After the visit to the Tegenungan Waterfall in Bali, the car meandered its way to Ubud. The bright sun shone in the sky and it was hard to believe that it had drizzled just a few minutes ago. Magical surroundings of lush greenery and beautiful rice fields made for a lovely drive. Hardly 10 minutes before Ubud, the car came to a halt and Edi, our travel manager and driver, popped his head out of the car to speak to a group of villagers walking in a hurried pace. “All ok, Edi? Why are these men in a rush?” I enquired. “Perfectly ok Ma’am. This is Kemenuh Village. A cockfight is about to take place. Have you heard about cockfighting in Bali?”
Tajen, Meklecan or Ngadu are the terms used for cockfighting in Bali, In April 1971, President Suharto declared cockfighting illegal in Indonesia. An exception was made to Bali where cockfighting was reserved solely for religious purposes. The Tabuh Rah ritual in temples is centuries old and is performed to expel evil spirits. Tabuh Rah literally means pouring blood. Cockfighting is a bloody, gory duel between two roosters which continues till one of them is seriously injured or killed. The bloodshed of the cockfight is intended to Bhuta Bhucari, Kala Bhucari, and Durga Bhucari; the three forms of Goddess Durga to ward off the evil spirits. During this ritual, only men participate and women do not even watch.
Today cockfighting thrives in villages albeit discreetly. It is not confined to the temples. It is a bloody sport that the locals enjoy and spend a few hours of screaming, hooting and betting. The event is not advertised yet everyone knows the venue and time of it. There are usually about nine or ten matches of the roosters which carry on for three or four hours until sunset. To them, this is entertainment, a pastime, a display of their manhood.
“Stop Edi. Let’s go. I want to see it.” I was fully aware that I was going to witness a macabre experience but I wanted to understand the tradition and see what cockfighting really means to a Balinese. The car swerved its way into a narrow, rough trail till we came to an open field full of motorbikes. We had reached the venue.
The event was a ticketed one and Edi bought ours. As we were heading for the cockpit or the arena where the cocks fight, I could see a few groups where people were involved in a board game. With each move, money was placed on the board. The interested spectators watched quietly.
The arena was filling up with people and cane baskets with roosters lined the borders of the cockpit. For some reason, it reminded me of theatre. Before every theatre performance, the restless actors walk to and fro backstage. One can feel their fervor which is otherwise missing during rehearsals. They wait anxiously for the auditorium to fill up before the curtain is finally raised and they can perform on stage. The air reverberated with the sound of the angry roosters. I could feel their restlessness. Once the arena would fill, it would be their time to perform.
Just before the fight, the collectives of mates sit down together and in hushed tones, everyone decides on the bets at stake. The bets are even money. The owner of the winning rooster takes the bet and also the lost rooster. It makes for the feast that the winner has at night. Bets are also placed between members of the audience and settled as soon as the fight gets over.
Cockfighting is a game taken seriously. The roosters are tended to carefully and fed on a specific diet of maize and red pepper. They are trained not to get distracted by unusual noise. By the age of three, the rooster is ready to fight. In an arena, the duel between the roosters is fair. Two of the same weight are picked up and inspected thoroughly. Once the two roosters are decided, an expert spur affixer ties the spurs or tajis around the leg of a rooster with string. These tajis or single blades of about four or five inches are so sharp that a jab of it can rip the opponent apart.
After the spurs have been tied, the cocks are placed on the ground in the middle of the ring. They are teased around which instigates their inherent aggressive nature before they are let loose. This is the moment of the duel and the one which everyone waits for. I watched in horror as the two birds flew and attacked each other. The men screamed and shouted and bets were placed through gestures and numbers. It barely took a few seconds when the red rooster kicked the black rooster and his spur sliced the chest.
The crowds cheered in ecstasy. The owner of the winning rooster picked him up and walked around the cockpit with pride. After that day, the rooster would retire. In cockfighting, every rooster can enter a fight just once in his lifetime.
The black cock flapped for a few seconds before it went silent. It was hard to fathom that something that was alive a few seconds ago, lay dead close by. How tragic! For a while after that, I had a sickening feeling, as if I had contributed to this ghastly sport by being a spectator. I took pictures of it but refrain from putting them up on the post because they are too graphic.
“Why don’t the authorities take drastic steps and ban these fights, Edi? That was horrible.” I asked once we continued on our way. I was still shaken by the experience. “The cockfight is not only about ritual and tradition, but it is also an indication of power, pride and wealth” he replied. “It is the laying of one’s public self, one’s masculinity, in front of the world. The cocks signify much more than mere entertainment. Don’t judge Ma’am. It’s our culture.”
If given an opportunity would you have stopped and witnessed a cockfighting as I did or would you have kept going ahead in your journey? What do you think of the cockfighting as a ritual in Bali? Tell me more in the comments below.
This post is a part of #MyFriendAlexa challenge. It’s an endeavor to bring interesting stories, places, food and places to the readers. I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with blogchatter.