Explaining the unexplainable is definitely not an easy job. As a traveller from Europe you get to see and experience Asia in many different ways: local food, nature, people – it’s all very unique from what we’re used to in the West.
Bali never ceases to surprise one, no matter how many times or how long you’ve been here.
It’s something in the air, the smell, and the light that’s different, it’s the waves, the lokals and eventually, the Gods.
Spirits come visit the island more often than you might think. After having the privilege of attending an important Balinese ceremony that one large family in Uluwatu area held in March, I believe spirits don’t even leave the island, they’re always present and among us.
This family’s ancestors were caretakers of Uluwatu temple for many generations and some family members still are up to this date, honouring important celebrations at Uluwatu or representing this area of Bukit during other ceremonies at Besakih (mother temple in Bali) or praying rituals that take place along the island.
Days before the ceremony took place, the family cleaned and decorated their temple, prepared offerings in different shapes and sizes and prayed as one family member, Wayan, was to be invested as priest.
She was chosen by the Gods to be a channel for when they come down to the mortals.
I’ve asked the locals how do they know when someone’s chosen and I was told is either the spirit comes when you’re asleep with such a great force that’s “5 times stronger” than a wipeout, literally waking you up to receive a message, or your body gets sick but doctors can’t find anything wrong with you.
These signs from Gods are eventually confirmed by a balian (traditional Balinese healer) and furthermore the investment ceremony for the chosen one takes place.
Small ceremonies that would purify Wayan’s body and space but also bless her path took place at home, at the temple between the two rivers (oldest temple in Bukit few tourists know about even if it’s so close to Padang Padang) and at last, the large ceremony at family’s temple, called Pura brahmana dalem biluk or Pura kapetak.
Ceremony started early in the morning and priests prayed at both temples.
In Uluwatu, whenever you see at the entrance of a house a basket full of offerings, an open coconut and a cracked egg, there’s a temple inside and most likely a ceremony took place.
All dressed up in white kebaya (white shirt) and kamben (sarong) Balinese people listen to the priest chanting or just chat while kids run joyfully from one corner of the temple to another. Of course, there’s not only preparation and prayers, the Gods eat and so does everybody else: an open catering buffet is waiting outside the temple with traditional delicious food, and after lunch there’s rest time.
During afternoon gamelan (the traditional musicians) come and slowly the temple fills in while women and girls perform a traditional dance for the Gods.
At some point everything settles and magic happens: everybody sits down and prays among predominant incense smell while rice and coloured flower petals are being spread when priests’ bell rings occasionally stop from praying.
Gods are invited to join.
Each region of Bali honours its ancestors in different ways, in Uluwatu they don’t use costumes and masks, the spirits come through human bodies. Which did happen, the chosen ones hosted the Gods within their bodies. The moment spirits come down is impressive, pictures show better the indescribable.
A dance together with the Gods came next and if a God invites you to dance, then you’re one lucky person, you’re being seen.
Barong dance that followed is among the many art forms closely associated with spirituality in Bali and shows the classic battle of God vs. Evil.
In Balinese mythology, Barong is the King of the Spirits, a prominent character taking the form of a lion (hence the lion shaped masks).
Opposing good is the mythical creature called Rangda, the Queen of Demons. Rangda leads an army of evil witches against the leader of the forces of God.
As a mirror of life, the Barong dance portrays the two characters involved in a never-ending battle, Barong emerging to counteract Rangda’s use of magic to control the world.
During the ceremony chosen men and women simulate a fight while gamelan music plays a more intense rhythm, and upon the appearance of Barong the warriors turn their kris and stab themselves in different parts of the body – neck, chest, eyes, heart, etc.
They get into a trance state and if their body and mind are not pure and the spirit is not strong enough within the body, there’s a high chance of stabbing themselves, which more than once had happened.
As Barong defeats Rangda, the balance in nature is restored. The spirits leave, tranced men and women are reincarnated by the sprinkle of holy water.
Ceremony is considered finished, and everyone goes peacefully back to their homes.
Gods have been praised, everything is in balance, and they’re protected.
Needless to say, witnessing such intense ceremonies is impactful for an outsider and makes you wonder if we have any idea of what actually makes this world go round.
Probably not but it’s pure energy, you can feel it. Bali with its air, smell, light, its people, now it all makes sense.
Independently of the tourists that come, go, or stay some more trying to make Bali a home, this small island has a powerful energy, that of its lokals, their customs and prayers and it must be respected.
Cause one thing’s for sure: Bali will always be of its people.
This article is written by Cristina.