Rain Stoppers, Traditional Knowledge in A Modern Age
Text by Darma Putra
Photographs by Widnyana Sudibya
Imagine a three-month well planned garden party all of a sudden dissolved by heavy rain. Invited guests scattered around, food soaking wet, and all the fine decorations destroyed by water. Imagine an open-aired professionally prepared musical concert cannot proceed because of water pouring unexpectedly from the dark sky overhead. Assume a special outdoor party for an incentive tour group failed to continue because of rain. All of these situations would cause great pain and disappointment.
In order to avoid such disappointment and pain, inviting a rain stopper or diverter might be a good idea. It might sound senseless, but attempts in stopping unexpected rainfall is one of the oldest traditions in Balinese cultural practices, which can also be found in most societies in Java.
This tradition is still practiced by the Balinese, because of its significance and function, not only within traditional, but also within a modern context, such as tourism activities. These beliefs and practices are not aimed against the will of Mother Nature.
In fact, people believe that Mother Nature has her own system that cannot be intervened by human beings. All natural occurrences, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, lighting, strong winds, and thunder are predestined by God through Mother Nature. No one knows how to predict them or how to stop or divert them, to save human lives and prevent natural disasters.
For rain, however, the Balinese have a tradition to stop, hold, or divert it to other locations or to simply hold it for several hours. The aim is to secure a rain-free spot where a function or activity is being held. Many important occasions in Bali and other parts of Indonesia were made rain-free by traditional means. For example, the opening performances of the annual Bali Arts Festival at the Denpasar Art Centre is usually accompanied by a rain-stopping ritual, especially if the program is going to be attended by special guests like Presidents, ministers, and ambassadors. To also ensure the smooth running of a temple festival, a ritual of rain stopping will usually be performed. At Besakih Temple, there is a shrine for the seat of Ida Ratu Sila Majemuh, where rain-stopping rituals are usually performed to avoid rainfall in the Besakih Temple area during a festival. The celebration of Asia-Africa Conference Anniversary in West Java, in 2005, was also secured by rain-stopper.
The ritual of rain-stopping or diverting, is not an eye-catching activity because it is performed low key. It is performed by officiating small offerings and burning incense, as well as a plate of fire (pengasepan). All of these aim to produce smoke that on rising up is believed to be able to push clouds away. The movement of the clouds aims at letting the rain fall elsewhere or pour when the rain stopping ritual has ended.
In Balinese tradition there is also a rain-asking ritual. This ritual is usually performed in the case of long dry spells. Groups of farmers often perform this in order to water their paddy. A more elaborate offering is required for the rain-asking ritual. Both the rain-asking and stopping rituals have proved to work well otherwise would not still be performed. The failure of a rain stopping ritual might occur because several rain-stoppers are in action at the same time at a similar location. Each of them will push away the clouds from the area they have to secure, sometimes to the direction where another rain-stopping ritual is being held. By this, the attempt easily fails. Another reason may be that the ritual of rain stopping is performed too close to the time of rainfall. The earlier a rain-stopping ritual is performed, the better the results. The better prepared the ritual, the higher chance it will be fulfilled by God.
A person who performs the rain stopping or rain diverting is called ‘tukang terang’ in Balinese or ‘pawang hujan’ in Indonesian. Knowledge in asking and preventing or diverting rainfall is kept in a ‘lontar’ leaf manuscript written in old Javanese. Some of these have recently been printed into a book form with stunning calligraphy or rerajahan. A tukang terang usually gains knowledge and skill through either reading lontar palm leaves or by receiving divine blessings through a series of trances. Before being able to perform a rain stopping ritual, they need to do a self-purification ritual. Many temple priests try to have rain stopping rituals performed for his/ her temple. A set of offerings and a lot of incense is required for performing a rain-stopping ritual. The offerings will be officiated in a shrine or temple near to the area where the function is to be held. Hotel management or event organizers might invite a tukang terang from a distant village if the local temple priest is not keen to do so. During the ritual, a tukang terang spell is cast as a mantra in the form of mediation, to ask God to kindly pour rain on another place.
A rain diverter is often in high demand during the rainy season in Bali. Rainy season falls between September and April. This means that the holiday and festivity month of December and January tend to have a lot of rain. As there are usually a lot of outdoor celebration during these months; concerts, and parties, the invitation of a rain-stopper to ensure the smooth running of a program is often given priority. The success of a rain-diverting ritual can be as high as 90%. Event organizers have to budget extra to ensure their program is rain free. As other rituals in Balinese tradition, there is no fixed charge for rain-stopper ritual, but it could cost between US$ 25 to US$ 100, including the costs of offerings.
Although the average rainfall in Bali is relatively low, avoiding disappointment from the possibility of rain by providing a rain diverter is always worth planning. Since the topic of the rain-stopping ritual is often discussed between people in the tourism industry, especially by event organizers with their foreigner counterparts, more and more outsiders know and think about rain-stoppers. Eventually the subject can even serve to promote and enhance the mystical image of Bali.
The continued use of rain-stoppers in various activities indicates that this traditional knowledge or belief still has its functional meaning and practicality in the modern age. Although modern technology now witnesses the use of laser-light to clear a cloud to prevent rainfall, the traditional way to divert rain is still popular in Bali as it is in most regions in Java. Compared to modern technology, the use of a traditional rain-stopper is much more practical, while its effectiveness is almost certain. If you happen to have an important and special outdoor function yourself, do not allow rain to spoil it. Invite a rain-diverter, and, let the Balinese Gods do the rest.