January 7, 2015 / 5:19 AM / 3 years ago

Nearly 50 years on, turtles, caterpillars sacrificed in Bali ritual to ensure peace on Earth

5 Min Read

JUGA, Indonesia (Reuters) - The last time Wayan Rendeh took part in a temple ceremony in his Balinese village of Juga, man had not yet landed on the moon.

The ancient rite of Karya Padudusan Agung, which roughly translates to great work, is held every three or four decades to invigorate the temple's waning powers and bring peace on Earth.

Rendeh, 76, was among several thousand white-clad worshippers gathered on Tuesday at the temple of Siva, the deity of destruction, for the first such rituals since 1968 in the predominantly Hindu island of Bali in mostly Muslim Indonesia.

In the temple's inner sanctum, high priests offered seeds, flowers, fruit and meat from devotees to appease Siva and his consort Durga, accompanied by the rhythmic ringing of bells.

Young girls in saffron and white satin wraparounds, with head-dresses of coconut palm fronds and marigolds, danced in the temple complex to sacred tunes played by gamelan troupes.

Young men dragged a buffalo three times around the temple, with the frenzied animal making a dash into adjoining rice fields before being slaughtered to symbolically feed demons. Goats, pigs, turtles, fish and caterpillars were also sacrificed.

"This sacrifice is symbolic of the character of human beings - greed, laziness, stupidity and anger," said Mangku Puseh Juga, one of 36 priests on hand to sanctify the temple.

"The main goal is (to) balance the macro world of nature and the micro world within each human."

Bigger Than Ever

This year's ceremony was more lavish than the one Rendeh witnessed nearly half a century ago.

"That last one was not so large as this. We were poorer," said Rendeh, a long-time resident of the village of wood carvers on the outskirts of Ubud, Bali's cultural center.

He remembers erecting bamboo huts and thatching roofs before joining the nearly 80 families of the village in the fields to thresh rice and sell the grain to pay for the ceremony.

In 1968, Juga village was cut off from the rest of Bali, with no roads and few visitors a couple of years after the last recorded volcanic eruption of Mount Agung dozens of miles away.

Wayan Lebih, 55, was a young boy at the time and remembers gathering coconuts and banana leaves for a ceremony that he says changed Juga's fortunes, ringing in years of prosperity and employment from the sales of wood carvings.

"I had never tasted yellow rice before that," said Lebih, referring to the special meals served to volunteers. "We ate it with sambal (a spicy sauce) and it was delicious."

Months of Preparation

The grand celebrations of 2015 cost nearly $150,000 with each family in Juga setting aside at least two dollars each week for a couple of years to meet the budget.

Villagers also volunteered and took time off work for six months for tasks that included coating effigies of deities Barong and Rangda - Balinese incarnations of Siva and Durga - with millions of meticulously pasted seeds.

In the days leading up to the main ceremony on Tuesday, a stream of pilgrims from seven adjoining villages arrived in Juga to the sound of cymbals and ceremonial drums.

"We have carried Siva from our temple to visit," said Sija Agung of Bankelasan village, pointing to a gilded box mounted on a bamboo frame covered with yellow silk, a temporary abode for the visiting deity.

In the Juga temple pavilion, resident Nyoman Dodi erected penjors, embellished bamboo poles, that overlooked the grounds.

Dodi, 25, had only heard tales of last century's rituals from village elders but said the experience was still relevant in modern times and Juga would continue to host the ritual cleansing in the coming decades.

"In 2050, I don't imagine it will be much different; maybe the buildings will be different, but the spiritual power will not change," he said.

Amidst the celebrations, there was hope the rituals would help ward off disasters and ease the world's problems.

Last week, an AirAsia jet plunged into the water off Indonesia's Borneo island, killing all 162 on board.

Mangku Ketut Suarjana, one of the priests officiating at the Juga temple, said it was unwise to expect only good news.

"Only the gods can prevent disasters. We can only ask ... but then it's up to the gods."

Writing by Tony Tharakan; Editing by Nick Macfie

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