"Like King and Queen, like Balinese and Sasak": Musical Narratives at the Lingsar Temple Festival in Lombok, Indonesia

By Harnish, David | Ethnologies, Annual 2001 | Go to article overview

"Like King and Queen, like Balinese and Sasak": Musical Narratives at the Lingsar Temple Festival in Lombok, Indonesia


Harnish, David, Ethnologies


The preret [wooden oboe] player, Amaq Sari, takes his seat in the pavilion next to the altar where the postmenopausal women are preparing the materials needed for the offerings. Upon a signal from the priest, Sanusi, Sari begins "Turun Daun" ["Gently Descend"], the piece that invites deities to come down to earth. The music is shrill, penetrating, inescapable. The women then gather the materials -- fruits, Chinese coins, flowers, seeds -- and slowly create the kebon odeq, the two offerings which, according to Sanusi, unify dualities "like king and queen, male and female, and Balinese and Sasak." Amaq Sari's preret performance frames this event (see photo 1). He begins playing before any work on the offerings and must continue until the offerings are complete.

When the women are finished, the eldest presents the two large kebon odeq to Sanusi. Participants will compete to carry these offerings, which are placed at the front of almost all processions, to receive blessings through physical contact. In between processions, the kebon odeq will be "seated" in the shrine beside the sacred spring-fed pool which is "guarded" by large eels.

Amaq Sari watches the last actions to complete the offerings. He then stops playing, folds his preret into some cloth, nods to Sanusi for permission to leave, and goes into the outer courtyard to chew betelnut. For the moment, his job is done. But a series of processions will soon start, and he will then walk beside the kebon odeq to various sacred places within the environs of Lingsar, the village of the temple festival that sustains and invokes rainwater and fertility, and unites migrant Hindu Balinese with traditional Muslim Sasak on the island of Lombok in Indonesia.

The Lingsar festival is considered a sacred [sakral], religious [agama] and cultural (budaya) affair in Lombok. However, the sacred tends to attract the profane and many festival activities are relatively secular and fun. The sacred also lures politics and commercialism. The local government has played an increasing role in securing and monitoring the festival and often seeks credit for its success, and vendors line all entrances to the temple. Lingsar hosts an "indigenous" festival, native to the land and peoples of Lombok; all participants believe it was initiated hundreds of years ago. While the festival was once a state ceremony necessary to sustain pre-colonial courts and their hierarchy and moral order, it is today a complex series of rituals with diffuse and contested meanings. The festival retains its agrarian function, linked to religion and politics, and it has become a pageant for encountering the divine, for rediscovering one's culture, and for reexperiencing and debating history.

The roles of the performing arts, and particularly music, are sometimes ignored in the literature on festivals. Music is often called the soundscape or soundtrack of a festival (Falassi 1987), but I believe that it is often much more than background. Music creates community, permits special behavior, allows or directs transformations, and provides structures for meaningful actions. Kapferer (1983), for example, states that music controls the stages of events, signals transitions, and enacts and orders shared experience. Music performance spiritually unites participants through crystallizing group sentiments, and it extends the possibility of undergoing together the "one experience," where participants "commune" in the "same vivid and continuous present" (Kapferer 1986: 190).

In many cultures, such as Lombok and its neighbor island of Bali, music is considered a sort of science [ilmu] with efficacious qualities, and dance and music are not divided but rather integrated into a whole. Dance and music in such places permeate festival, pace the activities, and "key the emotions of participants" (Stoeltje 1992: 265). At Lingsar, they encapsulate and express sentiments, myths, values, and overall religious experiences for the participants, and create a unique community while providing a series of structures for symbolic behaviors and meanings to unfold. …

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