One Day – Ane Gusti Mangku

Ulunsui Temple in the Tampak Siring area of central Bali
Bearing the characteristics and mark of what the Gods said was their next priest at Ulunsui Temple in the Tampak Siring area of central Bali, 10-year-old I Gusti Ngurah Bagus Sikiana was chosen as the anointed one. Now 19, he tells the story of his religious awakening to The Bali Times

I rise at 7am, shower and have breakfast before going to school. Lessons begin at 7:30, so I have to rush to be there on time as it takes 15 minutes. I’m not always on time, though, especially if there’s a ceremony at the temple I have to lead. Important ceremonies require a lot of time, and can go on right up to 1am the following morning. So if I’m going to be at the temple a long time I’ll send a letter requesting permission to be absent because of a ceremony to school. The teachers understand me and my position, my duty as a priest.

When I was 10 years old, I was chosen as the Ulunsui Temple’s priest by the priest at the time, who had to stop being a priest as he touched a dead body and was no longer holy. A priest’s foremost duty is to connect people with the Gods, saying what the people want to them and praying that their wishes come true.

In connecting with the Gods, the priest’s senses must be holy, and there are certain things he cannot do, like touch the body of someone who has died. So when the former priest here did that, the people decided he was no longer holy and that they must have another priest. They asked a priest from another village to come and communicate with the Gods so they could say who the next priest would be. They asked an outsider to do it because his decision would be neutral. This priest then looked for some characteristics of what the Gods said the next priest would have. They were: Ane, my name; the first son of three; has a months-old sister as the youngest child in the family; and has a black mark on the left hand – all of these things I had, and so I was chosen.

As a 10-year-old boy who was a new priest, I didn’t know everything about offerings and what words to use to communicate with the Gods, which are usually in Sanskrit. Immediately after I was chosen, I couldn’t carry out my duties straight away. I was helped by old priests at another temples in my village. Here we have Dalem Temple, which has authority in the ceremony of death; Desa Temple, which has authority over the village; and Beji Temple, a temple by the spring. The priests in these temples help me as much as they can, even though now I’m able to make offerings and say some intricate prayers to the Gods.

Being a priest has changed my life – to start with, my name, which is now Mangku, meaning priest, the term used by older people to address me. My younger sister and brother call me wi mangku (wi means older brother).

I’m proud to be a priest, especially one chosen by the Gods themselves. The way people treat me has changed – now I’m more appreciated, because priests are the highest caste in Balinese society. Brahmana, or priest, is the first; Ksatria, or the kingdom family, second; Waisya, or seller and middleman, is third; and the fourth, or lowest one, is Sudra, or the farmer, the largest community in Bali.

When I was performing my first ceremony at the temple, when I was in second grade of junior high school, I was so nervous, but thanks to the Gods that everything turned out fine.

I have lunch at school, at 11:30am, but as a priest there are some foods I cannot eat, like pork, snake and other unusual meat. I do eat usual food like chicken, eggs, duck and so on. The people make me a special kind of food, with duck, which I like. At home my mother takes particular care when cooking for me, and puts my food in a special place for me.

After I get home around 2pm, I take a rest for a couple of hours, and then get up and watch some TV and chat with my family. I’m very close to everyone in my family and we love to just sit around and talk about what’s happening.

Later in the evening, after dinner, I’ll do some studying of mantras and homework from school and go to bed around 11pm, hoping that the coming day will be a good one for everyone and that I’ll be able to do my best – both in school and at the temple.

Arga Sagitarini

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