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The Bali Blog « American Calonarang: Balinese Trance Ceremony in Ubud, Bali

A few nights ago, to celebrate the opening of the newly-renovated, Disney-style temple in Campuhan, Ubud, there was a Calonarang.

During this spiritually-charged ceremony, masks are donned by chosen dancers, and trance ensues.

But this one was different.

Some years ago, an American tourist managed to talk his way into buying a temple mask – of Celuluk, the evil right-hand monkey servant to Rangda, the Witch – from the Campuhan Temple.

The American brought the mask home to the States and hung it on his wall.

But every time he looked at it he felt a deeply discomforting stare thrown back. He began to sleep less. And then not at all.

When he came back to Bali, he brought the mask with him and gave it back to the temple where he'd bought it from. His sleep returned. The mask from then on became known as Topeng Amerika – the 'American Mask'.

The next bit is harder to explain.

To cut an all-night story short, the mask was donned by a dancer who fell into a deep trance. But instead of staying in the temple, he began to run.

And run.

He became violent and uncontrollable. He ran for four kilometers down the road; the crowd scrambled after him. He ended up in a cemetery just past my house, and in the dead of night began to do frenzied battle with unseen foes.

Priests who had chased him on their motorbikes eventually caught up, doused him in holy water and managed to pry the monkey-mask from his face.

The man returned to normal; the crowd filed back to the temple; and the ceremony was brought to a satisfactory close in the early hours of the morning.

There are a lot of things on Bali that are best steered clear of.

And if you've never seen the unseen – the niskala – before, you're probably better off leaving it to the experts.

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