“kAla-jayI pUjA of mahAkAla: A Thrilling Photo Feature from Indonesia”
Under the clear blue skies of Bali, we were sitting on the broken steps of an ancient village temple of Ubud, when my companion, Ida Bagus Sudharma, renowned photo-journalist from Indonesia, narrated to me this thrilling and shocking tale of bravery. Of how, in the Phalguna of 1963 lakhs of Shiva-Bhaktas of Bali, Java and Sumatra, had gathered in the complex of Besakih Shiva Temple, to observe Ekadasha Rudra Parva ritual that is here only performed once in a hundred years; and how just two weeks before the ritual, the Mount Agung volcano, the largest active volcano of Bali, on the very slope of which the temple is located, had erupted, emitting terrible smoke and river of lava, threatening all-round destruction. And how, in face of such imminent calamity, brave Hindus of Bali stayed committed to properly performing the centennial ritual to mahA-kAla and only on the proper muhUrta assigned, come what may. And they indeed evacuated only after having acomplished the feat, to continue unbroken the tradition from several centuries.
Of the havoc wrought by the earthquake and volcanic eruption, news were published in papers all over the world, including some sparse coverage by Indian media too. But in Bharata, the abode of Shiva, who had ever heard of this unique tale of steadfast faith and unwavering bravery; unique indeed it must be in the annals of courage and of dharma!
But thanks to the Balinese photo-journalist Shri Ida Bagus Sudharma’s camera, a courageous witness to those events, Dharma Yuga presents that audacious tale of faith for the first time. — Dharma Veer Bharati.
One would scarce believe that the Times of India group once used to publish such magazines as ‘Dharma Yuga’ edited by legendary author Shri Dharmaveer Bharati (an important contributor to the neo-Renaissance movement in Hindi led by Shri Harivansha Rai Bachchan and Shri Sumitra Nandan Pant); a magazine which for over two decades had the claim to be the largest circulated fortnightly in any language world-wide. And who could also believe that it was this Times management which had conceived and initiated the Gyanapeeth Samman, to recognize and reward one literary personality every year for contribution to the wealth of any Indic language, including saMskR^ita. It is sad that with the change of hands in the 90s, the new Times of India management, hostile to dharma and saMskR^iti, closed down all these vernacular ventures including Dharma Yuga, Dinamaan, Sarika, Parag, and many others, which indeed used to be successful portals of cultural revival.
Well, in the same chest of old periodicals that we had earlier discovered from our ancestral place, we were amazed and delighted to stumble upon this one leaf from a 1960s issue of now defunct Dharma Yuga magazine, plucked aside to preserve it for future (likely by our pitAshrI but he does not remember it, so possibly by pitAmaha). Wish we were a kavI to be able to describe our feelings when we discovered this blessing from our pitR^is…
It is a Photo Feature narrating a story of audacious bravery and defiance displayed by the courageous Hindus of Bali, when they dared their life in middle of a volcano eruption but did not shrink from keeping the millennia-old tradition of centennial ritual worship at the famous Shiva temple at Besakih, the kailAsha of Bali.
The famous volcanic Mount of Agung in East Bali is called the Kailasha of Bali. Belief here is that Mahadeva spends the winter months here. Once in a hundred years is celebrated that rare mahA-yoga when ekAdasha rudra mahApUjA is performed. And this graha-yoga was to occur in the March of 63, for which the ritual preparations were on for the last two month. Image above shows the Besakih Temple on the slopes of terrible vocanic Agung . The three pIThikA-s are dedicated to bramhA, viShNu, and maheshvara.
Devotees carrying a dhenu-shAvaka for viShNu after bathing in sea
The devotees lining up in the Complex for darshana after bathing in the sea. The gathering and mela was spread over miles.
And the sleeping Agung woke up! Eruptions started and tremors were felt. Our journalist captured this image from an aerial survey.
What to do? Whether to evacuate? The purohita-s, managers, eminent devotees gathered to confer about the course of action in light of the danger. But in a single voice, it was unanimously decided that come what may, the mahApUjA would be performed with full splendour and observing complete traditions, no matter what.
And then, disregarding the danger, all devotees went back to their duties. In above image, ladies prepare floral AbhUShaNa-s with which the devatA-s would be adorned. The bright tADapatra tied to their foreheads announces their cleanliness to perform such duty.
On Feb 18, the landscape was threatening. Agung was vomiting fire and lava. Earth was shattering. Sky was black with smoke.
But unmindful of all this, devotees were preparing for the ritual. A sample of colourful floral decoration with which the temple was decked.
The patAkA-s and masts were raised. Dancers in full traditional dress and preparation, continued to pour into the complex to perform.
And the groups of devotees, unmindful of the danger, continued to pray faithfully, bravely and steadfastly…
On March 17, the burning flood of lava engulfed the entire region, two days after the mahApUjA was accomplished and concluded, and devotees evacuated. (Wiki says, the flood of lava came up to this place, but missed the temple complex merely by few meters. Overall, 1700 casualties were claimed by the 1963 volcanic eruption.)
*** * ***
A 2010 video tour to this temple complex: