Attending ceremonies at some of Bali’s many temples was something we both remembered vividly from our 1987 trip, so we were eager to show the kids and our cousins what these were like.
The desk clerk at our hotel checked the Balinese calendar of holy days and festivals to see what would be going on during our stay. We were lucky to be there during the full moon, when many temples hold their “birthday” celebrations. Batuan Temple, near Ubud, is an important temple that dates from 1022 AD and has produced generations of priests. Just an hour away by car from our hotel, it sounded like a good place to see the colorful temple rites unfold, so we hired a guide and a car to take us.
Before we entered the temple, we ducked into a mini-market next door for a quick ice cream snack. While eating our cones out front, we watched as a stream of women walked by, balancing towers of offerings on their heads.
These are presented to the temple gods to enjoy, but once the gods have consumed the “essence” of the goodies, they are taken back home and eaten! The gods aren’t left high and dry, however: small offerings of flowers and rice grains arranged on woven palm-leaf plates or figured aluminum bowls remain at the temple.
Balinese people are happy to welcome tourists to temple ceremonies, but one must dress appropriately in sarong and sash.
Other rules for temple visits apply as well:
There was no fixed time for the ceremonies; throughout the day, the priests blessed groups of people and their offerings as they arrived. We watched folks entering the temple, greeting friends and visiting, or simply sitting quietly.
Our guide explained some of the significance of what we were seeing and the meaning of the temple architecture.
But Balinese religious beliefs, which are a rich stew of Hinduism, animism, and ancient folk traditions, with a good dollop of just-in-case practices thrown in, are almost impenetrable to foreigners (especially to us long-lapsed People of the Book). For the most part we just enjoyed the sights, sounds and fragrances of the unfolding ceremony.
Soon after we entered, the central courtyard was filled with several hundred seated worshipers, and an old man began a ritual to bless a series of glass containers with holy water. We watched as people alternately sat, knelt, and murmured responses.
A priest moved along the table laden with offerings, sprinkling water and blessing them. Then a team of priests, clad in white, roved through the lines of people, shaking holy water and pouring some into cupped hands, which people then used to splash their faces and heads.
In just a few minutes, the ritual was over. Smiling broadly, people began to leave the courtyard, with the women rebalancing their offerings to take home for dinner.
As they passed, we got a closer look at the rice grains stuck onto everyone’s forehead in honor of the all-important rice goddess. Later that night, the people would return to the temple for hours of dancing, more eating, and ritual cockfights.
Next: Where do all these beautiful baskets come from? More importantly,
how do we BUY some?!?