Temple awakenings

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“Temple awakenings”

Experiences of joyful and colorful festivities in Bali

“Temple. What does it mean to you?

Sacred temple. Does it have any significance to you?

Sacred temple for ritual and prayer. How do you relate to it?”

Before reading my story, I invite you to take a deep breath, and to think about the last time you spend your precious time in a sacred temple for ritual and prayer. For asking a question. For simply being still and connecting yourself to the larger whole. To the entirety of life. To the pain and the struggles. To the hope and the beauty. When was the last time you made a prayer for something inside or outside of you? For something bigger than you? And for the amazingness that is you? When was the last time you connected yourself to this wonderful temple that is you – your mind, your body, your soul, and thanked it for its beauty? If it has been longer than a day now, I advice you to do it now. Do it now. Do it here and now. There is always time for gratitude, and that’s why I write you this story.

Ever since I have arrived in Bali, I have been in awe of the beauty and dedication that the Balinese devotees put into ceremony. Every day, I am a witness of their prayers, their offerings, and of their colorful decoration and clothing. Even though most Indonesians are Muslims, Bali is highly populated with Balinese Hindus who – simply put – pray to obtain balance and harmony between the two opposing forces of dharma (good) and adharma (bad). As many Balinese believe, the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are all manifestations of one and the same supreme spirit Sanghyang Widhi. Balinese Hinduism is strongly influenced by animism and naturalism, where the power of spirits houses in all objects and elements of life. Balinese believe in reincarnation of the spirit, the partition of the spirit from the body is a process that is not an end in itself, but merely a continuation of cycles. The key to balance in life is obtained through a harmonious relationship between the spirits, other human beings and the nature that surrounds them.

Short after my arrival, the most important festival, Galungan, was being held on the island. This is a celebration of the triumph of dharma over adharma. According to tradition, the spirits of the dead descend from heaven, to return ten days later on Kuningan. In between these two dates, the streets of Ubud were flooded with enthusiastic schoolchildren performing Barong dances to the sound of large gongs. In Bali, there are temples everywhere. Every family has its own temple. Every village has several temples. And every community has several larger temples. Everywhere I go and look, I see temples. Beautifully and brightly decorated temples. Places of worship. Moments of the divine. On the festivity of Kuningan, I woke up at 5am, hearing loud music coming out of the speakers of the houses that surrounded my guesthouse in Pemuteran (a village in the North-West of Bali). Walking up to my neighbour’s house (and kindly being allowed to come in and take pictures), I saw the men and women beautifully dressed up in their colorful sarongs, while bringing offers to their home temples. After that, they went to the village temple to bring more offerings. They concluded their temple trip in the large temple of Pura Pulaki, the Monkey Temple, where they would receive the blessings to then return back to their homes.

A normal day in the life of an average Balinese Hindu involves a lot of preparation time for making their offering baskets, or ‘canang sari’. Three times daily, I observe them putting flowers, rice and fruits into specially made holders of palm leaves and dispersing these around their temple compounds. Next to my room and in front of every entrance and every temple, I am finding flowers lying down and incense burning. Through these rituals, they are giving back what has been given to them. Their sharing is not based upon fear, but on gratitude to the richness of life. Offering appeases the spirits and brings prosperity and good health to the family. It is a duty and an honour at the same time, and in Balinese perspective a very natural and almost logical thing to maintain a good relationship between people and spirits.

Time and time again, I am amazed and touched by the laughter and joy of the Balinese, especially during ceremony. In between their moments of devotion, I witness them talking, laughing and simply spending time with each other in community. The children are running around, the monkeys or dogs are trying to feed themselves of the offered food, and the atmosphere is happy and light. The pedanda (Balinese High Priest) keeps saying prayers and performing rituals. And some of the women continue singing while musicians are playing on their Kempul gongs and gamelans.

Yesterday, I was blessed to go to the Tirta Empul Temple near Ubud. In this holy water temple built at 926, a bubbling spring gives out fresh water through small fountains in which the devotees will bathe to cleanse and purify themselves.

It became one of the most wonderful experiences that I’ve had in Bali. While bathing myself in the fresh and cool waters of the holy spring, feeling the sun burning on my skin, connecting myself to the prayers that wanted to be heard and expressed through me and seeing the people smiling around me, I could only feel grateful for being alive.

And then there was this wonderful older woman who completely blew me away with her presence and movements. When the women started bringing their offerings in the temple next to the spring, she all of a sudden started dancing, fully owning her own sacred space. And by doing that, allowing all of us – witnesses – to enter that space of devotion with her. I bow to her. And by bowing to her, I bow to life. Because she is life. She brings life. She has brought life and continues bringing it. She showed me again that life is who she is – who I am – who you are. Through devotion, it is so much easier for me to feel connected to life, which is death, which is life. Oh yes, I bow to life. And to dance – which is life, of course..