Mataram. A war between the faithful of two religions is never a good thing — except in Lingsar village in West Lombok district, where an annual tradition serves to promote rather than quash interfaith harmony.
For the war that takes place here is no more than a food fight, and is called Perang Topat (Ketupat War), after the steamed rice cakes that participants hurl at one another.
The warring factions are the village’s Hindu and Muslim communities, who face off during the full moon of the seventh month of the ancient Sasak calender, which this year fell on Sunday. The battleground was the Lingsar temple complex, which uniquely houses the Hindu Gaduh temple and the Kemaliq Mosque side by side.
Following a series of processions and elaborate rituals, capped with a mass prayer observed by both Hindus and Muslims alike, the fun begins.
Appointed village youths climb the temple walls and prepare to unleash piles of ketupat that have been soaked in holy water and blessed with Hindu and Muslim prayers, which residents then rush to collect and bombard the “enemy” with.
The battle lasts no more than half an hour, to the accompaniment of cheers from the crowd and the participants.
The tradition, which has been observed for generations going back at least 200 years, is practiced every year to strengthen ties between the members of the two religions.
Suparman Taufik, an elder from the Kemaliq Mosque, said the mock battle celebrated the warrior traditions of always doing good and forgiving past grudges once the fighting was over.
Local historian Jalaludin Arzaki said that while the tradition pitted Hindu and Muslim communities against each other, its origins were not religious. It was adapted from earlier rituals of ancestor worship and kindness.
He said the roots of the tradition went back 350 years, when the pagan Sasak ruler of the area built Kemaliq as a holy place open only to those of high virtue.
The Gaduh Temple was built later by officials of the expanding Balinese kingdom, and in 1759 the Lingsar temple complex was formalized.
“Both buildings brought together Sasak and Balinese traditions, and the people here have since lived together in harmony,” Jalaludin said.
He added that while the Perang Topat was influenced by both the Hindu and Muslim communities in Lingsar village, the tradition had a heavy Sasak influence and was practiced by Sasak communities elsewhere in the province as well.
“At the heart of it all, the Perang Topat is an agrarian folk tradition through which the people express their hope for a successful harvest and good fortune in their lives,” he said.
But the celebration has now also become a highlight of the tourist agenda in the district.
Robijono Rastijanto, head of the West Lombok Culture and Tourism Office, said the tradition was unique in that it uses the theme of war to foster peaceful coexistence.
“It’s always something that the locals look forward to every year, and it’s a potent symbol of peace for both the Hindu and Muslim communities,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Perang Topat differs from regular food fights in that the ammunition doesn’t go to waste.
After the event, all the ketupat used is collected once again and used as an organic fertilizer in rice paddies and vegetable gardens across the village.