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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôm 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 Рmy 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 ¬Ļ) 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.¬†

¬Ļ 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.

Jimbaran Bay, Bali. A Fishing Community Wakes

6 AM. Jimbaran Bay. Small pyres of leaf litter and debris burn, smoke mixing with heat haze, as women languidly rake. A tourist walks briskly along the water’s edge while local men sit alone and quietly gaze at the horizon.¬†Old wooden boat dollies stand along the sand, sentries lying in wait for boats to arrive. Loyal dogs sense their masters’ return. I also sit on the sand and enjoy this window of tranquility and inertia. Sleep still lingers.

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The first Jukung arrives after a long night’s fishing

A small jukung, a brightly painted Balinese fishing boat, arrives at the water’s edge after a night fishing out from the bay. Although jukung may seem simple in the eyes of the foreign traveller, there is an underlying symbolism associated with these fishing boats: they are constructed following a strict set of religious guidelines.

“When a fisherman decides to build a new boat he must first carefully choose the tree that will be used for its timber. The Balinese prefer to use the wood from the indigenous Belalu or Camplung tree, which is light, strong and ideal for boat building. Such a tree can only be cut down on an auspicious date in accordance to the ancient Balinese calendar and a special day is also sought for construction to commence. All members of the local fishing community offer their carpentry skills to construct a new jukung and this social interaction is a vital element of the Balinese Hindu culture.”

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A few man gather and the trailer is rolled into place.

“The majority of jukung are built using a set of dimensions that are closely related to the owner‚Äôs personal body measurements. The Balinese strongly believe in harmonizing with the physical environment and spiritual world, thus human measurements are used in an effort to balance these invisible forces. Just like a human body, a jukung is not symmetrical. In fact, the bamboo floats that are attached to both sides and run from the bow to the stern are not even parallel. Yet this basic, but ingenious design gives the jukung a heightened degree of stability when out on the open seas.”

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More men arrive from distant spots along the beach. The energy builds.

“Once the jukung has been fully constructed and brightened up with a bold coat of paint, it then undergoes a complex blessing ceremony. Offerings of rice, flowers and fruit are presented to appease the Gods and the jukung is sprinkled with holy water by a priest before it is considered seaworthy. The jutting bow is decorated with an image of the mythical Gajah Mina (elephant fish) with its fierce bulging eyes to ward off evil. The spirit of Gajah Mina is also thought to bear the power of night vision and guide the jukung through all sorts of weather conditions”¬Ļ

jukung arrival, a community affair
When a jukung arrives, it’s a community affair

The men along the beach are roused into action: they move purposefully towards the boat. One man pulls the boat dolly into place while others gather alongside the bamboo side floats. The scene is now swarming with helpers: more men move towards the boat from distant points along the beach; the boat becomes a gravitational magnet. The fishing community have been waiting for this moment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The boat is hauled onto the wooden sand trailer: more men arrive and the boat is pushed to a higher point along the shore.

Working together is better than working alone. Community is alive and well in Bali.
Working together is better than working alone. Community is alive and well in Bali.

The morning heat haze lifts as the sun rises: the men become more animated through shared activity and camaraderie.  Pagi pagi ( early morning ) turns into pagi (morning). Another boat is about to turn up. There will be many more.

Selimat pagi , good morning to you dear reader from beautiful Bali.

¬Ļ¬†http://www.tanahlot.net/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1171:jukung-as

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. 

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)

 

 

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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