Balinese Style Entrance

26 November 2018, at 3.55 pm  by Bagus Ari Saputra

Arguably the most visually impressive component of Balinese style architecture is the entrance: tiered layers of bricks either side forming support pillars; natural grey paras stone constrasting with the orange and installed in grand curves and hand-carved; inside, the door frame is carved too but in a style more intricate than the stone; the door consists of two long, slim panels that hinge to the sides, also hand-carved and painted, typically to portray a scene from one of the Hindu epics. By all accounts, an entrance fit for a king (literally, as this kind of grand entrance is strongly associated with the style used in the puris, the palaces of the royal family, and temples. Which may explain why many a guest at Gayatri has asked whether we were first a temple, which was years later converted to a hotel. We are a temple, I tell them – a temple of Beauty.)

To create an entrance like the one in the photo requires several different teams of builders. The first is the construction workers who put together the scaffolding of the building using steel-enforced pillars and install the walls using large grey bricks and plaster. Then the specialist red brick and paras stone layers come in and dry stack them, using water, a tiny amount of cement, and a rubbing motion which creates the dust and adhesion for the layers to fuse together with no visible material between them (hence dry stacking – it looks as if they were placed on top of each other dry, when in fact they are as solid as any wall). This type of worker in Bali is called tukang asab. They are separate from normal construction workers as it takes years to master the skill; they don’t partake in the activities of builders and an ordinary builder cannot do what they do. At Gayatri we have two tukang asab working for us full-time. After the red brick and grey natural stone is in place, the stone carvers may begin their work. To do an entrance such as the one photographed, together with the two windows that accompany it would take two stonecarvers about ten weeks. The door frame and doors are usually carved by different, younger people, as the detail on the wood is finer and requires sharper eyesight. The woodcarvers constitute the fourth team. The final and fifth team is the specialist painter-decorators known in Bali as tukang prada, who make the woodcarving truly stand out with the contrasting tones of metal red paint for the background and Japanese gold paint for the foreground. The whole process takes months on end and costs a small fortune. Many Balinese people dream of having an entrance like this; only the lucky few can.

As with most of Balinese art, the inspiration for this doorway is drawn primarily from two sources: nature and Hindu mythology. The basic shape is that of a mountain, and the doorway represents a cave which one might like to make one’s dwelling. On the sides of the mountain are forests, plants, flowers, and leaves; above them clouds. Living among these elements are the creatures of nature: starting on the bottom, because they are the heaviest, on the right and left one finds the Karang Asti, the elephants (the head and trunk is clearly discernible in the photo); the next layer up is the Karang Tapel, which can be for example a raksasa (evil giants) or alu, a large ferocious lizard; closer to cloud level one can find birds (again the heads and beaks are clearly visible in the photo); and finally, on the top in the centre, dominating the doorframe and bringing it to life, is the figure of Karang Sai, eyes bulging, teeth protruding, chewing on a branch as a symbol of his hunger.

Most of Balinese culture is based on a belief in balance between two opposing forces, both of which are necessary and need to be paid heed to. Dharma and adharma, the good and righteous versus the evil and wicked; sekala and niskala, the world that can be seen and the world which can not (but can be felt at certain times by certain people). In the entrance, this duality comes to the fore in an apparent contradiction: it is so artistic, beautiful, and inviting that surely any visitor would be most drawn to come in, yet at the same time the primary figure on top of the doorway looks to be in a trance-like fury, ready to tear you to bits. If the door intimidates outsiders, the thinking goes, then good. For certain spirits, a bit of threatening posturing acts as a good deterrent. The word that crops up, however, when speaking to carvers, is taksu. Taksu is the soul in a work, the inspiration that palpably comes through when in the presence of a mahakarya (masterpiece), the indefinable element that separates an original from an imitation. In this context, taksu refers to the artistic instinct that the carver would have felt pouring from within him and which culminated in him creating the character in the style that he did. A different carver might have gone for a guci (decorative vase) or more pacified being, this one felt that for the work of the entrance that he made to live, to truly be said to have a soul, he needed the character of Karang Sai.


5 November 2018 at 6.15 pm by Bagus Ari Saputra

The third of our founding principles (Gaya 3 of the Tri Gaya philosophy) is that we represent our local culture, the Bali Hindu tradition as it exists in Ubud, in a true and authentic way. One way this manifests itself on the property is that we have a hotel temple right next to our entrance. In fact, guests walk past it before they arrive at the reception. The space could have been used for something more commercially productive but its very existence is a nice reminder that there are some things, just on the cusp of what is touchable by consciousness, which transcend our material needs and wants. True to the edicts of Balinese architectural spatial planning, our temple is on the North-East corner of the property. Balinese people in the past saw that particular direction as being the highest in terms of evelation (it is where Mount Agung is located from where we are, after all) and therefore the most appropriate for God’s resting place on Earth. The floor of the temple is also raised higher than the path and ground near it, by about forty centimetres. The Balinese worldview is very hierarchical, and this is seen in the physical positioning differences in relation to elevation in many spaces; this is just one such example. The focal point of the temple is the Padma, which is the shrine to Ida Sang Hyang Widhi, which is how Bali Hindus refer to God.

It should be clarified at this point that Bali Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion, as some Western observers seem to believe, but clearly as monotheistic as Islam and Christianity, two other religions with many adherents in this country. It is true that there are many more or less divine figures in the Hindu scriptures or ancient texts, but they are better understood either as manifestations of one divinity or a rough Eastern equivalent of angels, somewhere between human and celestial, not as competing centres of power. In fact, this idea is not foreign to Western thought at all, as evidenced by the existence of the Holy Trinity comprising of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which people have for centuries accepted as a central dogma in a monotheistic faith.

The shrine for Ida Sang Hyang Widhi differs from the other shrines at the hotel in that it is open top, meaning it has no roof covering it, so that prayers or offerings have a less obstructed and more direct route to heaven. The shape of the summit is reminiscent of a chair with a carving of Shiva with his lingga bare and celestial light emanating from his being on the back of it. Shiva, or Dewa Siwa as he is more commonly referred to in Bali, is another name for God. It is in this little holy place of offering that a pair of canang, yellow coconut leaves folded into a flower-like shape and adorned with red, yellow, and white flowers, a slice of banana, a piece of bread, and incense is placed every day as a gesture of thanks to the Almighty and to request that the Good Grace he has shown towards us may continue. Banten Saiban, which is a piece of banana leaf with rice, salt and saur (grated coconut fried) is placed as an offering on a lower ledge of the Padma every day to appease Buta Kala, the negative energy in the world around us, so that we are not disturbed by it. Once a month, when it is full moon, a special small basket made of dry yellow coconut leaf and consisting of rice, a small coconut, banana, and a duck’s egg is placed at the top of the Padma. The name of this offering is Pras Pejati. The coconut and egg symbolize new life, the potential for a new beginning, a brighter future. It is believed that full moon is when God will come down from heaven, so it is an auspicious day to start a temple ceremony and something to celebrate: therefore something special is prepared in the shrine in preparation for His arrival. Some of you may have noticed that the use of a duck’s egg is in conflict with the principles of a vegan hotel. We are in discussions to see what we can substitute for it in full moons to come. It is not quite as simple as substituting nut milk for cow’s milk in a recipe, as we are talking about a tradition that is holy in these parts, so a person with religious authority needs to be consulted first. It also shows that even with the best intentions, to be considerate and faithful to one’s values leads one into conflict sooner or later, and one then needs to decide which value overrides which in one’s hierarchy of priorities. My personal hope is that we can start using a small avocado, because it resembles an egg a little as it has a “yolk” inside it in the form of the seed and a “white”around it and can thus serve excellently as a symbol for the pregnant possibilities of the present with a view to a better future.

The jug that the statue of the woman next to the Padma is carrying on her head is where tirta, the holy water, is stored. On the three most important dates in the Bali Hindu calendar, namely Galungan, Kuningan, and Rainan. all of the staff gather in the Sanggah, our temple, in the morning and pray together in front of the Padma.

Traditional Balinese Men's Clothing

12 November 2018 at 12.14 pm by Bagus Ari Saputra

Traditional Balinese clothes for men strike a great contrast with the formalwear of the West, being all about bright colours, loose flowing fabrics, and intricately patterned textiles. It could not be further from Beau Brummell's black, blue, white, and cream military-inspired suits with their lines meant to follow the body but also bring it closer to a classically defined, statuary conception of ideal male beauty. What the two have in common, however, is that they arose as a reaction to quite real, sensible practical necessities, are richly steeped in history and culture, and have more recently become ways of self-identification, self-expression, and coquetry quite divorced from the reasons they were adopted in the first place.

What is considered formalwear in Bali today, meaning what one would wear to a wedding, funeral, government function, and so on, is essentially just an elaborate, richer version of how Balinese people historically dressed. People working the fields in the first half of the twentieth century, and perhaps still in some remote parts of the island, would usually be clad in a cloth around their waist (what an English speaker might term a sarong), no shirt or a loose short-sleeved one, and in some cases a hat or scarf as protection from the sun. Traditional Balinese clothes today, as modelled by Ketut Denarta from Tampaksiring in the photo, take that and make it respectable: the base is still a waistcloth (called kamen), but it is supported by a decorative cloth, usually some kind of batik (Indonesian natural dye method to create patterned textiles) called saput, which goes on top; the two cloths are held at the waist by a long narrow cloth that plays the role of belt called senteng; a tidy shirt; and an udeng, which is a square piece of cloth tied around the head, leaving the top open and with an elaborate knot on the front.

The colour code is determined by the occasion. For Dewa Yadnya, which means a sincerely made holy offering to Almighty God, that is ceremonies in temples, the undercloth, shirt, and headgear should all be white, while the top-cloth should be yellow. The colour white in this instance acts as a symbol of holiness, cleanliness, and the purity inside one's heart. Priests take it one step further, and dress in all white, including the top-cloth too, as a sign of their higher degree of holiness. Yellow is said to symbolize prosperity. My own take on this is that the yellow in question, kuning mas, being a golden shade, brings with it connotations of exclusivity and richness, and thus ideally suited to a context where one is offering the best of oneself in the act of worship towards one's creator.

The second large category, Manusa Yadnya, means ceremonies carried out by humans for worldly purposes, such as a wedding, tooth-filing ceremony or funeral. The dress code is not as strict as that for the temple. The garments remain the same, but one can choose one's colours more or less as one wishes. A typical example would be a thin cream coloured batik undercloth; a thicker and finer material as the top-cloth, with a special, sometimes gold-coated rim about five centimetres in height lining the bottom edge, and in colour anything from dark brown to bright pink; a polo shirt with the buttons usually open; and a dark batik headcloth. There is less pressure on one's appearance (except if you are the bridgegroom) in a situation like this, as one is not expected necessarily to be in one's "Sunday best". The only colour that is avoided as part of this outfit is white, especially in the case of the headear and top-cloth, the former because it would give the impression that one is going to the temple, and the latter because it is strongly associated with priestly garb. The explosion of different motifs and colours that is usually to be seen at an event for which this dress code applies lends it a more relaxed air, which is the perfect atmosphere for the activities that Balinese men on these occasions engage themselves in, namely communal work, sitting around waiting and talking, gambling, and smoking and drinking coffee.

One interesting feature of traditional Balinese clothes is that their form is created by the hand of the dresser as opposed to the inherent characteristics of the items. The clothes themselves are just square or rectangular pieces of cloth of different sizes and the outift is created by the skill with which they are folded, tied, layered, and placed in relation to one another. To further illustrate the point, what one wears from the waist down and on one's head is put together without recourse to a single button, zip, clip or pin. One direct consequence of this is that it makes it almost impossible for the novice (read: tourist) to wear traditional clothes correctly, unless dressed like an infant. The suit and tie, while not without its own subtleties to do with fit, make, and style, is comparatively more forgiving, and in shape what a Balinese person would term setengah jadi or sudah jadi (half-made or ready-made, respectively).

A split has arisen between the old and young generation in terms of how they tie their undercloth and top-cloth. The way it was usually done was that the undercloth would be wrapped around one's waist first and then fastened. The top-cloth would then be wrapped around one's waist but in a way that it would completely cover the undercloth but for a narrow strip at the very bottom of about four centimetres or so, which would then act as a type of list or lining. The outfit would be completed with a senteng, the belt-like narrow cloth, which would be tied so that the ends stick out on one side; a shirt; and headband. The outfit would have a masculine clatrity, with little effects available to show one's personality, such as how one matches the waistcloth colour to the undercloth, how tidily one creates the line of undercloth that is visible under the top-cloth, and how flamboyantly one ties one headcloth. This way of dressing still holds sway in the over fifties, rural dwellers, and (for some reason, maybe because they feel they are too important to follow fads) the Ubud royal family. However, in the last decade or so, a trend started which has since become the absolute norm amongst young people, whereby the undercloth is folded and tied together with the top-cloth, and taken out from the partition at the front and exposed, before finally (and this is the most challenging bit) layering it artfully into a narrow flat band with a zig-zag line running through it. Ketut in the photo is sporting a version of this look, with the line of white undercloth clearly protruding and visible at the front. The various ways in which the udeng can be tied around one's head make it like the European tie with its half and full Windsors, but I would argue that the phallic quality of the kamen foldover also make it an excellent candidate for the tie analogue in Bali's fashion, given that they both need a bit of skill to be made well, ideally look neat but not obsessed over, are sometimes too long or wide, and, practically speaking, absolutely unnecessary.

A well-tied headcloth is also one way one can dandify one's appearance. The way it is usually tied involves folding the square cloth into a triangular half, rolling the ling side in towards the point until about ten centimetres of empty cloth remain and then tying the thick band one has created around one's forehead, with the spare fabric resting on one's hair. The spare fabric is then used to creating a kind of crest on top of the band on the sides, and is brought into the knot in the centre in the middle, meaning that the sides give the appearance of arching up. The two loose ends in the in the middle are then tied into a knot to fasten the garment. It is said that the shape of this knot, with the point in the middle and two ends sticking out to the sides, is derived from the arch and dot in the Ongkara Ngadeg (which in India is usually referred to as the Omkar), the symbol of the primordial sound and Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The functional way to tie the headcloth is to make the ends short and inconspicuous, perhaps even tuck them into the sides, while the trendy way to do it would be to let one side hang shorter, the other protrude visibly and ideally with a bit of oomph, and add a touch of romance by sporting a red hibiscus on the right side.

Which brings us to accessories. The red flower was traditionally for the mahapatih or pepatih, meaning the great protectors or guards, whether they be statues or village security. Now young people like to use them to show their individuality. This is not to be confused with prayer flowers that are placed in one's headcloth, or the one frangipani petal placed above one's ear after praying, which are common habits to bring the good graces of God with one after communion (as well as showing one's community that one has been a good observant Hindu by attending and completing prayers). Golden broaches or pins are usually reserved for village elders, organisers of ceremonies, and the royal family. The royal family has a whole set of its own rules and habits, chief among them the tendency to order matching sets of clothes for everyone belonging to their clan for each different occasion, a special type of black leather slipper that only they can wear (normal people wear flip-flops), and a Hollywoodesque attraction to sunglasses. Effects that anyone can wear include watches, rings with precious stones (especially if they grew up during the Soeharto years idolising preman, the local breed of "free man" gangster, in which case they might like to combine it with a gold chain), and tali paica, a string bracelet usually red, white, and black in colour worn on the right wrist and received from the temple in Batur or Besakih after praying and giving a donation during one of the big annual temple ceremonies, which are supposed to to guard the safety of the wearer in coming times. Because the traditional men's outfit in Bali is like two skirts with open folds in the front, many people choose to wear a pair of shorts to safeguard their privacy. This is especially true in the case of those doing ngayah, the word for all the members in the village getting together and working collectively on the preparations for a ceremony. This task will often involve climbing, building, and other manual labour, during which the extra layer acts to guarantee peace of mind. In this mode, Balinese men will also bear blakas and mutik, a cleaver and small knife respectively, on their sides, to tackle the morning's (or afternoon's) tasks. And finally, let's not forget the fannypack, the ultimate fashion accessory for the Balinese man. He will have within it his smartphone (there are no pockets on the undercloth or topcloth, remember), scooter key, cigarettes (this he might alternatively keep in the breast pocket of his polo shirt), wallet, and domino or ceki cards (if it is that kind of occasion). All of which goes to show that, firstly, fashion and trends are not absolute, and something that went out of fashion in one place in the nineties can be hugely popular somewhere else in 2018, and secondly, never write anything off, because you never know when it might make a comeback.

These days, most Balinese men dress not drastically dissimilarly to their white counterparts spending their holidays here. Shorts, t-shirts, trousers, and sweaters. Favouring "strong" colours like black and red and avoiding "effeminate" ones like pink and purple. But for anything important, whether it is a village meeting, going to see the head of the village, attending the otonan (the Bali Hindu version of baptism) of a relative, joining the rest of the village community to make preparations for an event, and the social highlight that is a temple ceremony, everyone still reverts to the old traditional way of dressing. It may take longer, it may be less practical, and it may involve more layers than one would otherwise wear but people still do it and it is unlikely going to change any time soon. In this regard, men's clothing serves as a perfect metaphor for Balinese culture in general, seeing as it is centred around ritual, preserving tradition, and continuing the legacy of the leluhur (ancestors). And while this mindset undoubtedly causes its own inertia, it is also behind the strength of the Balinese identity, which is so idiosynchratic, different, and unique, and which in turn makes it impenetrable to outside influences, so that while Beau Brummell's pantaloons and coat have more or less taken over men's fashion everywhere in the last couple of centuries, here they are still see as a modern affectation.