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Jakarta Post

Usaba Sambah: Offering fit for a queen

Thu, February 8, 2018   /   08:33 am
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    A swing 20 meters tall is displayed at Pura Bale Agung, where the Usaba Sambah ritual takes place, in Subaya village. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Subaya villagers, carrying their offerings, wait for their friends from neighboring villages. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Villagers march to the ceremony site. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Villagers enter a temple. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Women kneel while carrying their offerings on their heads. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    A Hindu priest performs a ritual involving water. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Neighboring villagers encircle a swing while carrying flags, spears and offerings. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    A man performs the Baris sacred dance for Queen Ayu Mas Subandar during the ritual. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Villagers take shelter from rain and thunder inside a temple. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    A wooden swing is used in the Usaba Sambah ritual. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    The swing is decorated with offerings by the head of ceremony. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Villagers take down all the offerings following the end of the ceremony. JP/Anggara Mahendra

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    Three young men play on the giant swing the day after the ceremony. JP/Anggara Mahendra

Anggara Mahendra

Rain, wind and thunderstorms have always been signs of the upcoming Sasih Kapitu (seventh month) on the Balinese calendar. In the middle of the month, Subaya villagers of Kintamani district, Bangli regency, hold Usaba Sambah, a continuation of the Usaba Desa procession, which takes place earlier in the month. This year, the Usaba Sambah fell on Jan. 16, 2018. As sambah translates to swing, for the procession, the villagers make a swing 20 meters high at Bale Agung Temple.

Quoting a traditional story, Subaya village head Ketut Suar said that the Usaba Sambah ritual was based on an offering to Queen Ayu Mas Subandar at the Pengubengan Castle. She was the youngest daughter of King Bhatara, who lived at the Puncak Penulisan Castle. She was tasked with dividing land for villagers living near Puncak Penulisan Castle. Despite performing her duties well, she was sad because she only presided over land in Subaya, a stony and isolated area.

Therefore, the villagers worked hand-in-hand to create a giant swing, decorated with the yields from their harvest from their land on both sides of the swing. They hoped the queen would cheer up and be able to protect them.

The shape of the swing is unique as it is not built using nails or plastic rope. The materials are all from nature. The swing seat is made from the dadap tree, which locals believed was made of purified material. The parts holding the swing together are made using titikan rattan, which is only available around the Samuh River, a watercourse that villagers believed was sacred to the queen.

The swing-making process, which takes three to five days, is passed down from generation to generation.

During the day of the ceremony, villagers work to prepare for it starting in the morning. Heavy rainfall and a lack of visibility because of fog is to be expected.

“It is always raining with a thunderstorm during Usaba Sambah because that is the character of Bhatara,” Budi, a pecalang (local Balinese security officer) in Sebaya, said.

When the ceremony kicks off at the temple, dancers, mostly the youth living in the area, perform numerous sacred dances, including the Truna, Rejang Dewa, Baris Dadap, Jojor, Presi and Tombak.

As is tradition, the Jero Kabayan (head of ceremony) cleans the swing, decorates it with several banana leaves and pours rice on top of it.

Villagers present the best yields from their harvest on the swing as a gesture of gratitude for a good livelihood. They also pray to God, ask for forgiveness and hope for their wishes to be granted.

The ceremony typically ends in the wee hours the next day, when villagers return to their homes to rest.

However, it is not uncommon for young people to stay awake to play on the swing.

“It feels like flying,” said Budi. [yan]