Bali Report #2

Saturday July 8, 2000

Local ceremonies::

Each village has 3 temples (for Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu) and there tend to be ceremonies at least every couple of weeks. In Ubud there is a cremation ceremony going on, the first in about 4 years. Apparently the bodies are buried until an auspicious time for a cremation comes up plus a critical mass on bodies has accumulated, so that people can share in the expense for the ceremonies. Mary and Sheri went to the opening ceremonies on Friday in full kain, prayer belt and newly made kebaya and garnered much praise for their correct dress. Mary even had borrowed Zara's black lace kebaya, appropriate only for cremations. Monday has the final ceremony, and Mom and I are aiming to get our kebaya made in time for that one.

On Wednesday is the 6th month ceremony for the temple in our own village, which we of course want to catch. A couple of days ago I was the only one around the house, recovering from a bad cold, while everyone else was out of town on excursions. Dayu showed up in temple finery and asked me if I wanted to help make offerings to prepare for the ceremony. She lent me a lace kebaya and we joined the procession of village women walking slowly down to the temple (you can only walk slowly in this heat, with a tightly wrapped kain sticking to your sweaty legs.)

The temple consists of a series of 3 courtyards enclosed by heavy masonry walls. Outside the outermost courtyard, men were sitting on the grass cutting palm frond material and weaving openwork trays for the ceremony. We proceeded through the 3 courtyards: within each courtyard are various thatched, open pavilions where humans can sit, stone pedestals for offerings, and in the innermost (and of course most sacred) courtyard, a lotus seat (padmasana, I think) which is the symbolic presence of the god. Once in the inner temple compound we washed our hands with water, knelt down on the grass in front of the padmasana and stuck a stick of burning incense in front of each of us. I followed Dayu's lead in wafting the incense smoke to my head and body (similar to Japanese rituals where the incense smoke is thought to have purifying properties), then passing a large white flower through the incense smoke, cupping it between my praying hands at forehead level for a brief prayer, then sticking in my hair. The same ritual followed with 3 small pink flowers, which were then left as an offering on the ground. Thus purified, we could start helping make offerings.

The various pavilions in the innermost courtyard were full of women in full temple finery, ranging in age from I would guess late teens onward. Some were cutting palm fronds into various shapes, others taking these shapes and stitching them together with short lengths of hard twigs into various types of offerings. I was shown how to make 2, one a simple twist similar to the American AIDS ribbon shape and the other a rather elaborate design that involved stitching 8 separate pieces together into something like the shape of an hourglass with an open top, and then stitching that piece onto a sunflower shape that others had made before. They told me for the ceremony they would need 700 of the completed form. I think I made 4. The women spend a lot of their total time in life making offerings.

After 2 hours of this, my fingertips were hurting and I begged off more, also feeling that I needed to sleep off some more effects of my cold. As I was leaving the temple the sun was raking in over the rice fields and the world looked truly spectacular. I can see how people get rhapsodic about this place, once they get away from the increasingly severe motor traffic.

A bit earlier that day I had also finally visited the temples in the Monkey Forest. The forest itself is a beautiful, large glade with tall trees protecting you from the heat. The macaques are cute and small enough not to be too dangerous when they jump onto you and snatch away your food. I personally do not feed wild animals. At all. Anyway, the temple courtyard and appurtenances were similar to all other temples I had seen so far, but covered with scampering monkeys of all ages. What was really beautiful in the monkey forest was a sacred spring. Steps take you down into a small ravine filled with banyan trees. A stone bridge carved with dragons deposits you on the far side of the creek, in a small clearing completely ringed in by banyans, that create a natural vaulted space around you. Sunlight filters down through the trees.

The spring is a large rectangular well, enclosed within a stone railing decorated with sculptures of 2 snails and a monkey hold his rather large penis in his hand. Down within the well are a sculpture of the elephant god Ganesha and some other figures. Behind the well, the formal temple enclosure, exceedingly covered with moss. Down to the creek there are other very small enclosures containing stone figures that nature has adorned with lianas and various other plant life. Going back to the dragon bridge, I realized there was another set of steps down to the creek. They led me to a ledge where 2 large carved stone lizards looked down into the ravine, a tiny waterfall spouting out beneath them and falling into the water below. The interworkings of nature and art in this intimate space are truly spectacular.

We have also taken some singing lessons from a woman who instructs the village girls. She has taught us a song in the classical court language Kawi. We've gotten the basic notes and intonation down, now we have to work on making it slower, smoother and more graceful, which seems to be the general Balinese esthetic. Hard for a bunch of American women to do.

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