A Visit to Sumandhi

The next day Linda had arranged for us to go and visit our old friend and teacher, Nyoman Sumandhi, at his home in the village of Tunjuk. Sumandhi had been my first Balinese gamelan teacher back in 1993, and we had performed together in my first gamelan concert at UCSC. He had also brought his son, Komang Hartanagara to America with him, and we had become good friends. It would be great to see them both at home in Bali.

Along with Linda and our family was Justine and another friend and gamelan player from Santa Cruz, Dan Phillips. Little did our driver know that he'd spend the day hanging out with one of the greatest shadow-masters of Bali!

Once we got to the village of Tunjuk, we asked a few people if they knew of Pak Sumandhi, and were immediately directed to his house. Sumandhi is well-known in Bali as a great musician, dancer, and teacher. His father, Pak Rajeg, is even more reknowned - an esteemed dalang and subject of Larry Reed's film "Shadow Master" about Balinese wayan kulit - shadow puppetry.

Sumandhi's wife, Putu Sutiati, herself a talented dancer, welcomed us into their home and offered us snacks and drinks. Sumandi emerged after a while - he had been up all night watching a shadow puppet performance on TV! We sat on the floor, chatting and looking at their photo albums. This photo shows (left to right) Dan Phillips, Putu Sutiati, Linda, Komang, Sumandhi, me, Astrid, and Julia.

The room was completely open to the elements on one side. On a sunny warm day like this it was lovely to be in such an open room. Chickens were pecking around the courtyard outside, and Pak Rajeg's fighting cocks were in their baskets. They were too valuable to be wandering around freely! Left to right in this photo - our son Dan, talking to one of Sumandhi's daughters, Sumandhi, Dan Phillips, and Linda looking at the photo album. Putu Sutiati is at bottom right.

The photo albums were not your average holiday snaps. Their local temple was in possession of a set of ancient masks - Barong, Rangda, and Durga, a side-kick of Rangda's. Although powerfully spiritually charged, they were starting to fall apart from old age. Komang had taken it upon himself to restore them to their former glory. However, before the restoration process could begin, the spirits inhabiting the masks had to be gently asked to leave, and once the restoration was complete, they were invited back into the masks again.

The ceremony to restore the spirits to their masks had taken place about three weeks earlier, and these were the photos taken at the occasion. Huge crowds and processions, as the masks were brought back to the temple and the spirits restored. Evidently a large number of people had fallen into trance as the spirits were summoned back into the masks. It was quite a ceremony, and the restoration was considered very successful, and the high amount of spiritual activity was felt to be a very auspicious sign that the spirits were happy with the results.

The conversation inevitably turned to Rangda. Sumandhi announced that he had a very powerful Rangda mask, and proceeded to fetch it! Here she is. Apparently she normally sleeps in her box in Sumandhi's bedroom. When Sumandhi and his wife built a new house recently, they moved into the new house before all their belongings had been transferred out of the old one. Rangda was left behind in the old house. They were unable to sleep, and suffered all kinds of troubles, until they moved Rangda back into their room, as which point everything miraculously cleared up. She was not pleased at being left behind.

Another interesting thing that Komang showed us were some lontars - scriptures written on strips of palm leaves. They never invented paper in Bali, so they wrote on lontars like this - usually religious texts - and strung them together like books. They are quite durable - this one is over a hundred years old - and are what the priests read from when they chant their scriptures. This one is just one of the volumes of the epic poem of the Mahabharata.

Sumandhi had been checking out some brand new gender wayang instruments for someone who had just had them made, so he brought them out to show us, and he and Komang proceeded to give us an impromptu performance.

These are the instruments traditionally used to accompany shadow puppet performances, and unlike the gamelan angklung instruments that we play, are played with two hammers, with the damping being done by the wrists and backs and sides of the hands. They were beautiful instruments, and sounded gorgeous.

Then it was our turn to play! We weren't used to playing the two-handed genders, so we played one of our angklung pieces using one hand, while Sumandhi improvised the jegog part on a lower register of the same instrument! This is Linda and me attempting our "1941" piece.

We were barely aware of the elderly man who sat quietly in the corner smoking, and chewing on his Betel nut, from time to time taking a look at something he was working on at his work bench. But after a while it dawned on me that this was Pak Rajeg - the famous shadow master, or dalang. Although he was well into his nineties, he still gave occasional performances.

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Photos: Astrid, Martin and Julia Randall
All content copyright (c) 2002, Astrid, Martin and Julia Randall