When our nanny, Jero, offered to take us to a temple ceremony in Ubud we had to say yes. I was curious to experience the ceremony, but I really wanted to wear the beautiful clothes that are required for entry. We were in for a treat!
Ceremony is the lifeblood of the Balinese culture. Bali families spend 1/3 to 1/2 of their time and money preparing for or attending ceremony.
Getting properly dressed
Bali women resemble royalty in their lacy kebayas and colorful sarongs. Kebayas are the jacket-like blouse that is usually made with a sheer material and embroidered with a floral pattern. They are custom made and fitted to each lady and they look elegant. Jero brought us a bag of traditional temple clothes to borrow. We excitedly sorted though the bag, but to avoid total embarrassment of putting the wrong thing on in the wrong place, we waited until she picked us up so she could dress us. Which she did. Thank goodness.
The kids looked especially cute. Somehow, wearing these clothes transformed G’s attitude of “I know I kicked you in the face earlier today, but let me help you in your cute outfit” towards Miss I. Life with a 4 & 2 year old…never boring.
We hopped on our motor scooter and took off. Sitting side saddle wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. It’s the way most Balinese women ride, but I had always assumed that it would be more uncomfortable and certainly more unstable.
I was wrong. It’s actually quite nice, as you can tell by the smile on my face.
It still made me nervous to see Miss I seemingly so unprotected and unbound. And totally comfortable.
Rules of the Temple
Foreigners can’t attend every ceremony. We visitors tend to stick our cameras and flashes into every moment to capture the essence of what we are experiencing, never mind the really spiritual thingy going on. I’m semi-guilty (I don’t use my flash). We were allowed to celebrate the annual anniversary of the Ubud temple. We could participate, provided we did not use a flash, had proper clothes, and were not menstruating. There is no bleeding or open wounds allowed in the temple.
Entering the temple
Hoards of women with perfect posture carry baskets and tall displays of fruit on their head as offerings for the temple. After the ceremony, the offerings go back home with them, but the spectacle is incredible to witness.
The division of labor is clear. Women prepare most of the offering and carry them into the temple. Men set up, clean and play music. It’s a community effort and they’ve been preparing for days. Celebrations last for days here, not hours.
Prior to entering the temple, we had to cleanse ourselves with a splash of water on our heads and hands.
As we shuffle through the gated passage into the temple the anxiety builds as to what we will see inside. Upon entering we were amazed at the abundance of large offerings, colorful decorations, and the energy surrounding us. It was a feast for every sense.
The array of colors, gold and beautiful carvings lured my eyes to focus on nothing and everything at once. The now familiar smell of incense is like instant relaxation. Offerings were being placed, ceremonial flags waved in the breeze and people took their seats.
My camera is not near good enough to capture it in real detail and real color, but it still provides me with memories. Dusk was settling and the colors of gold, red, blue and black were vivid.
We sat down on flat ornate concrete “pews”. The men were required to sit in a cross legged position while the women sit with folded knees (preferably) or knees off to one side. The temple is outside. Hindus sit on the designated concrete paths with their small offerings in front and a lit incense stick.
The bells ring as a signal that the ceremony is about to begin. On cue, Miss I lays her head down in an attempt for a nap. G is alert and paying attention to the little “whys?” of every action. And so am I. I’m like a 4 year old, asking Jero the why, the significance, of everything.
Bells were ringing as Jero set in front of us a small basket of flowers and hand made offerings for prayer. She then lit incense and stuck those in the ground in front of us. She showed us the movements we should do during prayer and what to take from our basket. When prayer started we followed Jero’s lead, first waving our hands over the incense and wiping our face with the pleasant, soft fragrance. We then picked a frangipani (plumeria) flower from the basket, held it between our two hands in praying position and lifted them above our heads thanking the gods for everything they had given us (at least that’s what I did).
We kissed our hands as we lowered them down, dropping the flower to the ground, as now it had been used. We repeated this two more times with different items of significance in the basket. We are yet unsure of the meaning of all the items but definitely felt the spiritual presence around us. My eyes threatened to tear up at the power of what I was experiencing, a community of humbled respect, reverence and connection.
After that, priests came around with small kettles of water and as we held out our arms, palms facing up, they showered us with small amounts of the water. We then cupped our hands, right over left, to receive water which we drank. We drank 3 times and on our fourth handful of water we washed our faces. A plateful of rice was held in front of us so we could take a small amount to place on our forehead and upper chest to signify we had completed prayer. Jero and Made had formed their rice into a neat little triangle, but we need a little more practice as ours was very scattered and barely hung on. This ended our prayer session as we stood up and made our way out of the temple so that the others who stood at the gates could get in and observe prayer and offering.
We listened to the men play music for a while and then left.
How do you end a ceremonial night?
With balloons and gelato, of course.
I grew up going to monotonous Catholic masses inside beautiful churches. Parishioners came dutifully every Sunday to pray, listen to the sermon, wearily repeat the prayers and songs and go home to enjoy their day of rest. Eventually, going to mass became a point of argument and resistance for me. I didn’t NOT want to go because I thought it was boring, in fact, I quite enjoyed singing and listening to the interpretation of the priest’s sermon. What became disheartening was seeing people on Sunday on their ‘best behavior’ one day a week, only to have 6 days of gossip, undercutting and other behaviors contradictory to the teachings. Priests, included.
I slowly faded away from Church and other organized religions, observing the same deviant behaviors and patterns in each.
This culture is different to me. What I enjoyed from the Hindu ceremony was the lack of a central ring leader, a priest, or messenger. Each person was there to purify their own soul and body with a direct connection to the spiritual world.
I enjoyed the silent reverence. I enjoyed getting dressed up. And I enjoyed discovering another layer of this culture that so encompassing.
And I will go to temple again, even just to dress up. I might even have my own kebaya made.