This week is the lead up to Galungan, one of the most important festivals in the Balinese calendar. Part of the preparation is Sugian, 3 days of ceremony, to cleanse the environment externally and the individual internally. My friends Joe and Rosie kindly offered to take me to their home village and allowed me to join in the festivities. We set off on the 2-hour drive north to Karangasem, stopping en route at Klung Kung to their ancestor’s temple. We wait patiently outside as the group before us pray, a constant flow of people from all over Bali visit here. Of course the glances of curiosity came but all with warm smiles attached.
We enter and there are offerings everywhere. Rosie disappears to lay ours on the alter. Joe and I sit and wait for proceedings to commence. With the incense in front of me, I bathe my hands 3 times in the smoke as previously briefed. Words of encouragement from Rosie, “don’t worry that you don’t know how to pray in Sanskrit. You pray whatever you like even in English, God will understand.” Yes, he will Rosie. Yes, he will. Then as the Pemangku (Balinese Priest) sounds the mantra I pray five times with maybe 500 Balinese Hindus to God. Tuhan!
Right let’s see what I remember. Number 1; I raise my hands in prayer above my head with my thumbs resting on my forehead, no flower I remind myself. This is to welcome God. The mantra stops. Number 2; red flower between the fingers, again raise my hands in prayer. This time to welcome the Sun to witness our prayers. Next any flower. We pray for all the people in the temple. I’m on a roll, any flower again. This time we pray for ourselves. Nomor Lima (5), no flower. We give thanks and don’t forget to say sorry whispers Rosie. (I’m on it) My first Odalan done!
Next a Pemangku comes around with the holy water, ok let me get this straight I tell my mind. He splashes cool water which in the hot sun is quite refreshing over my head three times, then into my cupped hands. Splash, drink. Splash, drink. Splash, drink. (so far so good) Then splash, wipe your head. Right now for the rice. Collect some rice from the basket offered by the Pemangku. Press pieces on your forehead for good thoughts and mind (tick). 2nd into your neck/chest, good heart and actions (tick). Eat 3 pieces of rice (not the broken one’s Joe reminds me) for good words. The remains of the rice in your hands goes over head for final blessing (tick, tick, tick) and we’re done. Now we collect our offering to eat with the family later. Not bad I think, managed to remember all the instructions and not offend anyone.
We pick up some sate from the vendors outside the temple and drove a quick 10 mins to the beach where we had our feast, coconuts and all. And cheap! Over 20 skewers 3 portions of rice and sambal. $6. After enjoying the beautiful ocean view we head north to Joe’s village. We are welcomed by Ketut his father and invited into the Ibu Pura (Mother Temple) and what a fan fare there is. Much smaller than the ancestor’s temple in Klung Kung but such a hive of activity, the whole stuffed suckling pig or two passes by and a cohort of Rejang dancers follow. Again there are flowers and offerings everywhere and then its prayer time! I’m ready. Ok no flower, red flower, any flower, any flower, no flower. Splash Splash Splash. Splash Drink! Splash Drink! Splash Drink! Splash Head! Rice, head, chest, eat. Ooh I’m good!! Totally a pro. We stay to watch the beautiful girls of the village perform a traditional Balinese dance which is simply mesmerizing. No time to dilly dally, we still have to hit the family temple and the village temple down the hill.
We arrive at Joe’s house after a small walk through the woods. There in the clearing is a very modest home, I’ve been here before but it somehow feels smaller with the grandeur of the day and everybody looks so charming in their temple attire. Ketut offers me a sweet that is made from brown sugar wrapped in a banana leaf (I won’t lie I was rather apprehensive, but I ate it). Sweet like a jelly or date consistency but larger, not bad. Joe ushers me into the small yet lovely family temple and off we go again. No mantra to guide us this time and Joe is in charge of the holy water. Little Komang (5) and Delon (9) seem rather amused with my praying, I can’t possibly imagine why, I know what I’m doing.
So where is Ketut (Joe’s Mum also called Ketut) and Handrawan (Joe’s other nephew)? Oh down in the village temple because Handrawan is staying there for 2 weeks? Umm ok, off we go. A short drive down the hill and into the town it looks like we missed one hell of a party! Offerings and odd bamboo structures littered the streets. The main road was closed off and it’s a bit like a ghost town. We park up and head down to find Ketut and Handrawan. It turns out once every 14 years there is a ceremony where all the priests in Karangasem converge on this village and the teenagers from the surrounding villages come to spend 2 weeks learning about all things ceremony (and there is a LOT to learn) Girls and boys can come and they must be dressed in a special Gringsing Sarong which historically was died red with the blood of sacrificed humans who could no longer work or were sick. Rosie tells me, “we can’t do that anymore because it’s not allowed” (ya think!). Now these special sarongs are died with the help of the root of a local plant. It’s a little lord of the flies with all the young boys walking around in this special uniform and a large dagger tucked into their back as is custom.
We head into the temple and it’s a double whammy. First we pray under the guidance of the Pemangku with the other people and to my surprise its three splashes on the head at the end here. (Each temple varies across regions) Lucky I’m adaptable. Then we wander around to another “alter” just the family. Here, Handrawan assumes the responsibility of the holy water much to the satisfaction of the family as I discover later, having completed this rite of passage that occurs only every 14 years Handrawan now on the way to being a Pemangku, therefore is higher in stature then his family. He seems impressed with my prayer style and takes my hand to his forehead in a sign of respect. Cute!!!
The sun is starting to set and Miss Rosie is missing her baby girl so we say our goodbyes and head back to Kerobokan and am in a state of indulgent thankfulness at this amazing day that I have shared with such kind and beautiful souls. Cannot wait for Galungan. Stay Tuned.
Yours in faith,
The Unlikley Pilgrim