In Hindu India, Vedanta Philosopher Ramanuja had the gull to refer back to the source code, the Vedas. Bringing attention to possible misinterpretations exploited to create social disparity, Ramanuja’s writings and instructions would inspire a new sect. The Wesnawe lived without caste and preached equality, but eventually, as befell Buddhism, theirs was dubbed a separate religion – perhaps to set it against the status quo, long ago in India.
In AD. 1019, Empu Kuturan traveled eight thousand kilometers east of India to visit the island of Bali in what is now Indonesia. The religions of India had taken hold here, and were changing shape to envelope their animistic variant. The Indian traveler was surprised to find sects of Wesnawists living silently among the Hindu masses. Ramanuja’s idea of freedom from caste had come far, making the island – as an odd tropical microcosm of India – complete and divided.
In the green caldera of an exploded volcano, a boy named Mayadenawa was born to the king of Balingkang, son of Daitya, son of Dewi Danu. Paternal lineage allowed the boy to apprentice and become a powerful Wisnawe priest – as well as king. North of Kintamani and east of Penulisan, he grew up with discipline, focus, and in solitude.
Balinese Hindus present deities with colorful offerings almost like a daily allowance, holding demanding ceremonies – the largest being cremations. In this gong-filled atmosphere, Bali’s Wesnawists kept their culture, offerings, ceremonies, and cremations simple. They still went without caste, and for a while, their austerity was tolerated – just.
At around this time an unknown presence began to trouble Bali. Hunters tracked human footprints and heard people walking, though no one was around. The Balinese Hindus suspected this to be the caste-less Bujjanga Wesnawe rsi and king of Balingkang, young Mayadenawa.
In AD 1550, priest Danghyang Nirartha arrived in Bali. To reinforce the trinity of caste and keep the practice pure, he influenced the dismissal of one of three religious advisors informing the king of Bali. Having stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a Brahmana and a Buddhist before the king, it was the Wesnawist who was sent packing.
When young Mayadenawa rose to become king of Bali, Hindus were freed from making offerings. When the time came for ceremonies, they sat on their fluttering hands. Temples collapsed. They considered it a godless rule, saying that their king was an atheist. Without the usual offerings and ceremonies, crops withered and life-giving streams dried. In the cities of Badung, hordes of rodents appeared from storm drains and barraged marketplaces. People went starving and ill. Batur volcano, overlooked by Mayadenawa’s palace, stirred, rumbled, and magma sputtered to the surface.
The leader of waters, the demiurge who frees dawn from Vala cave each morning, the son of Father Heaven and Mother Earth, Indra was called upon by Bali’s Hindu priesthood to find and kill the accused troublemaker.
King Mayadenawa had become a master of the dark arts; and the battle that followed was the worst in the island’s violent history. Fatigued and wounded, Indra and his men made an escape to the village now known as Tempak Siring.
He came in the night, walking on the sides of his feet to blur the direction of his footprints. Manifesting a pool of poisonous water nearby the sleeping troops, Mayadenawa made his exit, leaving his awkward footprints between the sleeping soldiers of Indra’s fierce army. This land is now filed on GPS, listed as Tempak Siring, meaning the sideways footprints.
The army woke in file, then filed in and drank and showered in the pool. Hundreds fell sick. Indra, as the foretold leader of the waters, struggled upright against his own nausea to divine Tirtha Empul, the spring of cool and drinkable water that flows to this day. As the clean water touched their lips, Indra’s men were reinvigorated. However, the Wesnawist would prove more crafty and mobile than Indra’s blundering, divine militia.
Once captured, Mayadenawa transformed into the great bird manuk raya; this happened in what is known as Manukaya village. The powerful Wisnawist also appeared as a bulbous breadfruit, buah timbul, in what became Timbul village; a rise in the ground, busung, in what became Busung Biu village; and some milk, or susuh, in what became Penyusuhan. For those who know the haunt, Mayadenawa took the guise of a fairy in Kedewatan village, meaning the village of the Gods, now known as Ubud.
After battling Mayadenawa’s army, Indra went in search of the shape-shifting king and found a large square of sandstone, batu paras, on a riverbank. Wincing to observe the stone in the fading light, Indra could make out droplets of blood forming from within the stone. The string of his bow an actual rainbow, Indra pulled back and let fly a magical arrow that sunk into the shuddering boulder.
Currents smeared with Mayadenawa’s blood, the valley of Pekirisan was cursed for a thousand years. Rice harvested from the tiered fields that flank the river would appear to bleed and steam with the stench of a dead corpse. Up until this day, underpaid workers mine for sandstone in Pekirisan valley, the ocean-bound river still believed to be spoiled.
The fall of Mayadenawa is said to have happened on the Hindu ceremonial day of Galungan, the semi-annual day that celebrates the victory of belief over atheism, the right way over the wrong (dharma over adharma), and good over evil.
From the perspective of Wesnawists and Theraveda Buddhists, the same day may be seen as a celebration of myth over fact, slander over common sense, Hinduism over Wesnawism, caste over equality, and deceit over reality. From their perspective, a man like our rebellious Ramanuja, a meditative devotee, an ascetic, and an austere worshiper, was made the antagonist of this precautionary flight-of-fantasy. Beyond this dialectic, however, Galungan is just a day to be thankful for the creation of the Earth and all of its contents. Hey, let’s just leave it at that.