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Pande: Master of Metal  

by on Wednesday, 10 March 20102 Comments | 4,038 views


In Bali, becoming blacksmiths is not a matter of skill. Although you can learn how to make a steel implement, you cannot be called a blacksmith. The only way to become a blacksmiths is to be born in a Pande family.

The smiths in Bali are called, generally, pande, the most influential among them being blacksmiths: pande wesi, or pande besi. The historical importance of their craft, particularly in the shaping of the magically charged and (unfortunately) very practical kris daggers, gave this group of low caste artisans a status that seemed to fall outside the usual dictates of caste. The Pande is a small, but very tightly knit clan group in Bali. Although the Pande clan did not exist, even in the earliest days the pande has considerable political power, including the right to seat representatives on the governing bodies of the desa (village). To maintain their position of prestige, the smiths kept their techniques secret and saw it in that marriage would take place only within their own professional group. And today, this clan is still fiercely proud, the most conservative in its ranks refusing the religious authority of the Brahmana priest – some, claiming ancestry preceding Hinduism, even creating a sort of hybrid religion of their own.

The Pande clan inscribed its own history in a lontar, a formal religious document, called the Prasasti Sira Pande Empu. Many clan groups wrote lontars, during this time to codify, and amplify, their right to status greater than that of mere Sudra. These lontars, which are still read today, offers history that are vivid, exaggerated, and full of hubris. The Pande’s is no exception.

The Prasasti Sira Pande Empu outlines a mythology that seems to predate Hinduism. It describes that the creation of Brahma, but Brahma here appears less like that of Hindu triad, and more like the Vedic god of fire, Agni. Emphasizing fire, of course, make sense for the Pande, who have always considered fire as their special instrument, from which much of their power was derived. And yet the Pande adopted the color red, which is always associated with the Trimurti god of Brahma. The Pande temple at Pura Besakih is decorated red. Pande men often wear red articles of clothing, such as udeng (head band), and saput (waist cloth), when participating ceremonies.

In the lontar, Empu Pradah is proclaimed the first head of Pande clan. The document also includes a declaration of independence of sorts. It clearly states that the Brahmanas obtained their knowledge and power from the Pande, and establishes the Pande as older that the Brahmanas and of greater power and prestige. It also stipulates that Pandes are not permitted to obtain holy water from pedandas because, in affect, the Brahmana priests are the younger brother of the Pandes, and for that reason should be subservient to them. The lontar also includes various warnings to other caste-less people that they should not follow the teachings of Brahmanas and Ksatriyas, but rather emulate the Pandes.

Some of the Pande can follow the regular ritual of Balinese Hinduism as dictated in general Balinese scripture, obtaining their holy water from pedandas, praying at regular temples, and observing the routines that are followed by about everyone else in Bali. But the conservative Pande do not obtain the holy water from pedandas, maintaining that they are senior to the Brahmanas, not vice versa. Moreover, some of them a very pronounced anti pedanda bias. This has caused some problems. The most conservative Pande areas have their own temples and their own pemangkus – lay Pande priest – who officiate at special Pande ceremonies and who make their own holy water for use only by Pande people.

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