A Dance of Leaves and Blood: Inside Tenganan’s Perang Pandan Festival

Perang Pandan, also known as Mekaré-kare, is a traditional ritual held in Tenganan village in East Bali, Indonesia; one of Bali’s oldest and most culturally preserved villages. It is believed to be one of Bali’s original pre-Hindu settlements, where inhabitants follow ancient Bali Aga (original Balinese) traditions.

This ritual is part of the Usaba Sambah festival, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Indra, the god of war and sky, and it plays a significant role in the cultural heritage of the Tenganan people, who are known for their unique customs and traditions which held yearly  and this year the Indonesia Impression Tour had the opportunity to witness the event which will be held on June 5 2024.The ritual is deeply rooted in Hindu mythology. It honors Lord Indra, who is worshipped as the warrior god. According to local beliefs, Lord Indra fought and defeated the evil king Maya Denawa, and the Perang Pandan ritual symbolizes this battle.

The Ritual of Perang Pandan :

  1. Dress Code: Traditional attire worn by participants, often including intricately woven ikat cloth known as Geringsing, unique to Tenganan.
  2. The Ritual Combat : Explanation of how the battles are conducted, typically one-on-one fights where participants aim to hit each other with thorny pandanus leaves.
  3. Non-Violence: Emphasis on the symbolic nature of the combat, which, despite appearing fierce, is conducted with a sense of camaraderie and is not intended to cause serious harm.

Base from the local sources that Indonesia Impression tour got that detailed descriptions of the preparations involved, including the making of pandanus leaves used as weapons. Participants prepare for the ritual by weaving special costumes and creating pandanus leaf weapons. The preparation period involves various traditional practices, including making offerings and invoking blessings from the deities. The ritual fight involves pairs of young men who duel using thorny pandanus leaves (pandan) as weapons and rattan shields for defense. The combatants strike each other on the back and shoulders, symbolizing the battles fought by Lord Indra. Despite its combative nature, the ritual is conducted with strict rules to ensure it remains a ceremonial and respectful act rather than a violent confrontation. Injuries are treated with traditional herbal medicine. The ritual is accompanied by traditional gamelan music and dances, creating a vibrant and energetic atmosphere. The entire community participates, reflecting the communal spirit and collective identity of Tenganan Pegringsingan.

Perang Pandan is a significant cultural event that helps preserve the unique heritage and customs of the Bali Aga people. It serves as a living reminder of their historical roots and cultural identity. The festival fosters a strong sense of unity and cooperation among the villagers. It reinforces social bonds and communal responsibilities, ensuring the continuity of their cultural practices. Perang Pandan is more than just a ceremonial fight; it is a profound expression of Tenganan Pegringsingan’s cultural heritage, spirituality, and communal values.

The healing process after the Perang Pandan (Mekaré-Karé) ritual in Tenganan Pegringsingan village is an integral part of the tradition, reflecting the community’s deep knowledge of traditional medicine and holistic healing. Participants who sustain injuries during the ritual are treated with traditional herbal remedies. These herbs are known locally for their medicinal properties and are often prepared as pastes, poultices, or infusions. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is commonly used for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. It is applied directly to cuts and scratches to promote healing and prevent infection. Other plants, such as betel leaves and various indigenous herbs, may also be used. The application of herbal pastes and oils is a common practice. These treatments soothe the skin, reduce swelling, and aid in the healing of wounds. Coconut oil infused with medicinal herbs is often used for its soothing and moisturizing effects. Healing after the Perang Pandan is not only physical but also spiritual. Participants receive blessings from village elders and priests. These blessings are believed to invoke the protection and healing power of the gods. Purification rituals may be performed to cleanse the participants of any negative energy and to restore spiritual balance. This can include the sprinkling of holy water and recitation of mantras.

The communal feasting and celebratory activities following the Perang Pandan ritual in Tenganan Pegringsingan village are vibrant and joyful events that reinforce community bonds and celebrate the village’s rich cultural heritage. The feasting involves a variety of traditional Balinese dishes prepared by the community. This includes offerings of rice, vegetables, meats, and specially prepared ceremonial foods. Pork, chicken, and fish dishes are commonly featured, seasoned with local spices and herbs. Before the feast, offerings are made to the gods to give thanks for their blessings and protection. These offerings, known as “banten,” are beautifully arranged and include fruits, rice cakes, and flowers. Villagers gather to share meals, emphasizing the communal spirit. Large bamboo mats are spread out, and everyone sits together, creating an atmosphere of unity and togetherness.

The celebrations feature traditional gamelan music, which is integral to Balinese culture. Villagers, including children, perform dances that tell stories of their ancestors and deities. The Rejang and Baris dances are particularly popular during these festivities. In addition to dance, there are often theatrical performances and recitations of epic tales from Hindu mythology, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These performances are not only entertaining but also serve to educate younger generations about their heritage. The village is known for its unique double ikat weaving technique, and during the celebrations, there are displays of these beautiful textiles.

Perang Pandan is not just a spectacle but a profound cultural expression that encapsulates the values and traditions of the Tenganan community. For those interested in experiencing or learning more about this unique event, please contact Indonesia Impression Tour who often provide a rich tapestry of information and personal anecdotes.(JBS/05/06/2024)

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