Tirtagangga Festival: East Bali

Located roughly six kilometres northwest of Amlapura in East Bali is one of the most beautiful places on the island of Bali – Tirtagangga. The water complex was built on the sit of sacred spring by the old raja of the region, Raja Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut.

The complex is a collection of statues, fountains and cool, shallow pools set with a backdrop of spectacular hills and lush greenery. Sitting on the slopes of Gunung Agung, the complex has been damaged many times by earthquakes and it is an endless restoration process of the project.

During the recent Bali tourism recovery drive, the inaugural Tirtagangga Festival was put together by the local community. Here is Trish Sertori’s report on the festival:

Community achieves wonders in Tirtagangga fest
Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Karengasem, Bali

Straw men running to the beat of drums and traditional dancing with a twist opened last week the inaugural Festival Tirtagangga 1, themed Kembali Kepada Seni, Kembali Kepada Air Kehidupan (Return to the arts, return to the waters of life), which showed the great achievements a community can realize when it bands together.

Officially opened by Karangasem regent I Wayan Geredeg, the festival focused on the extraordinary talents of local youth drawn from villages surrounding the water garden of Tirtagangga.

The Tirtagangga water garden was built for the people by the King of Karangasem, Anak Agung Anglurah Agung Ketut, in 1946.
Geredeg touched on the value of festivals such as Tirtagangga 1 in Bali’s tourism recovery drive.

“Not less important is the recovery, or developing, of an appreciation of art and culture in communities and also strengthening the identity of our local culture as part of the nation’s fundamental base,” he stressed. “We need to develop and maintain that culture which may attract local and overseas tourists.”

Geredeg added that the festival was a credit to the local community that had come together to create the first Festival Tirtagangga, which is to be held annually.

Mooted by Tirtagangga youth just four months ago, the idea for an arts festival gripped the imagination of villagers around Tirtagangga. More than 150 volunteers comprising local families and Denpasar artists worked against the clock to create one of Bali’s best non-commercial festivals of recent years.

Hundreds of people flocked to Tirtagangga for the three-day festival that was a celebration of Indonesia’s arts-based culture, featuring dance, poetry, installation art, theater and landscape painting.

A painting competition had dozens of children utterly absorbed in creating their own masterpieces for later judging by senior Denpasar artists. Meanwhile, teenagers could test their theatrical and literary skills in a poetry competition that was equally supported and encouraged by respected poets.

“We had four months to pull the festival together, from coming up with the idea to its reality,” said poet Gayatri Mantra, one of the festival’s founders, who regularly traveled the 140-kilometer Denpasar-Tirtangagga round trip during the formative months.

She added that the festival aimed to support local artists from children through to adulthood, giving them a platform for performing and exhibiting their works while building appreciation of their skills in the wider community.

“A lot of people thought we couldn’t do it. Because (they said) you need professionals and money,” said Gayatri. “They thought village youth couldn’t create a festival of this scale, but this proves what we can achieve when we work together as a community. We never thought it would be this fantastic.”

And it was this community spirit that defined the success of the festival.

“The community worked really hard because it (the festival) came from a sense of belonging to the village. Most festivals are arranged by governments or organizations. This one comes from the roots — from the village. That ownership drew us together. I am proud we are able to show what we can do,” Gayatri said.

She hoped other villages across Bali would follow the Tirtagangga model, “which is a movement of thought from the grass roots”.

“From this (event) people build dignity and pride in what they can do. Festivals like this involve kids, who are often ignored, giving them space to perform and express themselves. That is a basic need,” she said.

Funding was also community-based, with local hotels and private sponsors providing generous donations and thus allowing the festival to become a reality.

The level of artistic talent being revitalized in communities across Bali was seen in the outstanding dance performance, Puja Sastra, an homage to the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, presented by children from the Artists of Panyatur Saren. In this village performing arts group, the children study traditional dance, singing, Balinese literature, gamelan and yoga under its coordinator and choreographer, Mangku Susena.

During the dance, the children in traditional Balinese dress upended themselves in advanced yoga positions, their legs forming the petals of a lotus flower. The audience responded with awe at the skill these youngsters possessed, despite less than four years of training.

“Puja Satra is a dance paying tribute to the goddess Saraswati, who stands on a lotus flower. That is why there is the mix of music, singing, yoga and dance in the performance, but we only decided to create the lotus flower through stances 24 hours before the performance,” said Susena.

Other dances featured at the festival were the four Lampung/Balinese collaborative dances performed by the Sanggar Tari Kerti Buana Lampung troupe, which had traveled from Sumatra for the festival.

Lampung’s head of culture, Khaidarmansyah, explained the historical link between his province and Bali.

“There are more than 900,000 Balinese living in Lampung. Many migrated there after Mount Agung erupted (in 1963). The four dances are a collaboration between Bali and Lampung. Our dancers are a mix of Balinese Hindus and Sumatran Muslims, and the music and dances reflect the cultural differences and similarities,” he said.

He added the Lampung culture office had funded the 35-strong dance troupe’s trip to Tirtagangga to promote friendship between the two provinces and “to remember how close we are through history”.

And while art and artistic expression were the prime focuses of the festival, by Sunday afternoon, the main draw was the water gardens of Tirtagangga.

The gardens had formed a spectacular backdrop for the arts festival, with floating art installations reflected in the silver spring waters; but Sunday’s event was of a slightly different concept.

In a test of balance, young and old attempted to cross the waters in tight-rope fashion on a narrow bamboo pole. Many an adult had a refreshing dip after losing their balance while the kids skipped across the pole to great cheering from the crowd.

It was a fitting end to the Festival Tirtagangga and its triumphant celebration of community spirit.