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'Mesuryak': Cash prize for the living and the dead

I Made Argawa

The Jakarta Post

Tabanan  /  Thu, July 5, 2018  /  09:34 am
'Mesuryak': Cash prize for the living and the dead

Cash prize: Banknotes thrown into the air during the mesuryak (cheering) ritual are gifts for the spirits of participants’ ancestors ascending to heaven. (JP/I Made Argawa)

Dozens of young men gathered that morning in the community hall of banjar (traditional neighborhood unit) Bongan Gede in Tabanan, Bali. They all wore traditional costumes with white tee-shirts emblazoned with the word mesuryak (cheering).

They were preparing to participate in mesuryak, a tradition unique to that neighborhood.

It involves local households throwing a large number of banknotes into the air as a symbolic gesture of providing gifts to their ancestors’ spirits. Naturally, the local youths will mount a noisy competition to grab the descending cash.

“This is the most-awaited ritual in our village,” said 26-year-old I Kadek Suar Nata.

“We have a chance to get some free cash and, at the same time, strengthen our relationship with our fellow banjar members.”

Mesuryak is held during Kuningan day, a major religious holiday in Bali. Kuningan takes place once every six months to honor the ancestors. The most recent Kuningan fell on June and the next one will be in early January 2019.

Show me the money: The head of a household distributes cash during mesuryak.Show me the money: The head of a household distributes cash during mesuryak. (JP/I Made Argawa)

At around 9 a.m. the youths moved into a house of the family that was about to begin mesuryak. Members of the household placed offerings on the ground in front of the gate of their family compound. They then sat on the ground and began praying.

When the praying ended, the adult men of the household stood up with thick wads of cash in their hands. Kadek and his friends immediately formed a tight circle around the men, ready for the ritual’s main attraction.

The men yelled as they threw the banknotes into the air and the awaiting youths turned into a frenzied mob. The banknotes vary from Rp 2,000 (13 US cents) to Rp 100,000 bills.

The youths jumped with their hands high above their heads, trying to grab as many bills as possible. Joyful screams filled the air throughout the boisterous competition.

The commotion lasted for about 15 minutes. Pecalang traditional guardsmen blew their whistles to mark the end of the mesuryak session.

Kadek smiled as he counted his prize: a Rp. 50,000 bill and a Rp. 10,000 bill. Not bad for the first session of mesuryak.

Game On: Local youths catch banknotes in the air during mesuryak.Game On: Local youths catch banknotes in the air during mesuryak. (JP/I Made Argawa)

The youths then walked into the compound of another household, ready for another round of mesuryak.

“There are 135 families in Bongan Gede and nearly all of them organize mesuryak,” said Bongan Gede banjar head I Nyoman Parwata.

The families in the village are organized into 35 large households called kori (gate). These large households are the principal organizers of mesuryak.

Household head I Ketut Alit Subagia, 55, revealed that his family had set aside Rp 3 million in different denominations for mesuryak.

“It is a tradition and we have always participated in organizing it. Of course, we take into consideration our financial situation when we decide how much money we will use for mesuryak,” he said.

The weakening of the local currency apparently had little impact on this tradition. A housing developer, I Made Agus Nata, 37, said that business was indeed slower than usual, but it did not impact his decision to allocate Rp 2.5 million for mesuryak.

“We believe that organizing religious rituals would result in more prosperity,” he said.

Ladylike: The women of the village celebrate mesuryak in a more quiet fashion.Ladylike: The women of the village celebrate mesuryak in a more quiet fashion. (JP/I Made Argawa)

Such a belief is shared by the other members of the banjar. In fact, mesuryak is first and foremost a religious ritual held to bid farewell to spirit of their ancestors. The spirits descend into the family temple on Galungan day and reside there for 10 days until Kuningan day.

“That’s why mesuryak must be held before 12 p.m., because that is believed to be the time when the spirits begin their journey back to heaven,” Parwata said.

The offerings, the cash and the joyful shouts during mesuryak are gifts the living bestow upon the ascending spirits.

Sitting with his back against the door of his bedroom, Kadek unzipped his black fanny pack and inspected his “earnings” after two and a half hours of participating in mesuryak: Rp 800,000.

“In the previous mesuryak I got Rp 1 million,” he said.

Not all participant were as lucky as Kadek. Another participant, I Putu Wandi Ariandi, 22, sprained his right shoulder and had to leave the ritual early with only Rp 50,000 in his fanny pack.