Throwing Ricecakes – Perang Topat
09 Nov 2015
When you want to witness a “fun war” firsthand, then head over to Indonesia within the last months of the year for the Perang Topat Festival. No, it’s not an oxymoron, we promise. Yes, war is never fun, but when it involves food throwing, then that’s another “art of war” altogether!
Perang Topat is all about the peaceful meeting of two cultures, namely the Hindus and the Muslims that have inhabited this island area of Lombok (just near the touristy island of Bali), for centuries. In the province of West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesians practice religious and cultural harmony and brotherhood. Depending on what side you’re basing it from, the festival takes place during the full moon of the 7th month of the traditional Sasak-Lombok calendar or the full moon of the 6th month of the Hindu-Bali calendar. For our Gregorian calendar viewpoint of understanding, that’s usually in the latter part of November or the early part of December of a given year.
Traditionally an agricultural fertility ceremony, Perang Topat has evolved into a full festival in which preparations take days prior to the actual full moon date. The event also symbolizes how the people give thanks to their gods for the bountiful harvest they had during that time and it’s also a way to celebrate another hopeful harvest in the next season. And the way they give thanks with the symbols they use are the elements that make this festival a fun tourist destination for local and foreign tourists alike.
The exact location where these preparations happen is within the Pura Lingsar temple complex found in Lingsar village in West Lombok. That the existence of this centuries-old temple is the ultimate symbol of unity serves as the primary reason why the festival takes place here. In this location, you can find the Hindu prayer house called Pura Gaduh and the ethnic Sasak Muslim house of ceremonies called Kemaliq. So you see, both Hindus and Muslims gather here to worship in their respective spiritual structures housed within this 17th century-built common place. Now if that’s not a great symbol of unity, I don’t know what is!
During the festivity, small villages within the area prepare their own topat or fist-sized sticky rice cakes that are wrapped in coconut leaves. “Perang” means war, and this is about the villagers throwing these topat goodies on each other. But before that, the respective villages parade their topat fare in specially decorated trays, and musical accompaniments are heard during the festive procession. The parade leads to the premises of the Pura Lingsar temple complex where the topat carriers distribute the wrapped goodies to people gathered in the area. Special rituals are held there to give thanks and to honor and commemorate the temple’s construction and existence. Part of the ritual also involves looking at the waru flowers which bloom and die on the same day. As soon as the first waru flower welts near the end of the day, that signals the highlight of the festival: the topat throwing.
The topat throwing is done in a fun way to signify brotherhood amidst cultural differences. The throwing takes place within the complex but of course there could be throwers who’ll miss the mark and have their food ammo land on unsuspecting onlookers. After about an hour of this cultural food fight, the leftovers are given to the people in the festivity and they take it home as a symbol to attract profit or bounty when they display it as a kind of offering in their stores or homes. Meanwhile, some bury the rest of the leftover topat as a symbol to give back to the earth, in the hopes of reaping another fruitful harvest in the next year.
Of course other activities happen all around the area during festivals like these. So prepare to feast on culinary delights, cultural crafts and inspiring art forms and events that will take place in this island. Happy throwing!
Written by: Olivia Cantor
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