Magazine Web Edition > April/May/June 2017 > Culture: Usaba Dangsil: Bali's Festival of Gratitude
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ALL PHOTOS: PUTU EKA PRAYASTITI KEFANI

A flamboyant tradition: Two giant dangsil are made ready for the festival’s final day

CULTURE

Usaba Dangsil: Bali’s Festival of Gratitude

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Thousands flock to Bali’s ancient village of Bungaya to participate in one of the island’s oldest celebrations, one which gives thanks and honors the youth

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BY PUTU EKA PRAYASTITI KEFANI, BALI

IN BUNGAYA VILLAGE IN KARANGASEM, ON the western side of Bali, a unique and sacred ceremony takes place once in a decade or two. Usaba Dangsil, the festival of gratitude, was last observed 14 years ago. The multi-day ritual, the area’s largest, was joined by more than 20,000 people from Bungaya and surrounding villages including Jungsri, Asak and Timbrah.

For most, the festival is a chance to honor and give thanks to the Gods, particularly Surya—Lord of the Sun—who is given offerings in appreciation for life’s abundance. For the area’s youth, Usaba Dangsil is a chance to perform austerities and gain community recognition as the upcoming generation. The festival also marks the start of a structural renovation period for the upkeep of this ancient Balinese village.

The latest Usaba Dangsil began with the melasti ceremony on August 17, 2016. Devotees paraded nine miles to and from the seashore to bless and purify the pratima—the sacred articles and equipment used by local temples. This same ceremony begins many of Bali’s traditional festivals. For the youth who are fasting for the day, this walk is the beginning of several days of austerity. Nineteen palanquins carrying temple equipment were paraded to the beach by the local youth, followed by a baleganjur gong orchestra to enliven the celebratory march.

One of the Usaba Dangsil’s distinctive qualities is the creation of wooden structures known as dangsil. Dangsil are used to house devotees’ offerings dedicated to Lord Surya. The artful structures vary in size and form, from small ones ornately carved, to the seven giant dangsil that tower 60 feet into the air and weigh as much as six tons. They symbolize welfare and protection. Each is sponsored by a particular village. The mobile monuments are carried in procession by thousands of enthusiastic devotees, and are usually made from durian trees, the straightest and tallest that can be found. Two dangsil pemaksan 20 feet tall and 40 dangsil taksu three feet tall follow the seven giant ones. The materials to build and decorate each are ceremoniously obtained by the head of Bungaya Village from the crops and materials offered by surrounding farms. The village architect, undagi, designs each dangsil. After the main structure of each is built, it is festooned with garlands and decorated by the thousands of people from various village organizations.

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The Manda dance at Bale Agung Temple goes on for 12 hours

On August 26, three days before the main ceremony, the pemahbah ceremony was held in which the Bagus Selonding Deity is paraded out from His shrine in Puseh Temple. With a musical ensemble in tow, He is placed on the shoulders of the head priest and carried a short distance along a white carpet to nearby Bale Agung Temple.

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Young men carry one of many smaller pratima palanquins in a procession for the Melasti ceremony

Shortly thereafter, the area’s youth are ceremoniously recognized for their dedicated religious services to local temples and officially honored as the succeeding generation. This year’s 565 young men and women were charged with many tasks and participated in important ceremonies throughout the festival. The first was an initiation ceremony, mesesedep, invoking the blessings of Lord Vishnu upon the youth. It was led by three women priests from three of the area’s important temples and held at the Puseh Temple.

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Hundreds pull one of the largest dangsil structures upright during the main event on the final day

Such events are all-day affairs for the youth and require great dedication. Participants must stay actively awake all night and on into the next day, many while fasting. On the 27th, the youth performed the sacred manda dance for a full twelve hours through the night, ending at 6:00 the next morning. Then, in the peileh ceremony, they circumambulated the Bale Agung temple nine times. Offerings of rice, bananas and traditional cakes were then carried to the temple on their head or shoulders, not by hand.

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Two of the many dehas—young women to be recognized for their volunteer work at the village temples

On the final day, the 29th, all the dangsils were paraded 300 meters to Penataran Temple by the massive crowd of thousands. The youth are expected to observe mesayasayaan, which includes strict rules on how to dress and behave. The young men are to wear only a sarong; the women sarong and shawl. No one is permitted to wear sandals or a head covering, nor watches or any jewelry.

In procession, the seven giant structures arrived at Penataran, carried by devotees from their particular village sponsors, then the medium ones and finally the smallest. The festival was then concluded with a grand celebration. This year’s event was attended by the governor of Bali and the ranking local official. It is our hope that the ancient and culturally significant Usaba Dangsil is carried on into the future, as the people of Bungaya continue to give thanks for the welfare and prosperity of all our villages.


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