Several weeks ago Ida Pedanda Gede Manuaba passed away at the age of 96. He was active to the end, having led a remarkable life. Born in 1919, he lived through more historical eras and cultural changes than even most of two generations of Balinese would have. To put it into perspective, when he was born there were probably fewer than two hundred thousand inhabitants on the island, today the population of Bali tops four million. Ubud was a quiet backwater of Peliatan, there were hardly any outsiders let alone motorised vehicles, very few people would have spoken even a smattering of Malay, the lingua franca of the archipelago. And look at Ubud today.

by Rio Helmi, collated from material provided by the Padang Tegal Village Community

In the early Sixties the adat village of Padang had no Pedanda or sulinggih (Brahmin high priest). For all major ceremonies in temples and in homes it was necessary to invite sulinggihs from outside the village which caused no small inconvenience. The village elders then took it upon themselves to request one of the village Brahmins to undergo the initiation into priesthood.

At the time they found that Brahmin, who was to become Ida Pedanda Gede Manuaba, he was working in the ricefields. At first he was reluctant, citing his ignorance and also his own dire economic straits. To be initiated (mediksa) as a pedanda one undergoes ‘death rites’ and is ‘reborn’ as a priest. In effect it means one leaves behind all of one’s former activities and lifestyle, and is fully dedicated to the community and to religious activities. But finally the village elders overcame his objections, and in 1964, they got their pedanda.

Thus at the age of 45, Ida Pedanda Gede Manuaba began a long and illustrious journey that was to last just over a half a century. Ironically, at the time he was initiated he didn’t own a single lontar (palm leaf scripture). Over time and with great diligence, one by one he copied by hand as many as 118 of these texts that he borrowed for the purpose from other griyas (Brahmin households). These lontars contain scriptural knowledge regarding spiritual development, ceremonies, astrology, spatial arrangement of communities and households, the ‘unseen’, and so forth.

Over the years, aside from the innumerable number of ceremonies and rituals he presided over, he proved to be a prolific religious artist as well. He worked on and presided over the creation of scores of sacred masks and icons in the Ubud area, from rangdas to representations of deities, some even for temples as far away as Nusa Penida. He was presented with the “Wija Kusuma” award by the regency of Gianyar for his contribution to the arts.

Unusually for pedanda, it was his signature style – when carrying out the rites for cremations – to perform the final ablutions directly himself for the deceased whilst standing right next to corpse, instead of doing so through an intermediary.

At heart, he always retained his love of farming and the environment. He owned a farm high in the mountains of West Bali where he would retire to when he was not busy. He also went on many pilgrimages to sacred sites in Java, Bali, Lombok and Sumbawa.

He left behind his widow and seven children, as well as several grand children. Tw0 of his sons were initiated as pedandas by him, along with eight brahmins. A total of 30 pedandas came to pay their respects at his cremation and give him his last ablutions.

He led a full life, and was greatly appreciated by the villagers of Padang Tegal, who all recently participated in the celebration of his 95th birthday. Now once again, they have all made a great effort to honor him in his passing. Today’s cremation was only one of many ceremonies they have performed in his honour and with deep respect; all in all by the time the last one is ‘puput’ (complete) it will have been a month-long series of rituals.

DSCF4298An effigy silently witnesses as bearers carry the ‘rerajahan’ sacred drawings of his astral body to the cremation ground.

DSCF4479His remains in the coffin circumbulate the bull sarcophagus three times

DSCF4511The pedanda’s widow is carried on a palanquin, and also cirumbulates the sarcophagus.

DSCF4536Displaying humility before their “Nabé” (teacher),  brahmin priests sit on the ground.

DSCF4569One last rite, one last farewell from his widow.

DSCF4592And finally the pyre is lit.

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all photos of the cremation ©Rio Helmi

lead photos courtesy of the Padang Tegal Cremation Comittee