Balinese Galungan

A distant bird sings a slow, repetitive gok gok gok, a rhythmic sound, like a percussion of coconut shells or a forest gamelon band: it gently seeps into my consciousness. Further away, waves break on the fringing reef. Above, a giant black kite reaches for the clouds. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon and the gentle breeze lifts the kite sky high and ruffles the lush greenery in the garden below. But all this lazy Sunday tranquility is deceptive: the Balinese are busy and preoccupied as they prepare for Galungan. The anticipation and excitement is palpable and infectious. The topic comes up in almost every conversation. Some are eager, some are already tired from making offerings, but all are involved as the days count down from Sunday to next Wednesday, July 24th, Galungan day.

Galungan is one of the most important days of the Balinese calendars. It is the day when the spirits of dead ancestors descend to their former family homes. They must be welcomed and entertained with beautiful decorations, offerings, feasting and prayers. These ancestor spirits stay for a week, and leave on Kuningan day, which occurs on August 3rd this year. Galungan always occurs on the Wednesday of the 11th week in the Pawukan Calendar, the Balinese 210 day calendar that governs most anniversaries, auspicious days and religious events. It is possible for two Galungan events to fall within the same year, though in the 40 years I’ve been visiting Bali, this will be my first experience of Galungan.

Everyone has a role to play in the preparations. I’ve been watching teenage lads and young men cart huge bamboo poles around on motorbikes, dragging them down lanes and through markets. These green bamboo poles are then bent into shape and decorated to make the Penjor. During Galungan, Penjor frame the entrance to a village, a house or driveway, or form a colonnade along the streets. They begin to appear on Monday July 22. The task of creating a penjor is given to men and their sons, and each one I’ve met is very proud of their creation. Each penjor is unique but made using the same basic ingredients. The bamboo pole is arched at the top, representing Gunung Agung ( Bali’s sacred mountain), the body represents a river flowing from the mountains to the sea, and along its route are the products of the harvest tied to the pole: at the foot of the pole is a temporary shrine. Unlike the artificial tinsel and baubles of Christmas which make an annual appearance and then are stashed away, a penjor is made annually and consists of local, natural materials.

Penjor seen at 6.30 am on walk to traditional market.

The celebrations start on the Monday ( Penyajaan) as women prepare coloured rice cakes or jaja which are used as offerings. At this morning’s traditional market, Pasar Sindhu, rows and rows of jaja were available for those busy women who don’t have time to make their own. On the Tuesday, called Penamphan, pigs are slaughtered to make the traditional feast lawar, a spicy ground meat dish eaten on the morning of Galungan. I spoke to a friend this morning, Ida Bagus, who was looking forward to making the lawar, having already prepared the marinade. The making of lawar is also a male duty. In contrast, I had an interesting chat with Ketut, an amusing young woman in her 40s who runs a kitchenware shop in the market. She was complaining about men taking credit for their Penjor and Lawar, while the women make small canang sari containers for a weeks ahead of Galugnan, along with hundreds of rice cake offerings and other festive foods, only to spend each day cleaning up, while the men lie about relaxing on Galungan day, eating and drinking rice wine.

Attaching rice husks to the Penjor

Galungan celebrates the creation of the universe, the victory of good, Dharma, against evil, Adharma. It s a time for prayer, family get togethers, and offerings. On the day following Galungan, families will visit other friends and families in villages across Bali and the celebrating will continue. It’s a sweet and precious time for the Balinese, but then, most days are. There’ll be more ceremonies to discover next week, if not every day after that.

I have borrowed extensively from Bali Sekala and Niskala, Essays on religion, Ritual and Art. Fred B Eiseman, Jr. 1990, Tuttle Publishing.

Would you like more of Bali in your daily life? For the next three months I’ll be documenting aspects of Balinese life, at instagram@morgan.francesca

 

Sunset Kecak Dance. Uluwatu, Bali

The first time I attended a Balinese Kecak Dance was in 1979. We travelled through darkness in a bemo, a basic van with side seats in the back, to a village some distance from Ubud. We passed through dense jungle and small lamp lit villages along the way: at that time, electric lighting was limited, intermittent and unreliable in Bali. Darkness held more mystery then and the Kecak fire dance, always held at night, was more exotic and entrancing. That performance was raw and primitive, leaving an impression of sound, fire, and primordial noise. We sat in a dusty circle around the men and I recall the black and white checked sarongs, the glowing honey coloured skin of the men, and the loud repetitive harsh chanting, as well as the central role played by Hanuman, the monkey.

Recently, almost 40 years later, we attended another Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple on sunset. The fabulous setting added drama to the story. The amphitheatre and stage, a large arena bordered by Balinese carved entrances and dense Bougainvillea, sits on the edge of the Bukit Peninsula, alongside the sacred temple of Uluwatu. The audience wear ceremonial purple sarongs or orange sashes in keeping with the dress requirements of this sacred park. Just after sunset, the show begins.

The dance commences.

The Kecak dance and drama, ( pronounced kechuck ) was developed in the 1930s. While relatively new, it draws on the ancient traditions and legends of the Ramayana. Since its creation, it has been performed primarily by men. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece is performed by a circle of between 75 and 150 men chanting “cak cak” and other rhythmic and forest noises while moving their hands and arms. There is no accompanying music. One could compare the sound to beatboxing. In the drama, the loyal monkey, Hanuman, helps Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Other Ramayana characters include Sita, Garuda, Holy Man, Twalen, Laksmana, Trijata and servants.

Sita and Rama

In the modern version, Hanoman steals the show. His initial monkey-like scratching eventually brings roars of laughter when he resorts to scratching his crutch. After Hanoman escapes the ring of fire and the story comes to a close, he reappears as a naughty but loveable dramatic character, an acrobatic comedian who taunts and teases the audience. At one point, an intrusive camera waving tourist gets in his way. Hanoman grabs him, turns him around and attempts to pull his shorts down. The crowd laps it up. Then Hanoman leaps into the audience and takes a seat, grabs the glasses from a nearby tourist and places them on his head. This modern Hanoman has learnt a few tricks from the real naughty monkeys that inhabit the Uluwatu park. The crowd roars with delight and the children are entranced.

Hanoman in ring of fire.

It was worth seeing the Kecak dance again. Despite the crowds and chaos of ticket buying, I can highly recommend this show.

Holy Man enters.
Photo opportunities.The Two Hanomans.

 

Balinese Memukur. Water Purification Ceremony by the Sea

The sound of gamelan moves closer, an exotic percussion that is repetitive and hypnotic, as we wake from our afternoon slumber and follow the procession down to the sea. Another Balinese ceremony is about to take place.

White dressing for the last funeral stage, Memukur. Sanur, Bali.

The Balinese will often tell you that they won’t be around for a few days as they have a ceremony to attend. Religious and family ceremonies are an important part of the fabric of Balinese life. Hindu ritual and observance is strictly upheld, despite the massive level of tourism in southern Bali. Balinese often return to their family village in the country for these events: they are always in touch with the ever shifting Hindu calendar. I’m forever asking questions, trying to fathom the significance of each new ceremony that I come across.

Gamelan orchestra, Sanur.

Memukur is a traditional Balinese ceremony for the passed away spirit. The purpose of this ceremony is to purify the spirit to send it off into reincarnation. It must be purified by water so it may return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation. According to tradition, the deceased returns to human life in the form of the next born family member after these rituals. White is the colour worn during Memukur, with bright sashes and golden sarongs for the women, and white shirts and traditional dark sarongs for the men. The carefully tied udeng is worn as a hat on these occasions.

Ceremonial dress, men wearing the udeng.

The assembled group wait patiently for the priest to arrive, who performs the water purification ceremony. This is not a sad occasion yet the gathered are quiet and respectful. Some of the younger boys in the gamelan band joke quietly together: young women occasionally glance at their mobile phones.

Waiting, waiting.

A collective sigh can be heard as the elderly priest arrives in a black car and slowly moves to the raised platform to perform the purification rites.

The purification ritual begins. Sanur beach, Bali

The gamelan orchestra begins again, with increasing percussion from gongs and hammered xylophones and background wind instruments.

Gamelan orchestra, Bali
Gamelan, sanur beach, memukur ceremony

The Balinese don’t mind foreigners witnessing these ceremonies. Some points of etiquette need to be observed.

  • Do not walk in front of people when they are praying.
  • Do not use flash or point your camera at the priest’s face.
  • Never sit higher than the priest, the offerings and/or people praying.
  • During cremation ceremonies, never get in the way of attendees. Stand at a respectable distance, somewhere along the sides or in the background.
  • The bikini clad and shirtless should stay well away.

    It’s not unusual for the assembled to be happy at this final stage of a funeral process.

Indian Waves. Varkala Beach, Kerala

At Varkala in Kerala, India, the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea, bringing sweet, fresh air from distant lands. No land lies between this beach and the east coast of Africa.

The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India
The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India

Indian families come to Varkala’s Papanasam beach on the weekends and tentatively tip toe into the water’s edge: youths play ball games on the sand, as they do all over the world.

Sunset at Varkala beach.
Sunset at Varkala beach.

We retreat to the shade of a nearby restaurant and consider the menu. Perhaps a Kingfisher beer or a large pot of tea, or, depending on their licence, a beer served in a large teapot!

Old Hippy by the arabian Sea.
Mr Tranquillo by the Arabian Sea.

On a nominated day in the month of Karkidakam (mid July to August), thousands of people gather at the beach to make ritual offerings to the departed. These offerings are placed on banana leaves and carried out to sea by the waves. It is believed that the souls of dead ancestors attain ‘moksha’ or eternal release when ‘Vavu Bali’ offerings are made.

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Sunset over the Arabian Sea at Varkala, Kerala, India

A psychedelic Ganesha enjoys a day at the beach, pumping out Indian sound waves at a deafening volume, and providing that festive Indian touch.

Ganesha by the sea
Ganesha by the sea

Beautiful girls enjoy the waves, but rarely enter the sea.

Varkala girls by the sea
Varkala girls by the sea

Waves is the topic set by Ailsa this week at Where’s My Backpack.  Ailsa goes for a traditional New Year’s Day swim in the ice-cold waters of the Irish Sea. I’m staying on the edge, here with these Indian girls, and may take up wearing a silk sari too.

Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India
Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India

Early Bird in Sanur

The Early bird in Sanur witnesses graceful sarong clad women perform the Balinese daily Hindu ritual of Canang Sari. A delicate hand places the remaining frangipani blossom on the woven offering and the incense stick is lit.

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Daily Press photographic challenge this week is Early Bird.

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/early-bird/”>Early Bird</a>

The Morning of the World, Sanur,Bali

Morning is the best time to go walking, jalan- jalan, in Sanur, Bali. Walking along the beach front is a lovely ritual and one best done before the sun rises and the heat becomes too fierce. The pathway meanders for about five kilometres, with long stretches of deep shade provided by large Pohon trees. Along the way, picturesque Jukin are parked on the sand, colourful traditional Balinese outrigger canoes used for fishing or tourist jaunts; sunny sandy sections are lined with white beach chairs and umbrellas, beckoning those who are partial to frying, and shady beach restaurants, morning yoga schools and art markets begin business for the day. The large crunchy fallen leaves of the Pohon are swept away for another day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are lucky, Gunung Agung, Bali’s sacred mountain, may pop out of the low cloud on the horizon to greet you or the white cliffs of Nusa Penida will glow like silver in the morning sun. More rarely, Lombok’s 3276 metre high volcano, Gunung Rinjiani, will appear from across the Lombok Straight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaking in Sanur and walking this stretch of coast, I feel blessed to be back in the “Morning of the day”, especially as I watch the women carefully arrange their early morning offerings, Canang Sari, on small alters, Palinggih or in the larger Puri, district temples.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA nod and a Selamat Pagi or Good Morning to all the locals at this early hour makes the day special. Although most of the locals know rudimentary English, I prefer to use my very basic Indonesian where and when I can. A buongiorno goes a long way in Italy and so does a selamat pagi here in Indonesia. At 8 am, you will meet uniformed security guards of large hotel compounds, beach sweepers and sand rakers, and some of the omnipresent women, Judy, Anna and Norma, trying to make a few rupiah from their tiny beach shop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt this time of the year, April, things are very quiet in Sanur. The hotels are half empty and many beach warungs are closed or busy renovating for the season ahead. Some new hotels are being built on the main drag, vulgar looking concrete monoliths designed for those tourists who need to feel insulated from the local environment and its people. At the same time, some overcapitalised international establishments along the beach front have been closed now for some years and the jungle is returning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of the locals worry that the Europeans have been hit by the GFC and their numbers will continue to dwindle this year, affecting the local Balinese economy. Australians, of course, visit at all times of the year, being only a 6 hour flight away from Melbourne or less from Perth and other cities. The Australian accent is recognisable in any Balinese district, though not as prevalent in the Sanur district as say, Kuta/Legian/Semiyak, a district I no longer visit due to its over commercialisation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven after 36 years of visiting, Bali still entrances me. This island is Hindu and its culture is alive and well, despite a century of tourism. It is important to keep this in mind when visiting, through appropriate dress and behaviour, and by supporting the local people through the choices we make as tourists. Be mindful where your tourist dollar or euro is going.

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Look to this day,
for it is life, the very breath of life.
In its brief course lie
all the realities of your existence;
the bliss of growth,
the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is only a dream,
and tomorrow is but a vision.
But today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow
a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
(Ancient Sanskrit)

 

 

Travel Theme: Laughter

The theme, laughter, has been chosen this week in response to the tragic and barbaric acts in France.  Ailsa, in her excellent post,  Laughter as a Political Act, sums it up this way,

If you can hold a harbinger of terror up to ridicule, if you can mock those who seek to oppress, if you can laugh at the ugliest of human behaviours, conventions, beliefs and traits, you diminish their power to terrorize, control and censor.

The little stone carvings below can be found in Bali, especially around remote villages near Ubud, and are used to scare away demons. While not images of hilarity, they are quite funny. I include them here in response to Ailsa’s chosen theme, the embracing of laughter.

Je Suis Charlie


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