This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Endlessly Festive Bali

Rice paddies north of Ubud

This is a blog to celebrate Balinese traditional culture and the almost endless round of highly colourful festivals taking place almost every day of the year in one place or another. Bali is renowned as the island of a thousand temples, but the real count is much closer to 20,000 and before we were half-way around our circuit of the highlands, we had inadvertently arrived at at least four ceremonies, each unique, yet all resonating with the music and color of Balinese traditional worship, which is a mix of Hinduistic polytheism and frank animistic pantheism in which all natural phenomena are seen as manifestations of the spiritual realm.

At the end of this blog, I've included a Wikipedia passage on Balinese religion and spirituality, so you can get a good picture of it.

Having scored a rental car, we headed north out of Ubud towards Kintamani the town on the rim of the big old volcanic crater of Gunumg Batur which has a dormant volcano lying in the centre of a huge crater of a previous older eruption, leaving a lake and mountain valley in its wake.

The bones back in NZ beside a small goddess penis carving from South East Asia

Before we had made more than a few kilometers (actually all the distances between towns are only about 30 kms) I stopped to photograph the rice paddies (above) and we were besieged by people trying to sell us batiks and carvings. They nearly pushed me down the stairs and over into the paddies before I shoved my way back up on my crutches and made it back to the car.

But one of the men had a little carving made from a cows shin bone which took me right back to 1973 because it was a spitting image of the one we had bought then, which had been shattered a couple of years later when a young woman deranged by LSD had wrecked it in one of her bad moments, leaving us bereft of our little heirloom. So I decided I had to have it but he insisted I bought the companion carving as well and wanted 150,000, reduced to 120,000, which seemed like a night's stay although it's not very much in real terms.

The whole situation became utterly demented, with the three men and one woman screeching at us that we HAD to buy all their stuff, literally pushing it in through the jeep windows (two whole wood carvings for $1) and blocking the vehicle for making an exit. Because they were being so demented and persistent, in the end I simply threw out 100,000 (about $11.50 US) for the bones to get the transaction over with based on one large denomination note I could find in the back seat, jammed the car into gear, pushed the other carvings out the window and had to make a racing start to get away. I'll still never know whether he actually carved them or whether 100,000 was a reasonable price (all the other things we bought bargained for the same 2/3 figure), but the statues did finally make it back to New Zealand after a long saga of disinfecting them in Bali and them boiling them in a cauldron in Sydney to make sure the Australian and New Zealand biosecurity didn't seize them on the spot.


The road then began to climb steeply and we eventually reached the lip of Gunung Batur volcano complex at Batur village, where were were charged 10,000 for an entrance fee to the region.

Two panoramas of the Gunung Batur from different positions on the rim

A reverse panorama of the surrounding country heading down to the low lands.

Having photographed the sweeping panoramas of the volcano, its lake and the surrounding country we drove on north to Kintamani where we visited Pura Ulun the hilltop temple for the district replete with Hindu deities and water gardens sporting nature sculptures of white herons. To gain entry we had to hire a sarong for me starting at 20,000 but reduced to about 8,000 when that was all I had in hand.

A series of images of Pura Ulun at Kintamani

A guardian spirit and the mother-father shrine

Two panoramas of the temple compound

Kitch Hindu-nature gardens and one hired sarong

Is this infernal cheek, or a case of spontaneous Balinese sacred mask dancing?

Intriguingly, the temple contained a pagoda filled with exclusively Chinese symbolism of urns and dragons and Mandarin or Cantonese kanji. You will see in the later discussion that this is a historical fusion of the Balinese Hindu-animism sourced originally from South Indian migrations to South East Asia and Java, with similar Taoist currents from Chinese immigrants - the two having close affinities in terms of nature and spirit worship.
One pagoda was exclusively devoted to Sino-Balinese worship (see below)

We then drove back along the rim of the volcano taking the mountainous little left fork leading to the islands largest and 'mother temple' of Besakih, actually a compound of somewhere between 25 and 45 individual temples (counts differ). But before we could get more than a few kilometres, we were again stopped in our tracks, this time by a commanding woman who flagged us to a stop and then proceeded to cover the vehicle in those little offerings of woven flax leaves filled with flowers, chanting blessings over us giving us a rice dappled head spot and an offering basket each for Besakih, asking only a donation but expressing umbrage when this was any less than 50,000 which we demurely replied to with 10,000 and the 20,000 just to keep the peace.

A series of images and panoramas of the entry procession with offerings, drums and gongs

The a couple of kilometres down the road we came upon this consecration ceremony in the local temple of a village we were passing through, just as the celebrants formed a line amid tattoos of drumming and Balinese gongs entering the temple compound with offerings and shrine sedans carried by bearers fore and aft.

The villagers found us interesting and were polite towards our interest, partly from Balinese good manners and partly because it was a ceremony in a small village not visited by tourists, so we were able to watch some of the proceedings with the elders placing sacred knives in the temple shrines, bringing forth the sedan shrines and giving multitudinous offerings of food, flowers and incense.

Two images of the ceremony

Left: Bringing forward the sedan shrine.
Right: An elder placing the sacred (kris?) knife in the shrine.

Before we could get another kilometre or two we arrived at another similar ceremony at an even smaller village, where we waited and photographed their entry and were invited in and left one of our offerings.

The entry procession for the second festival ceremony we came to.

We then drove on to Besakih, where we paid a fee of 35,000 at the road intersection and then walked up to the temple complex which ascends apparently forever up the slopes of Gunung Agung the highest and most active volcano in Bali, which recently erupted sending a lava flow which threatened to swamp Besakih passing only metres away form the temple complex, leading to the Balinese considering it a miracle.

The main temple at Besakih

Panorama of the main courtyard.

The complex was full of Balinese from various places bringing offerings and performing ceremonies in various of the many shrines in the complex, all dressed in their best formal attire, their faces daubed with naturalistic rice flakes in the place of the red ochre god spot traditional in India.

Note the forehead god spots made of rice flakes

A ceremony attended by many women (here distributing blessings)

Our nature offerings

Serious undertakings to give offerings

As we left I noticed to one side of the road what looked like a country fair and driving in discovered a giant celebration of offerings which was obviously the source of many of the larger groups of celebrants bringing offering to the complex above.

There was a huge building surrounded by women containing an indescribable number of little temple mountain nature offerings and to one side of this, a very long table where the men seemed to be bargaining with one another to trade, purchase, or exchange other kinds of offerings with gusto and riveting attention.

Untold women's offerings

The men bargaining for their offerings

From there, we drove down from the mountains in a series of stages, starting with remote highland cultivation, then through sumptuous rice paddies, and finally arriving at a steep escarpment where the hill country gave way to the alluvial plains, with a panoramic view of the lowlands all the way out to the southern ocean. Of course in Balinese cosmology, the mountain tops are good and spiritually high and pure, while the oceans are the abysmal depths, hinting of the underworld and death.

Highland agriculture overlooked by Gulung Agung

A sumptuous rice paddy valley

View over the final descent to the lowlands looking out to the southern ocean

Finally, as we drove back to Ubud through Klungkung (also called Semarapura) we came upon our fourth celebration to consecrate a new temple in the place of the old one, which was just winding up with the departure of the elders.

The last ceremony we saw

Balinese religion

Unlike most of Muslim-majority Indonesia, about 93.18% of Bali's population adheres to Balinese Hinduism, formed as a combination of existing local beliefs and Hindu influences from mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia. Minority religions include Islam (4.79%), Christianity (1.38%), and Buddhism (0.64%). These figures do not include immigrants from other parts of Indonesia.

When Islam surpassed Hinduism in Java (16th century), Bali became a refuge for many Hindus. Balinese Hinduism is an amalgam in which gods and demigods are worshiped together with Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, indigenous agricultural deities and sacred places. Religion as it is practiced in Bali is a composite belief system that embraces not only theology, philosophy, and mythology, but ancestor worship, animism and magic. It pervades nearly every aspect of traditional life. Caste is observed, though less strictly than in India. With an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines, Bali is known as the "Island of a Thousand Puras", or "Island of the Gods".

Balinese Hinduism has roots in Indian Hinduism and in Buddhism, and adopted the animistic traditions of the indigenous people. This influence strengthened the belief that the gods and goddesses are present in all things. Every element of nature, therefore, possesses its own power, which reflects the power of the gods. A rock, tree, dagger, or woven cloth is a potential home for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil. Balinese Hinduism is deeply interwoven with art and ritual. Ritualizing states of self-control are a notable feature of religious expression among the people, who for this reason have become famous for their graceful and decorous behavior.

Apart from the majority of Balinese Hindus, there also exist Chinese immigrants whose traditions have melded with that of the locals. As a result, these Sino-Balinese not only embrace their original religion, which is a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but also find a way to harmonise it with the local traditions. Hence, it is not uncommon to find local Sino-Balinese during the local temple's odalan. Moreover, Balinese Hindu priests are invited to perform rites alongside a Chinese priest in the event of the death of a Sino-Balinese. Nevertheless, the Sino-Balinese claim to embrace Buddhism for administrative purposes, such as their Identity Cards.

No comments:

Post a Comment