12 May 2010 | Serangan, Bali, Indonesia
One of the fortunate things about being in Bali for so long is getting to know the local people. The people of Serangan have become friends and we, honorary locals. With our friends coming to see us we wanted to share some of the local culture we have been able to experience, something that's not touristy, that we are not expected to hand over money for. Luckily for us our friends visit coincided with the Galungan festival, one of the biggest and most important in the Balinese calendar. We had already been invited to attend temple by the Suka family who graciously extended the invitation to include our friends.
Galungan means 'when the Dharma (good) is winning' and the festival again revolves around good and evil. We had already seen the preparation underway for the festival for the past few weeks, decorations being put up, food being prepared and plenty of pigs being slaughtered for the feast the day before Galungan. The Jakarta Post reported that approximately 283,000 pigs would be killed, that's a lot of pork! We had seen evidence of this on our drive to Canggu with pigs trussed up in woven bamboo cages and groups of men on the side of the road dissecting a fresh carcass. It is also a very spiritual time where families must make many offerings to their ancestors who descend on their former homes during this period. The smell of incense fills the air more so than usual. As the festival neared everything slowly shut down as the Balinese returned to their villages, it was bizarre to walk into the street on the day of Galungan and find no traffic and limited businesses open.
As we would be going to a local village temple we had to ensure that we were dressed appropriately so we trekked off to a local shop which had remained open and purchased some sarongs (or kamben), I bought myself a 'kerbaya' as we have been attending the temple of several occasions and it is always a struggle to find a kerbaya to fit, I don't have the boobs for Mama Nina's and her daughters are all so tiny! Made Suka came to pick us up and we enjoyed a beer at Agus Restaurant while Jay checked on the Makani Kai. We walked to the Suka's family home and were welcomed with open arms, Mama Nina soon took control of the situation, taking the sarongs from our hands and racing around to find kerbaya's to fit. With the help of her daughter Nina she soon had all the girls dressed and ready for temple complete with frangipani behind the ear. Made Suka had been equally as busy on the other side of the room with the boys. Gathering the offerings we left the house and joined the throng of people walking to temple, a group of white faces in a sea of brown. As always the locals have a bit of a laugh at our expense but seem genuinely pleased that we are respectful and have taken an interest in their customs.
The whole night is surreal, the fluorescent lights hung in the trees cast an eerie glow over the brightly dressed faithful. We are invited to join the Suka's in prayer and as we kneel I can't help but feel like a fraud as I glance sideways at them to ape their movements. There are 8 steps involved in the Balinese way of praying.
1. 'Asana & Pranayama' - This is where they light the incense and prepare themselves to pray in a harmonious state. The women kneel and the men sit cross legged, the 'kamben' are wound so tightly around the women that even if they wanted to there is no other way to sit!
2. 'Karashadana' - The incense smoke which is rising to make a connection with the gods is gathered in the hands and swept across the face. This in effect links the person with their gods.
3. 'Atmatatwa' - The hands are opened and empty as the person prays to connect the soul to the gods.
4. 'Sryanamastuti' - A frangipani is held in the fingertips recognising the supreme god Sanghyang Widi Wasa who is symbolised by the daily rising of the sun.
5. 'Tri-murti' - Recognising Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa, the gods of creation, preservation and destruction by holding coloured flowers up in the fingertips.
6. 'Samidaya' - Three or more flowers held up to symbolise Sanghyang Widi Wasa, the trinity of Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa and all of the other lesser gods.
7. 'Shanti' - A closing prayer with open hands, seeking inner peace, peace between people and world peace. This part of the prayer is finished with a smile to recognise the happiness of the peace.
8. 'Nunus Tirta' - The priest sprinkles holy water over the person. The right hand in the cupped left is then held up and filled with holy water three times for drinking then three times to wash the head and face. A final handful of water is followed by grains of rice which are pressed to the forehead, the temples and the throat with the final few eaten and sprinkled onto the head.
We all managed to get through this ritual without embarrassing ourselves although Gemma did look like a drowned rat having thrown copious amounts of water over her head. We left the prayer area and moved into a large courtyard which served as the venue for the dancing. We followed Made Suka to a spot and sat down only to jump up quickly again to cries of 'Semut! Semut!' as Suka and I were bitten by ants, we had made the mistake of sitting on an ants nest. The locals surrounding us laughed at our impromptu 'ant dance' and we made our way to another spot this time checking the ground before taking a seat. It was a real family affair with children running around everywhere, teenage girls texting their friends and women catching up on all the gossip. Photographs were welcomed and so we wandered around taking photos, everyone wanted to have a chat and we generally felt welcome.
It wasn't long before the dancing started, it was the Barong Dance which we have seen several times, the age old fight between good and evil. The Barong and Rangda fought it out as we had seen before on several occasions but this time it ended differently. As the dance came to an end several girls dressed in white collapsed on some stairs to the left of us and were promptly picked up and whisked into the inner sanctum of the temple amidst much noise from the crowd. Behind us a wailing began and we watched as another woman dropped to the ground, she too was quickly picked up and carried into the inner sanctum of the temple. Disconcertingly people began dropping like flies and here is the reason why, the evil spirits were entering and taking over their bodies. Men began to run into the square and grabbing wooden keri's (swordlike weapons) were trying to kill themselves. These keri's are said to be poisoned and Rangda had cast a spell that made them all want to kill themselves but the Barong cast a spell to make their bodies resistant to the keri's. The Barong of course won and Rangda ran away but the Balinese believe that people can get seriously hurt in a Barong dance as sometimes Rangda's spell is too strong. Luckily good triumphed and everyone left happy. Those that were taken into the temple were sprinkled with holy water to rid them of the evil spirits. A little freaked out by the events that had unfolded, Mama Nina and her family came to us to make sure that we were alright before we were caught up in the wave of people leaving the temple and found our way to the street outside.