Last month the whole community in Ubud attended an unusual ceremony.
Balinese masks take many forms and are usually carved from a special, fine-grained, cream-coloured, light wood called pule (alstonia scholaris), which grows in graveyards. Two of the masks in question came from a pule tree in the graveyard near Murni’s Houses and the other from another graveyard in Peliatan at the other end of Ubud.
The tree must be ‘pregnant’, that is to say ready and suitable for carving, evidenced by the bark swelling slightly outwards. The mask maker goes to the tree on an auspicious day, presents his offerings and requests the tree’s permission. He then chops a slab of wood with his axe and takes it back and waits for inspiration.
They are kept in special shrines and receive offerings every full and new moon, on Kajeng-Kliwon, which is every fifteen days, and also when they are used. In addition, they get special offerings on a day known as Tumpek Krulut, which occurs every 210 days.
The night before the big night the community prayed in Pura Dalem, the temple associated with the dead, and where the masks were kept. In front of them were thousands of offerings.
Outside the main courtyard was a sole dancer. It was Sidhakarya – the same masked dance as one of the three masks that were the subject of the ceremony.
Balinese masks are of ancient origin and act like a lightning rod in the sense that they attract the spirit of the person to be portrayed. They are the vehicles of the gods and are sacred.
There were three masks involved in the ceremony at Pura Dalem. There was Sidhakarya and two Rangda masks, one white haired and one red-brown haired.
Rangda is the Queen of the Witches, tall and has tusks. Some temples have two Rangda masks, one red and the other white. The red one represents the more dangerous Rangda. The white one stresses her royal birth—some say Rangda is based on the 11th century Princess Mahendradatta.
The night before the main night the masks were carried down to the sacred Wos river in Campuhan for a purification ceremony at the temple known as Pura Gunung Lebah.
The main night involved a procession along the main street of Ubud to the temple in Peliatan as the wood for the other mask came from the graveyard in Peliatan and then they went back to the graveyard in Ubud. It was after midnight and dark. The graveyard was packed and the three masks were surrounded by priests. All lights were turned off and the crowd was asked to leave while the priests stayed with the masks waiting for a sign that the gods approved. Such a sign would be lights falling from the sky. There was approval.
There’s more about Balinese Masks, Ceremonies, Sidhakarya and Rangda in Secrets of Bali.
There are more photographs on www.jonathaninbali.com
Balinese Masks are available at Murni’s Warung Shop and on line.