Another Day Unfolds in Bali.

There is a calm urgency about my mornings in Bali. I’m keen to arrive at the beach a little before 6 am, drawn by the dawn but also by the anticipation of catching a sighting of Mt Agung on the horizon. When Guning Agung is in hiding, I admit I’m disappointed, and move along with my day a little more quickly.

Gunung Agung

I head along the beach pathway in the direction of the cake lady’s stall, situated on the brick wall at Pantai Sindhu. You have to be early to buy her freshly made Dadar Gulung. All her special cakes have been snapped up by 7am. She is round and sweet, just like her cakes and greets me with Selamat Datang if I’ve been away for a while. If it’s her day off or if she has ceremony, I wander down the road to the Sindhu market to buy cakes there, along with a hand of bananas or a few mangoes. Indonesian cakes are light and sweet, and incorporate three main ingredients- sticky rice, coconut and coconut palm sugar, and come in an endless array of shapes, colours and textures. They are boiled, steamed, baked or fried, often enclosing a secret ooze of bean or palm syrup and are small enough to wolf down in two bites. I’m very fond of green cakes, a colour extracted from the Pandanus leaf and striped jelly cakes made from agar-agar.

Today’s surprise package from a new lady at Pasar Sindhu. A triangular parcel, made from banana leaf, filled with a sweet mixture of black long grain sticky rice, boiled jaja, shredded fresh coconut and a generous drizzle of coconut palm sugar syrup. I did not share this wonderful concoction with anyone.

Yesterday’s Pasar Sindhu was alive and more frantic than usual. By 6 am, motorbikes and trucks had filled the small carpark entrance. Something was going on and I had to find out. The rows were crowded with vendors of cakes, ceremonial nic nacs, chicken stalls and flowers: I could sense excitement and frenzy, that buzz that permeates markets before a big festivity, akin to the mad rush in Melbourne markets before Easter or Christmas. I sought out my friend Ketut: she runs a little kitchen ware stall at Pasar Sindhu and is a goldmine of information. Today, she informed me, was Tumpek Wayang. 

Ketut’s shop, Sindhu Market.
Ceremonial Baskets, Sindhu Market

When Ketut mentioned Wayang, or puppets, I almost ran home to my books and internet, keen to find out more about the day and the ceremonies that would follow. Along the footpath and business doorways of Jalan Danau Tamblingan, I almost tripped over the elabourate displays of Canang Sari. Today’s floral offerings were completely different, much bigger than the usual little baskets, with rectangular bedding of palm leaves and another jagged edged leaf, as well as flowers. Each business had the same leafy arrangement- another mystery to uncode.

Tumpek Wayang, occurring every six months, is a festival when puppeteers perform purification rites to purify their bodies both physically and mentally. It is also a day of the performing arts, when offerings may be made to musical instruments and dance equipment. On this day, puppeteers (Dalang) throughout the island will present offerings to their shadow puppets (wayang kulit) with the intention of honouring the Lord Iswara. The puppets are taken out of their cases to be blessed by their owners and placed as if an actual performance is being held. This ceremony is staged at the different temples, and is called Sapuh Leger. In short, this is the day of puppeters and the puppets themselves.

I have profound memories of the puppeteers and Balinese shadow plays, Wayang Kulit, of old Bali. On our first trip to Bali in 1978, travelling then with two young children, aged 8 and 7, we set out at dusk on a horse and cart into the countryside to see this famous shadow play. The night was dark: no street lighting or electric lighting of any kind lit the streets or houses back then. The village was lit by kerosene lamps. On that occasion, we were the only Westerners in the village. Fortunately we were met by the local schoolteacher. He spoke English and kindly offered us some tea and green cakes – my love of Indonesian cakes began on that day. The Wayang Kulit stage was raised and broad, covered in a long stretched white sheet and back-lit by a flickering lamp. The exotic sounds of the gamelan orchestra tinkled through the night, as hundreds of villagers sat below the stage in the dark and watched in awe. We took our place in the audience as the puppets performed the Ramayana, a show that lasts for 6 hours or more, as we soon found out. At some point we realised that we needed to exit gracefully: carrying our sleepy children, we managed to find a horse and cart to take us back to our palm thatched losmen.

Today’s Tumpek Wayang celebrations were in full swing by mid afternoon.  As the amplified voice of the puppet master, exaggerated and theatrical, emanated loudly from the nearby temple, I wondered whether the voice I heard was that of a real working Dalang or a recording: there aren’t so many working Dalangs in Bali these days, ( in 1990 there were around 2-300 Dalangs but only 30 working Dalangs ¹) not because of any demise in tradition, but because the role of Dalang is a demanding one, requiring skill in story telling, improvisation, comedy, linguistic skill, religion, singing, music, orchestra direction, puppet making as well as stamina. 

As food stalls began to line the streets, groups slowly gathered, dressed in white and gold, the colours of purity, and walked towards the temple for the ceremony, due to start at 4.30 pm.

Most days go like this in Bali. After 40 years of visiting, I’m still trying to fathom the mysteries and joys of Balinese Hinduism. Sunrise to sunset and the time in between may bring an afternoon ceremony, a seaside cremation, or a purification ritual. Read the signs and keep your senses alert to gongs, bells and gamelan, then ask the locals about the day’s events. If you wish to join in, or visit any temple or ceremony, you’ll need the right outfit- a top with sleeves, a traditional printed cotton sarong and a scarf tied around the waist. While Balinese women tend to wear a lace kabaya, it is acceptable for westerners to wear any other sleeved shirt or T-shirt. Balinese men go for the double sarong on ceremonial days and look extremely dashing. Western men need only learn to tie their sarong in the appropriate way, worn over shorts. 

¹ For further reading on Balinese ceremony and culture, see Bali, Sekala &Niskala, Essays on Religion, Ritual and Art. Fred B. Eiseman, Jr. Tuttle Publishing 1990. A remarkable book and a must for lovers of Balinese culture.

Bali, Offerings and Squirrels

Canang Sari offerings are well-known symbols of Bali, but alongside these daily Hindu offerings to the Gods, other older traditions remain in place. Ancestor worship and animist beliefs are sometimes separate from the cosmos of Hinduism, or are incorporated into it. Offerings of cigarettes, biscuits, coffee and alcohol are commonly seen on these shrines, things you might need in the afterlife. These offerings may also be strategically placed under trees to appease the mischievous underground and evil tree spirits who may play havoc with your business and lives. I’ve also seen some Balinese sprinkle cheap alcohol around the base of large trees to keep these naughty spirits at bay.

Early morning offering under a shady Banyan tree

While capturing the above offering, a cute looking squirrel arrived to take a sip of coffee. Perhaps a re-incarnation of Kak or Nini (grandfather and grandmother in Balinese).

Later that morning, the little tray had been engulfed by canang sari, the floral offerings bought to this spot by the young women who work here or live nearby.

Canang Sari, Rosetta’s restaurant, Sindhu Beach, Bali
Canang sari- by the sea.

“The plantain squirreloriental squirrel or tricoloured squirrel, is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand in a wide range of habitats: forests, mangroves, parks, gardens, and agricultural areas. Fruit farmers consider them to be pests. Its diet consists mostly of leaves and fruits, but it also eats insects and bird eggs. It is known to break open twigs that contain ant larvae to eat them. It can eat fruits much bigger than itself, such as mangoes, jackfruit or coconuts. It is very quick and agile in trees, able to jump a few metres between trees, and rarely wanders on the ground.”

Also partial to a sip of coffee.

 

Portraits from the Other Bali. Priest.

My first Balinese portrait happened by accident. But then, that’s not unusual: you stumble upon someone quite by chance and strike up a conversation in the most unusual places, you catch someone’s eye and find intrigue. I was wandering down Jalan Pantai Sindhu, returning from the traditional pasar (market), aimlessly drifting along this familiar route to the beach. Jalan- Jalan, as the Indonesians call it, just walking. Sitting on a stool outside the doorway of a leather repair shop sat a man dressed in pure white: he was engrossed in conversation with a thin and rather oppressed looking younger man who was seated inside behind a sewing machine. I’m not sure why I stopped. Maybe I was drawn in by his striking appearance, his huge mass of jet black hair neatly arranged on the nape of his neck, or the many bracelets and heavy gem stone rings on his left hand. When closer I noticed the layer of old tattooing along his arms, thick indigo island tatts, barely visible under his long-sleeved crisp white shirt.

We chatted for some time about Bali in the past and then moved on to gemstones and bit into each other’s turquoise rings just to check that the stones were real. He was a Balinese priest, a Pemangku, and had just spent three days conducting ceremonies over at Kuta. After formal introductions, hand shaking and a photo, I went on my way, leaving him to further conduct his community duties. I could have happily stayed all day, there was so much more to learn. I doubt that I will run across him again.

Pemanku, Sindu, Bali

Priests and Prieshood

‘There are two kinds of priests in Bali, the Pedanda, or high priest, and the Pemangku, or temple priest. Only a Brahman can become a pedanda; pemangku are recruited from the lower castes. There are about 20 times more pemangku than pedanda. Priests don’t hold political office and their economic power is limited, yet they’re the most respected members of Balinese society, their place the highest a mortal can achieve.

Balinese priests don’t stand between a worshipper and god; he’s there to make sure a person’s prayers are properly directed so the desired results may be achieved. Before a family moves into a new house or opens a losmen, a priest is asked to give god’s blessing. Priests purify people after an accident or illness, avert curses, and bring people out of spells and trances.

Every temple has its own pemangku, a lay priest who maintains the temple and officiates at everyday rituals. Even the most indigent Balinese will make a great effort to hire the services of a pemangku, especially when it comes to making sure dead loved ones are properly ushered into the spiritual world.’¹

 Extracts on Balinese Priesthood taken from  

http://www.balix.com/travel/guide/chapters/religion/religion_priest.html

 

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.

Balinese Ritual and Ceremony. Flowers and Farewell

Frangipani blossoms drop, perfumed molting from gnarled old trees, delicate offspring in contrast to their parent. I can’t pass by without scooping one or two from the ground. Their perfume is strong but fleeting.

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Canang Sari pile up on temple ledges

Bali is awash with other more colourful flowers as the daily ritual of canang sari (pronounced chanang) forms the central practice of Hinduism here. The practice is simultaneously private and public, a gracious display of personal spirituality taking place in open aired temples, at large intricately carved district Pura or smaller roadside temples along the way. Canang Sari, hand-made baskets filled with flowers and other oddities, are also offered at the entrances to homes and shops, at the edge of the tide, on the rails of a boat, at the base of large trees, at significant intersections along roads, at compass points in a house, at the highest point on ledges of temples as well as the eastern and western ledges. I feel compelled to photograph them all. Talk to the Balinese and they will be happy to explain the significance of each offering as well as the highlights of their temple calendar. Ritual is all-encompassing and omnipresent.

Balinese woman making rirual cremeony at the local Puri ir temple.
Balinese women making ritual offerings at the local Pura or temple.

Last week, the Balinese spent two days preparing for Galungan,¹ the celebration of good over evil, which is the highlight of the Hindu Calendar. This involved one day of spiritual cleansing at the local temple- again, awash with more flowers, followed by a day of personal cleansing. The streets and temples around Sanur are spotless in preparation for Galungan which takes place on September 7 and 8 this year. Many local women are busy plaiting and constructing elaborate decorations made from bleached coconut palm leaves for the coming days. Sadly I will miss it all- it’s time to say Selamat Tinggal to my other island home. Farewell once again to the beautiful Balinese people and their inviting spirituality: farewell to the gnarled old frangipani trees and their daily blessings.

Ritual offerings
Ritual offerings

Each photo above can be viewed separately. Click and open.

¹ Galungan is a Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of dharma over adharma. It marks the time when the  ancestral spirits visit the Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, when they return. The date is calculated according to the 210 day Balinese calendar.

Optimism, Ubud, Bali

Central to most religions is a sense of optimism, that through ritual and prayer, one can realize a better life, either in this world or the next.  DSCF5376-001

The Balinese people are Hindu and believe that the ultimate goal in life is nirvana, moksha, or samadhi. Prayer and ritual include the belief that liberation from samsara will end the cycle of rebirth, sorrow and suffering. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self. 

Forces of Nature- Gunung Agung

I am always mesmerised by Mount Agung in Bali: I can see why the Balinese revere this mountain. She rarely emerges from the clouds. Nusa Lembongan affords more opportunities to photograph her glory, especially if you walk to the high points in the centre of this small island, which lies off the south east coast of Bali. Many visitors are too busy charging around on motorbikes, seemingly oblivious to this powerful mountain.Mount Agung or Gunung Agung last erupted in 1963-1964 and is still active, with a large and very deep crater which occasionally belches smoke and ash. From a distance, the mountain appears to be perfectly conical, despite the existence of the large crater.

The eruption initially sent debris 10 km into the air and generating massive lava flows, devastated numerous villages, killing approximately 1500 people. Further flows caused by heavy rainfall after the eruption killed an additional 200, followed by a second eruption killing a further 200 inhabitants.

The lava flows missed the Mother Temple of Besakih. The saving of the temple is regarded by the Balinese people as miraculous and a signal from the gods that they wished to demonstrate their power but not destroy the monument the Balinese faithful had erected.

Gunung Agung taken from Nusa Lembongan
Gunung Agung taken from Nusa Lembongan

A response to the Daily Post’s challenge: Forces of Nature <a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/forces-of-nature/”>Forces of Nature</a>

Greeting the Dawn. Sunday, Bali

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6.30 AM Sanur Beach.
Dawn on Sunday and it’s all happening on Sanur Beach. There aren’t many tourists in sight- only Mr T and I, one western swimmer and a few expats walking their dogs along the beach promenade. But the place is packed and it’s wonderful to see. Sunday is the main holiday for Balinese and many family groups gather at the beach: some for traditional Hindu ceremonies, others to take a dip and a beach breakfast before the weather gets too hot. The beach is alive with activity as teams of cleaners sweep up leaves and rubbish, lone fishermen look for small fry to catch in nets, diving schools set up for the day as bemos deliver air tanks, and best of all, Gunung Agung pops out of the clouds and makes a majestic appearance. It was worth getting up early.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Tradition and Change in Ubud, Bali. Canang Sari.

Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guesthouse, ubud.

Morning Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guest house, Ubud.

Ubud, nestled in the lush hills of Bali, a two hour trip by car from the sea or Denpasar airport, is often referred to as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali.  Ubud is pronounced ‘oobood’ as in the same way as the ‘oo’ sounds in ‘good’, but not the ‘oo’ in ‘mood. Despite its frenetic commercial centre, tourist restaurant precincts and overcrowded shopping strips, including a Starbucks outlet, traditional Bali is not far away. Just walk away from the tourist traps, jalan jalan into the outlying areas, or visit the temples (respectfully dressed), hike in the rice paddies and rain forest, or employ a driver to journey into the lush hills for a day trip.  It is remarkable how resilient Balinese Hindu traditions are: they have survived years of foreign influx. I would suggest that some Balinese rituals have become more pronounced in the 35 years of my journeys around this remarkable island. The practice of Canang Sari is an example of this.

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Ubud offers the photographer a visual feast on every corner away from the commercial hub. Leaving the food porn to others, I often spend each day photographing morning floral offerings, the Canang Sari of Ubud.  The canang is a small palm-leaf basket used as a tray, consisting of two syllables ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose). Sari means essence. Balinese women in tiny alleyways and shops spend their spare time weaving these little baskets, not only for their own family offerings, but also to make a little spare cash. If the tourist business is slow, a little local trade on the side is important for the local economy, as well as providing a small supplement to these women who make very little.

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Canang Sari are offered to give thanks to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and thanks. They can be seen on Balinese temples (pura), on family or communal shrines, on the ground in front of shops, on pathways, and on the prows of boats (in Sanur).

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Some tourists barely see these little trays, and if they do, they disregard them or step on them, not knowing much about the work that each one entails. A little delving reveals that these daily ephemeral tributes consist of the following elements:

Peporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, tobacco and betel nuts. The material of peporosan symbolizes the Trimurti, the three major Gods in Hinduism. Shiva symbolized by lime, Vishnu symbolized by betel nut, and Brahma symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha Candra. Raka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction. Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God:

  • White-coloured flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara
  • Red-coloured flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma
  • Yellow-coloured flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadeva
  • Blue or green coloured flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Vishnu.

1-IMG_6086Then they become more personalised, and this is where the interest lies for tourists who wish to learn more about Balinese culture. Cigarettes, wrapped lollies, rice, food, incense sticks and all sorts of bits and bobs are added. As the morning opens up and the heat sets in, dogs and birds steal the rice, tourists unconsciously kick the offerings and by mid afternoon, they are swept up in a pile and burnt, as new baskets are prepared for the following day, and the cycle begins anew. Flower dealers trade at local markets early each morning, selling frangipani, hibiscus, marigold and other assorted leaves and flowers, as well as all the other ingredients required for making Canang Sari.

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On each visit to Bali, my fascination with Canang Sari is renewed. Beautiful art lies at your feet each morning. What could be more enchanting?  Courses are offered to visitors wishing to learn this traditional practice.

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