Inforial (The Jakarta Post)
Fri, April 15, 2022
As one of the top tourist destinations in the world, culturally and historically rich Bali continues to attract tourists from all over. Revisiting its cultural artifacts will allow travelers to learn new things, such as local wisdom.
For example, Naga Banda found during a cremation ceremony.
Naga Banda is a dragon-shaped funeral stretcher, called ordered in Balinese, which is used to transport the body of a Balinese king to the crematorium grounds of the ngaben or pelebon ceremony.
In reality, naga band is a mythological creature that takes the form of a large snake with a long tail. This kind of ordered is different from that used to transport the bodies of ordinary members of the Balinese Hindu community, which are usually shaped like lions, tigers or oxen. The Naga Banda is exclusive as it is reserved for kings, especially the descendants of King Dalem Waturenggong.
The Naga Banda has special symbolism, not only as a myth, but also for its philosophical significance as a reflection of power relations.
Legend of Naga Banda
The tradition of using Naga Banda to escort the king’s body during the pelebon ceremony dates from the kingdom of Gelgel.
Dalem Waturenggong was a large 15th century Balinese kingdom with its palace at Puri Sweca Linggarsapura in the village of Gelgel, Klungkung. Its king reigned from 1460 to 1550 with his spiritual advisor, the priest Ciwa, and the Buddhist monk Purohito.
These two royal priests were to provide spiritual guidance to their king and fulfill his wish to hold the Homa ceremony.
King Waturenggong expressed this wish to a Buddhist priest from the Majapahit Kingdom named Dang Hyang Angsoka, who did not grant his wish. Instead, it was the priest’s son, Dang Hyang Astapaka, who did it.
In his role as High King, Dalem Waturenggong wanted to test Purohito’s knowledge for his suitability to be appointed royal priest. So the king made a hole in the palace courtyard and placed a goose in it, covering the hole so that the goose’s calls sounded like the roar of a dragon.
When Purohito arrived, a sound that sounded like a dragon’s roar came from inside the hole. Dalem Waturenggong asked the priest about the noise, that the people of the kingdom had become restless because they heard the strange sounds coming from the hole. Purohito replied, “It’s the voice of a dragon.”
Hearing the priest’s answer, the king and his servants all laughed, for they knew it was the voice of a goose. To their surprise, when the hole was discovered, a large dragon that was 118 meters long emerged from it.
Everyone was amazed and scared. Purohito then grabbed the dragon and said to the king, “Do not be afraid, this dragon is Naga Banda, who will guide you to Nirvana”, then he released the dragon.
This is the origin story of the use of Naga Banda in the royal of Bali pelebon ceremony. The legend of Naga Banda has been passed down from generation to generation in the village of Gelgel and is still relevant today.
The village community believes that the Naga Banda incident happened at Ketepeng Sumur, which is now known as Taman Sribaginda Sumur Ketepeng, located in Merajan Agung Gelgel, about 2.6 kilometers south of Semarapura, Klungkung.
Naga Banda consists of the words Naga and bandaged. Word Naga comes from Sanskrit and is derived from the root word harass meaning “snake”.
Snakes are predators that kill their prey with venom, while dragons are often depicted as breathing fire. The dragon in traditional Balinese culture is also a symbol of worldly or material nature.
Meanwhile, bandaged means to bind or chain (Paramadhyaksa, 2011). So together Naga Banda means “great serpent” (dragon) that binds the things of the world. As part of its function as a funeral stretcher for transporting the king’s body, the Naga Banda symbolizes the dragon that binds the king to his worldly ties.
Balinese kings have close ties with their people. A king is bound by the material nature of the “intent to rule” over his people.
This bond interferes with the spirit’s journey to the celestial realm and must be severed. This is why, during the final procession of transporting the body of the king to the place of cremation, the priest who supervises the ceremony releases arrows in all directions towards Naga Banda in order to sever these worldly bonds.
Freed from his worldly ties, Naga Banda can then escort the king’s spirit to Nirvana. the regal pelebon the ceremony thus “liberates” the spirit of the king from the earthly world to the heavenly realm. Worldly ties such as the intent to rule and the king’s close relationship with his people are severed so that he can be led to eternal peace in heaven.
The Naga Banda philosophy can be interpreted as local wisdom on the connections between physical and spiritual things, as well as the process of “liberation” to reach heaven.
If we look closely, the roots of the Naga Banda tradition cannot be separated from the relationship between a chief and the people. In this case, Naga Banda is a gift from the royal priest to his king to serve as his vehicle to the realm of Nirvana. Meanwhile, the standard of ordered used for ordinary people is determined by the king. The power relationship between the royal elite, namely the priest and the king, prevails in funeral ceremonies and rituals.
People simply accept regulations as determined by a priest, who is considered the most knowledgeable in religious matters and ceremonial procedures. This is how this magical socio-religious element manifests itself in the balance of power between the traditional chiefs and the masses.
Nevertheless, the positive lesson here is that the tradition of pelebon ceremony reflects the dynamics, diversity and plurality of Balinese culture based on the soro social structure (clan) as well as the autonomy of Balinese villages.
Author: Dr Drs. I did Mardika, M.Si
Lecturer in the postgraduate program in public administration at Warmadewa University in Denpasar, Bali.