The Bali Aga of Trunyan - ancient Bali

The Balinese mountain village of Trunyan can be found at the foot of the Gunung Abang mountain, at a remote and isolated location on the eastern shore of Lake Batur. The people from Trunyan are often referred to as Bali Aga (mountain Balinese), which refers to a conservative, pre-Hindu culture and way of life with ancient, neolithic customs and a very definite avoidance of outside influences.

Trunyan society consists of two obvious ‘castes’, the banjar jero and the banjar jaba. Contrary to the other parts of Bali where the caste system is always based on the idea of purity, the Trunyan castes are determined by descent from the ancient Gelgel dynasty. Those belonging to the banjar jero are the descendants of rulers, appointed by the kings of Gelgel to rule, whereas those of the banjar jaba are the descendants of the people, those who were ruled by the banjar jero.

One of the last remaining traditional Bali Aga houses in Northeast Bali.

The people of Trunyan retain a social order aligned with very ancient traditions, very different from the mainstream Balinese Hindu culture. Contrary to elsewhere in Hindu Bali, in Trunyan they do not cremate their dead. Instead, after a ritual cleansing with rain water, the body of the deceased is simply placed on the ground under a bamboo cage near a sacred Taru Menyan tree, until the forces of nature, in particular the wind, has dissolved the body tissues and only the skeleton remains.

The deceased young woman above was laid to rest a month earlier. A month in the open air, no smell, no animals… Below is the same body, 4 months later. The bamboo cage is to keep out scavenging animals.

Once a body has completely decomposed the skull is placed on a stairs-shaped stone platform under the Taru Menyan tree, located some 500 meter north of the banjar Kuban, a secluded sacred place on the far eastern shore of Lake Batur, only reachable by boat.

This ancient practice traces back to the neolithic Agama Bayu sect, one of the six most important religious-spiritual sects that dominated Bali during pre-Hindu times. This Agama Bayu sect mainly worshiped the stars and the wind (angin ngelinus).

Taru Menyan means ‘nice smelling tree’. This tree releases a typical scent which neutralises the smell of rotting bodies. It is also this tree from which the name Trunyan is derived.

Not all deceased are placed under the Taru Menyan tree; only the bodies of married people are allowed to be placed here and if the deceased was not yet married, the body is normally buried at the cemetery.

For the photo gallery of Trunyan click HERE.