so that the village will last for centuries, or hopefully, forever.

Tenganan ancestor’s attempt is successful, shown by the condition of the nowadays Tenganan which still preserves its condition from the last ten centuries. Its condition now is not significantly different from its condition in the legend that was written in lontar. However, after being connected intensively with tourism business in the 1960s, they earn their living not only from the inherited natural resources, but also from the tourists from outside Tenganan.

Nevertheless, Tenganan people still do their rituals whether there is any tourist or not. They have the material capital in the form of vast agriculture land whose crops can support their living and their rituals throughout the year. However, due to the tourists and visitors, the rituals become very luxurious and fascinating. One of the rituals is Usaba Sambah, the biggest ritual that lasts for a month. Mekare-kare, or pandan war, is a rite in the ritual that identifies the Tenganan as ‘brave’ people. The theatrical rite is played ‘perfectly’ for tourists, as well for the Tenganan people.

However, therefore the traditional ceremonies or the religious rituals are conducted by the people without knowing the essential truth of the events. Although the people traditionalize themselves, they do it unconsciously only for the tourists and for other people’s entertainment. Even, if they do the ceremonies for the people of Tenganan themselves, they do it to avoid social sanctions, social banishment, or rumors. Until today, the Tenganan people never try to look for the essential ideology beyond the ceremonies. For them, the most important thing is that the ceremony is done.

When Usaba Sambah is conducted, both men and women wear jewelries such as necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings along with gringsing. The jewelries are all made out of crafted gold that can weigh up to a hundred grams. The female members of Tenganan also especially beautify themselves with thick make-ups. This excessiveness is motivated with the notion so that other people see Tenganan as a village of rich people who are still passionate to preserve their tradition.

All of the luxurious tradition played in a rite will give a certain impression to the tourists. The impression is intentionally built with the hope that the tourists will come back again to Tenganan. The people of Tenganan are the people who directly experience tourism.

The existence of Tenganan as a desa adat (village of custom) is an interesting phenomena in the atlas of the Indonesian culture of today. The Usaba Sambah ritual which is conducted for a month annually is presented as the object of this study, so that the life of the society can be elaborated.

The Life in Tenganan Pegringsingan


Tenganan Village is a unique community in the Island of the Gods, Bali. The Balinese usually call the people of Tenganan Village with the name Bali Aga, which means that their ethnicity is the indigenous Balinese that had settled in the island before the migration wave from Java Island invaded Bali. Therefore, it is assumed that their tradition is already ancient. Besides the tradition, the atmosphere and the environment of Tenganan Village are different from those of the other villages in Bali. This village is surrounded by a wall and every visitor or tourist who wants to enter the village should step through a small gate which is similar with the entrance of a tourism object.

The primary houses of the villagers face the Bale Agung. This village has a clear distinction from any other villages: a hedge as high as a man’s shoulder that borders the front line of the village. The village gate is closed by dusk. The villagers are prevented from accepting guests after dusk, and visitors are not allowed to stay overnight without certain permission. Every night, the husbands will gather in Bale Agung to talk about the ceremony plan for the next day. The villagers of Tenganan Pegringsingan do Hindu religious ceremonies, personally or collectively, according to the local tradition. This habit has been passed on generations; it has been socialized and taught to the next generations. One of the strongest instruments to pass on their identity to the next generation is by the myth that is told and performed.

The tradition of telling stories, especially about the mythological legend of Tenganan Pegringsingan, is a learning strategy and the instrument to pass on the supreme values of the local society’s culture. The knowledge about this myth has a great and vast influence to the people.

It is said that the land of Tenganan is a gift from Dewa Indra. The story starts with Dewa Indra’s triumph over a dictator king, Raja Mayadenawa. The war makes the world filthy, so an offering ceremony has to be done to bring the world back to dignity. The ceremony needs a horse as the offering. Onceswara, Dewa Indra’s horse, is chosen as the offering. The horse is considered sacred, and it has white fur with long black tail that reaches the ground. The horse is believed to appear from the sea. Knowing that he is going to be sacrificed as the offering, the horse runs away. Dewa Indra then orders Wong Paneges, the soldiers of Bedahulu Kingdom to find Onceswara. The people of Paneges are divided into two groups: the first group searches the horse to the West, while the second group searches to the East. The first group fails to find the horse, while the second group succeeds to find the horse. The horse, already dead, is found in a hill that is now called Kaja or the ‘North hill’, in the village of Tenganan Pegringsingan. The news immediately reaches Dewa Indra. Afterwards, he tells the people that he will give them a gift of land as wide as the odour of the carcass spread. It appears that Wong Paneges are ‘clever’, they cut the horse carcass into pieces and take the pieces as far as they want. Dewa Indra finds out their trick, and he comes down waving his hand, saying that the land they get is enough. The land is now what is called Tenganan Pegringsingan.

According to the local legend, the word Tenganan is derived from the word tengen (right). This is in accordance with the legend that the villagers of Tenganan are the descendants of Peneges people. Peneges means ‘exact’ or ‘the right hand’. The word Pegringsingan is derived from the word gringsing that consists of the words gring and sing. Gring means ‘ill’ and sing means ‘not’. Therefore, gringsing means ‘not ill’. Besides, gringsing is the name of Tenganan’s signature double woven cloth. People believe that those who wear gringsing cloth are prevented from illness. Moreover, people believe that gringsing is an amulet that prevents people from disasters.

The people of Bali Aga believe that gringsing has a magic power that protects them from illness or black magic. Tenganan is a story about a society that is proud of the fact that they preserve their identity as the indigenous Balinese. Therefore, gringsing is important in the life of Tenganan people because this cloth functions as the mirror that reflects the life journey of the local people. Today, there are still people who thought the red color of gringsing is from the blood in the legend. Probably the red gringsing worn by the girls in pandan war is a symbol of the bloody battles fought by the warriors. The belief about the magical power of the cloth produces another myth.

The uniqueness of grinsing cloth is one of the factors that make Tenganan Pegringsingan is well-known as a tourism place. Its popularity lasts due to the self-traditionalizing practice. It is seen blatantly in the way Tenganan can attract tourists everyday because of its preserved ancient lifestyle and well maintained heirlooms. Many ceremonies are included in Tenganan‘s cultural calendar. Some of those are Usaba Kasa, Usaba Karo, Usaba Ketiga, Usaba Kapat, Usaba Sambah, and many more. These ceremonies exists in the ritual area and consciousness of the tourism industry.

It is not surprising if the uniqueness of their tradition makes the village in the region of Karangasem become a popular tourism spot. Tourists come to watch the daily life of the Tenganan people and, of course, the well-known Pegringsingan woven cloth. During the Usaba Sambah rituals, there are more visitors come to the village. The atmosphere becomes more festive, not only because of the growing number of visitors, but also because many of Tenganan people who live outside the village go back to Tenganan. Local people still consider this ceremony as an important event; therefore every component of the village society takes part in it.

Usaba Sambah is one of the most important rites for Tenganan Pegringsingan society. The society believes that after doing this ritual, their life will be more peaceful and they will be prevented from any danger. This rite also symbolizes their honor to Dewa Indra who is considered as the God that always protects the people of Tenganan.

Dewa Indra, as the God who has given life to the people of Tenganan, is always represented in the religious activities. Indra is highly adored because he is believed as the source of life. The sequence of oblation rituals for Indra becomes crucial and it appears in many kinds of actions, ritual perceptions that are full with symbols, and it involves all Krama Desa and the people of every social segment as the actors in the rituals. Performance study is a contextual way for any interpretation of structured human activity that can be potentially considered as a performance. One of the things studied in performance studies is ritual activity (Schechner, 2002:25). Usaba Sambah is obviously a ritual activity that is performed.

Performance study is a notable open study in which no boundaries limit the object coverage. Due to this fact, everything can be analyzed as a performance. Considering the definition elaboration, it can be clearly stated that ritual procession of Tenganan Pegringsingan society each month, regarding Usaba Sambah as the most luxurious rite, is a performance profile. In order to interpret a performance, the background of the participating people needs to be understood. The background includes their history and culture; afterwards, the performance setting has to be limited to the context of a certain space, culture, and society. This fact contributes to the uniqueness of performance studies which includes: (1) human behavior as the object of the study; (2) artistic practice as a big part of the performance studies project; (3) the fact that field research in the form of participant observation, adapted from anthropology, is crucial; (4) the fact that performance studies always take place in social environment (Tati Narawati, 2003:2)

Ritual life in Tenganan Pegringsingan can be seen as a life drama. Every ritual has its own story, like an act in drama. Drama is a stage play or a story in the form of life story that are presented by the characters in human conflict.

Drama is a story about human character in conflict. A dramatic performance should describe the life of its characters (Harymawan, 1988:25). Krama Desa is the main character in the life drama in the life of Tenganan society. There are many requirements that should be accomplished by those wishing to be Krama Desa. The most important process is mětruna and mědaha, and followed by the wedding of Truna and Daha. The learning process and tradition inheritance of the social life in desa adat within a religious atmosphere appear to be highly successful in strengthen the belief, religious spirituality, and the rites of Tenganan Pegringsingan Hindu.

Every villager in desa adat becomes the actor in life ‘drama’ presented in Tenganan Pegringsingan. Everyone has their own role in their personal or social life. Human beings are actors that try to combine personal characteristics and dedication to others by ‘their own drama performance’.

The process of mětruna and mědaha are the learning process to be an actor in a life drama of Tenganan Pegringsingan society, and the Krama Desa plays the role as the main actor in the performed drama of life journey.

Tenganan Pegringsingan as the stage of its society’s life drama has an extraordinary uniqueness. The village history that is presented within the frame of the myth of Dewa Indra becomes an interesting story in its society’s activity. The acts in the God’s life is chronologically organized in a year, and become a sequence of scene in the order of acts like a plot of drama. Plot is a narrative structure of drama.

In accordance with it, the society of Tenganan Pegringsingan sees the life of human beings through that spectacle. A sequence of rites is presented each sasih (month) and it resembles a plot of drama. The months, from Sasih Kasa to Sadda, describe the life of the God. It starts from birth and ends in death, since infancy to old age. The time of Sambah is pictured as the peak of life and is presented with the symbols of human life that has interacted with many parties. The story that is presented through symbols is acted by each villager and Krama Desa.

The concept of the ceremony each sasih is called by the Tenganan Pegringsingan society as the concept of němu gělang. Němu gělang is described as a cyclist profile; a circle (of a bracelet), that has no end and always spins, resembles a human life that always spins.

Usaba Sambah consists of a sequence of well-odered acts. It is started by an exposition of samodana chants, followed by complications of conflicts that will lead to the climax. The activity of muja (prayers), mabuang (dancing sacred dance), and mayunan (playing swing) are the acts that are presented before the climax. Měkare-kare or the pandan war is the climax of the performed acts. At the sequences of rites before the climax, the conflicts are solved by many sesaji, mabuang, and tětabuhan in the form of tuak. At the climax, Měkare-kare is done by presenting human blood as tětabuhan. Makesta (feast) is the anti-climax act with Nyajah as the resolution that everything ends in beauty and harmony. The presentation of sesaji, mabuang dan tětabuhan as the symbols in crisis solving is considered as the resolution in solving a conflict.

The symbols presented in Usaba Sambah are varied. The offerings in the form of food are always garnished in artistic settings and presented as the resolution in the problem solving. Food is crucial in this rite. The presentation of food in a rite is organized in the ritual rundown that is read just before the execution of the ritual. Samodana, as the ritual rundown, resembles a scenario that arranges an act. The food is presented as a sacrifice to the God before being distributed to all of the villagers. The conflict is automatically solved by the presented offerings. The feast in every act is also presented as the safest way to solve the conflict.

Pandan war or Měkare-kare is seen as the peak of the event in this sasih. Human blood can be considered as the highest offering presented for the earth. As what has been explained before, mětabuh is presented with tuak and chicken blood.

The ceremony of Měkare-kare is performed in two days in a row. The first day is a sacred rite. In this rite only the villagers that are allowed to participate as the actors, although everyone is welcomed to watch and enjoy the ritual. The next day is the day of the pandan war, and everyone is welcomed to join the war. The existence of the stage in the front of bale petemu is the sign of the happening demythologization. The myth of Dewa Indra that frames his event has transformed into a pure performance.

The existence of Tenganan as a crucial and long lasting tourism spot makes the villagers related to the tourism industry. Awig-awig that was carefully made by their ancestors is fruitful. The condition of Tenganan is not significantly different from its condition according to the legend written in lontar. The ancient rites are still conducted today though some of its functions have been shifted. The shift happens because the villagers of Tenganan are in the state of liminal that is defined as the state when people are in an ambiguous circumstance, neither here nor there, a circumstance that shows no difference (Turner, 1982: 95). In this case it is the state between a sacred rite and a profane performance.

The relationship between Truna and Daha is also crucial in Usaba Sambah. It is related with the main theme of this sasih which is the maturity and adulthood of humans in social interaction. It is started with ajakan and ngěstiti and hereby the people of Tenganan are given the identity of Truna and Daha whose task is to make regeneration in the continuing life drama.

Tari Abuang is danced by couples and is presented as a romantic act in the life drama of Tenganan. It is also seen in the ayunan ceremony, the spinning wheel of life is described in harmony by Truna and Daha as the actors. Moreover, Abuang Muani also reminds us that Bhuta Kala also participates in this life, so tetabuhan is needed by the earth to keep the balance. Tabuh rah is held with Měkare-kare and tajen with hope that the next crop will be successful. Social interaction is also presented in the ritual of this act. It is signified by some scenes such as the ceremony of maling-malingan that has moral lessons, ngujangaji and sangkěp that pictures the togetherness and harmony of life. Finally, Nyajah is the feast that involves all of the social components related with the social life in Tenganan Pegringsingan.

In the rite of Usaba Sambah, the activity of feasting always exists in each section. The food, which is made of rice and pork, is sacrificed to the God before being distributed to the participants to be eaten together in many ways.

The eating habit of Tenganan Pegringsingan people is also shaped socially. The use of main ingredients of food, the rule in processing the food, and the ethic in eating together are socially built and put into tradition. The village apparatus, both in the form of awig-awig and functional fronts, are responsible in inheriting this eating habit.

The pandan war shows the game for the people that is united with the ritual procession, and the combination results a unique and interesting show. In pandan war there are some game, ceremonial, and ritual drama aspects that are happened and done in the same time.

As a game for people pandan war is obviously not a war in the literary meaning. Playing is an activity that is done but it is not something real or true (Schechner,2002:79). Performance studies see game playing as one of the studies.

Dewa Indra Myth is expressed in Perang Pandan (pandan war). The image of Dewa Indra who fights against Mayadenawa is represented through the war simulation. The war that has been done by Dewa Indra and Mayadenawa is reconstructed and played by the satria (knights) of Tenganan. Feeling involved in the war is the main thing that is needed to value a ritual. The bloodshed is the evidence that Dewa Indra’s sacrifice is accepted by Earth.

Perang Pandan is also the sign of the birth of Tenganan Pegringsingan before the eyes of the world. Pandan war in Usaba Sambah is done twice. The first one is done in the ninth day of the fifth month before dusk. The war involves only Truna and Krama Desa of Tenganan Pegringsingan. The second one is done in the tenth day of the fifth month during midday when the sun is exactly located above the heads. The procession in the second day is different from that of the first day because it is started with the parade procession for gamelan Baleganjur from banjar Pande, followed by the war attraction on stage. This is different from that of the first day when the attraction is done in the front of Pětěmu with the edges from bamboo leaves without stage. In the second day, every man who wish to participate can join the war and act on stage. Kids and foreigners (tourists) are welcomed to join the stage that day.

The ritual of pandan war is an effort in reactivating the myth of Dewa Indra’s triumph over Mayadenawa which caused enormous number of victims. The ritual reactivates the relation that connects the present and the past by bringing a new value about the bloody sacrifice to worship Indra. Eliade has proposed one of the most impressive argument about the function of myth in a society. According to Eliade, a society considers their myth as the most truthful story among true stories. Its truth is emphasized frequently by the fact that activating the myth in the form of a ritual enables them to possess power over nature (Eliade, 2004:182).

Seeing pandan war, Dewa Indra is highly devoted by the society of Tenganan Pegringsingan. This is due to the position Dewa Indra holds as the possessor of the rules, power, and magical ability that crucially infuse the soul of Tenganan Pegringsingan community over generations. Dewa Indra as a primordial image has the power to move the soul of the society of Tenganan Pegringsingan to do rituals and religious practices. The pandan war ritual or Měkare-kare is constructed by the society of Tenganan Pegringsingan as the symbol of the fight between dharma and adharma, besides as the honor for Dewa Indra.

According to the society of Tenganan Pegringsingan, pandan war (Měkare-kare) is also named tabuh rah. In Tengana Pegringsingan this ritual does not only use animal blood but also human blood. The society of Hindu-Bali cleanses the negative energy from the universe by doing the ritual of tabuh rah; it is related with the ceremony of bhuta yadnya. tabuh means spread and ’rah’ means blood. The activity of tabuh rah is usually related with the religious ceremony. Tabuh rah is a sacred ceremony that is conducted as the complement of the ceremony of macaru or bhuta yadnya. The ceremony of tabuh rah is usually done in the form of cockfight. The fight is conducted until one of the cocks shed its blood to the ground. The blood that drops to the ground is considered as the yadnya that is offered to bhuta.

When the pandan war is conducted, there are many emotional expression expressed by the participants. Fortunately, there are no long lasting quarrel that follows. Besides the existence of juru pisah (a person whose job is securing the ceremony by stopping quarrels), the quarels are not long lasting because the Truna has understood that quarrels can stain the holiness of the tradition. An additional lesson that is expressed through the ceremony is to train the youngsters to be brave in facing wars, but at the same time to sharpen their instinct . In the end of the ritual, every participant will shakehand with each other and embrace one another.

After the fight of the day, the event is followed with měgibung or the ceremony of eating together from one big tray that is full with food. All of the participants of Měkare-kare eat together peacefully. At that time there are no more avenge nor anger among them. The wounds all over their body that causes physical pain do not make them grimace or cry. Instead, they have big smiles and happy laughter together.

A marriage in Tenganan Pegringsingan is done between fellow villagers of Tenganan Pegringsingan. The couple consists of a person whose status is Truna and another person whose status is Daha. This marriage will determine a person’s status as Ktama Desa who has the right to join sangkěp (meeting) in Bale Agung to decide the village’s direction in the future. From this notion, it seems that the villagers of Tenganan Pegringsingan value the marriage as something sacred as holly. The sacredness and holiness of the marriage is an implementation of Hindu philosophy that is believed by the society. Due to this fact, the punishment of sěkala-niskala will be sentenced to each karma (villager) who dares to break the rules of marriage that has been determined in awig-awig.

The marriage system in Tenganan Pegringsingan is Endogamy. Endogamy is a marriage system in which the bride and the groom comes from the closest family circle. The villagers are prevented from marrying a person from other clan.

Blood purity is highly protected by the villagers of Tenganan Pegringsingan. If a man from Tenganan marries a woman who is not a Tenganan, he has to bring his wife to live in Tenganan village. However he does not has the right to be a Krama Desa, but his descendants still can be a member of Daha or Truna. If a woman from Tenganan chooses to marry a man from outside the village, the woman must stay out of the village and she does not have the right to possess any land. This social sanction obviously decreases villager’s interest in marrying outsiders. During the 1990s, many young men and women from Tenganan were educated outside the village so that they can get better education. Consequently some of them marry people from outside the village. However, now employment outside the village is considered scarce, and therefore Truna and Daha prefer to be Krama Desa. Besides to keep the tradition alive, the compensation in being Krama Desa is a wise choice.

In Tenganan Pegringsingan the Daha and Truna is always presented in each ceremony. The presence of Daha and Truna in a ritual is seems to be constructed by the custom to protect their endogamy system. Almost every ritual activity in Tenganan Pegringsingan involves Truna and Daha, especially during Usaba Sambah. Usaba Sambah, in the life cycle of Tenganan life ritual, is the ceremony that symbolizes the teenage life of God.

Usaba Sambah is a big festival that is done every year. This event is anticipated in enthusiasm by every villager. Moreover, people from outside Tenganan e.g. the villagers of Pasedahan, Bugbugm Ngis, and the surrounding areas also expect the event of Sambah. This is due to the fair carnival (pasar malam) in the west of awangan that enriches the cheerfulness of Sambah festival.

Market, in this case is the trade in fair carnival, is a part of every big festive crowd. Anthony Reid stated that in the past time the presence of cheerfulness gotten by people from festive events were another sign of the cosmic power and clemency of a great king (Reid, 1992:210). In Tenganan, the presence of fair carnival can be considered as the sign of how great the festival of Sambah is, and indirectly marks the existence of Tenganan as a community.

A fair carnival can be considered as a manifestation of the horizontal relationship among human beings. This is sensible due to the fact that many people will be attracted to gather and watch something interesting. Truna and Daha get a lot of advantages during these times. The presence of fair carnival is a right time for them to get to know each other. Usually during these times –when they are not on duty for a ritual activity – they will hang out together and chatting in beverage and food stalls in the fair until late night.

The teenagers in Tenganan Pegringsingan live the same average life like other teenagers. They attend schools and are aware of global development. They are also active in social networks as the today trend among young people. Facebook, Twitter, and Blackberry Message are parts of their daily life. Updating status in their social networks is an obligatory for the teenagers of Tenganan. Their published status in the social network is varied; it can be about communal activity and even their love life. The photographs of their activities are easily uploaded and shared by them.

The teenagers in Tengana Pegringsingan are group according to the sex. The male young people are called sěkaha Truna and for female called sekaha Daha. Sěkaha means ‘group’ and truna means ‘boys’, daha means ‘girls’ This organization is permanent and passed on through generations. The membership is obligatory because it holds social, economical, educational functions and values. It also can determine the position one holds among the villagers.

Looking back to the relation of Truna and Daha, a person’s identity of male and female gender is a cultural construction that has been socialized since the person’s infancy among the family members.

In Usaba Sambah, a number of activities is presented by including Truna and Daha. Tari Abuang is danced by couples with the hope that it can present affections between them. The same thing is applied with the ritual of ayunan (playing swings) in which the romantic act is presented every year. The activity of feasting in the frame of ceremony like what has been explained in the previous chapter is also the way to get Truna and Daha together. The rite is reconstructed in order to make them closer so that the culture they own can be regenerate. The endogamy marriage is considered as one of the ways to preserve their ancient culture to the present time.




The activities presented can be an interesting research in performance studies. Performance studies is an equipment in finding the beauty of an entity. The activity of the cultural actor, audience, the meaning of the symbols produced, and also the social power become notable things in understanding a culture as a performance. The activity of Tenganan Pegringsingan society resembles a social drama in which Krama Desa, Truna, and Daha become the main actor, while the other component of society becomes the audience. The activity that is framed in a custom rule called awig-awig indirectly resembles a scenario in a drama. The condition of Tenganan Pegringsingan today that starts to have connection with tourism industry becomes an interesting set to produce meanings.

Usaba Sambah as a worshiped rite is conducted each year. This is accordance with the society’s belief system that is written in awig-awig, and in the mean time it is also included in the tourism agenda or Karangasem Region. The dualism that happens afterwards is studied as a whole performance in this study. From the activities that are performed in a month in Usaba Sambah, it can be concluded that the activities of feasting, war, and sex are considered the main thing in this rite. The declaration of the maturity of the deity is symbolized with the activity of feasting in each ritual, war as the peak of the event is the interaction media for the society of Tenganan in a wide term, and sex in the concept of the relationship of Truna and Daha that is constructed by the rite guarantees the cultural practice in Tenganan is preserved until now. All of these are beautifully framed in the attractive cultural performance in Tenganan Pegringsingan.