Bali Report #3

Sunday July 9, 2000

Yesterday evening we all finally got our kebaya from the tailors. Now that we all had complete temple-going outfits we thought we should take them out for a spin. We wandered up into Ubud, thinking to go to the cremation site and see if they have finished building the cremation platforms. We got into the town center and Sheri fell into conversation with a guy who was trying to sell us his service as a taxi driver. He told her that there was a ceremony going on a couple of villages over, and at Sheri's instigation we hopped into his car. The ceremony was a general one for blessing the trees or nature, we aren't quite clear on that yet.

The village was very small, only a few stores and village ceremony pavilions at a T-intersection, then fading off into private homes. The intersection was full of the standard ceremonial decorations, tall penjor (bamboo poles with long hanging tassles) and tables full of the pyramids of fruit and flowers that the matrons of the village bring to be blessed. Not many people around, and it wasn't clear when the ceremony would start. A young man introduced himself to us in English, and told us we should feel free to wait in one of the pavilions. He is a local teacher in the high school and was helping with the singing part of the ceremony. We told him about learning a song in Kawi, and it turned out to be one of the standards that is sung at most ceremonies. In the course of the evening we heard it sung several times by the village women.

Before too long trucks brought in the gamelan and a high priest, and the pace picked up. The high priest sat in his own special pavilion ringing a bell and blessing holy water, the gamelan set up and started playing, we all sat in the middle of the T-intersection facing north towards the holy mountain of Bali, behind us came in various groups of dancers: small girls doing a welcome dance, young men doing a stately warrior dance with lances,various portly masked figures dancing stories from the Ramayana. Villagers brought in various foods to be blessed, including a live goose and live chick (but perhaps not for long), and an old woman with a heavily decorating pig head on a platter on her head. She was ducking and weaving around while carrying this thing on her head in a manner that we latter found out was the official way you are supposed to dance with offerings on your head around the temple - it seems that the young women are not quite so adept at this. Meanwhile, everybody is sitting around talking, there is a shadow puppet performance happening towards the back, but only for the gods so there is no screen, just the puppeteer going through the story and no one really watching, and then every now and again the women sound up our Kawitan Warga Sari song that we are beginning to recognize so well. After several hours of this the ceremony drew to a close: we all prayed towards the mountain, hands holding flowers clasped in front of our foreheads, then children went through the crowd sprinkling each person with holy water, then filling our cupped hands 3 times with holy water to drink. Afterwards, more children came through with holy rice: a dab in your mouth, a dab on your forehead, and the rest sprinkled on your hair and you're done.

We got back around midnight, a little bit astonished at what had happened, but rather happy.

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