I was in the Land of Gods for a few days. I was blessed to be in this divine destination so rich in its natural splendour. The land is blessed with outstanding landscapes where mountains like Mt Agung, Mt Batur and others pop it head from within the vast stretches of volcanic terrain to overlook the surrounding area, where the lush green rice terraces preserves its age old tradition of subak irrigation, where the tropical garden proudly displays its dazzling blooms of orchids, where the land descends in the sea from every direction, where religion is an important part of life, where locals perform countless religious ceremonies, where artists practice the captivating traditional music and dance, where the skilfull artisans create extraordinary pieces of art, where the warm people welcome you with clasped palms called Sembah (similar to Namaste). Yes, I was on this enchanting island of Bali in wonderful Indonesia.
There are such varied places of interest in Bali that it can qualify to match the taste of every visitor. Beach activities to trekking, nature watching to exciting nightlife, religious monuments to cultural activities, you name it and you have it in Bali.
In my previous post, I had mentioned how this Balinese aroma gradually got infused into me. Now I was enjoying every moment of my stay in this island with growing expectation. Never did it failed to satisfy my increasing appetite. In my previous post, I have already introduced my reader to Candi Benters. Now going to places beyond Tanah Lot I had innumerable opportunity to see Candi Benters.
It was all around, on the roads, in the airport, near and within the temples, even in the religious structures adjoining the houses. I was excited to see these. Candi Bentars are split gateways, constructed in a way to maintain the perfect symmetry of the two halves. Although the purpose of these structures is not known to me they do have an ancient connection and evidently enhances the aesthetic feel of the surrounding.
Balinese people are highly religious. Most houses had their own adjoining temple area. Each temple hs their own Candi Benters. Temples in the Balinese language is called Pura and there are several types of Puras which are categorised on the basis of the spiritual and physical domain. The Puras are mostly designed as open-air places of worship. The temple premises is surrounded by boundary walls and has many shrines, pillars and pavilions within.
The layout of the Puras follows the traditional ‘Trimandalla’ concept where three zones are marked as per the religious order. The outer zone or the open area with the garden are used for religious dance performances and acts. It also serves as the open space for preparation of any religious rituals. The middle zone has several pavilions and pillars for music and other religious acts. The third and the most important zone is the where the Padmasana resides.
It is surrounded and is the highest and the holiest place within the temple compound. Padmasana is the towering lotus throne of the God Achintya, regarded as the combination of all Gods and also the highest of all Gods. This zone also has the Meru tower (which is a shrine with multi-tiered thatched roofs), a pavilion for Vedic chanting, religious offerings and for other important religious rites.
Now, why am I going into the details of the temple structures? Just because I thought that my readers must also have questions after seeing the images of the temple, which even though are Hindu temples but are completely different in every aspect. The Balinese Hinduism is much different from the Indian Hinduism, so I was astonished as well as surprised by the temple structures as well as the different religious ceremonies.
As we travelled with our lovely sexagenarian Balinese driver named Ketut Luntaj, we came to know a lot about Balinese culture and tradition. Although he was not so fluent in English he made us understand his points. While saying his name he explained the naming convention commonly used in Bali. Balinese do not use a family name but they rather have a naming pattern where the title comes first then the birth order name and then the personal name.
There is also a naming convention as per the caste system. Although the caste system is not prevalent these days the naming convention continues. Naming convention as per the birth order remains the same for men and women. The first born is called Wayan, Putu or Gede, the second as Made or Kadek, the third as Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth is Ketut. Any family having more than four children repeats the cycle as Wayan Balik (Wayan again). I guess my readers can now easily classify our driver’s name through the above nomenclature.
The first couple of days we travelled with Ketut and he affectionately showed us the beautiful places in Bali. On either side of the roads beside most of the houses, there were interesting walled compounds with Meru Towers. He said those were the family temples. Almost every family has their own family temple small or large beside their residence within a walled compound. The temples mostly have three compulsory shrines Kemulan, Pelinggih Ratu Ngurah, and Pelinggih Taksu. The Gods and the family ancestors are worshipped in these temples.
I was awed by every aspect of Bali which Ketut smilingly narrated. Then there was the Padmasana seen frequently on any turn or any corner of the roads. This is an empty throne on the top of a pillar wrapped in a ‘Poleng’ a black and white chequered cloth. It is considered as the manifestation of all Gods in one, also called Acintya. Prayers and offerings are made to this Padmasana shrine.
Offering in the form of flowers, fruits, bread, rice, cigarette, honey, incense and other items on a leaf plate is often seen everywhere on the road, shops, hotels, cars, and every possible place. These offerings are called Canang Sari. These are kept outside and sprinkled with holy water at least thrice a day before every meal. These seemed very intriguing and fascinating. The religious people of Bali dutifully perform their religious act daily.
As Ketut was taking us to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan he was highly excited seeing our excitement in knowing the new and seeing the exciting places. This is a famous Siwa temple located on the banks of Lake Bratan near the mountains of Bedugul. The large temple compound lies within the picturesque surrounding beside the calm lake by the dormant volcanic mountains. The layout of the of the temple is same as any Balinese temple.
Some ceremony was going on within the temple. A large number of devotees dressed in traditional attire entered the temple in a procession and gathered near the main shrine. Some of the devotees were also seen dressed in Barong attire. Baron is a ritualistic lion dance where performers wear lion-like masks to represent the fight of good and evil.
Children were also seen in traditional wear enjoying their fishing time. They were rejoicing on their tiny catches and transferring it into a polybag filled with water. When I asked to see their catch they happily showed me and even posed for me. Their beautiful smile and the cheerful faces were adding charm to this delightful place. Near every shrine, there were some ongoing rituals. In some, there were only ladies receiving holy water and praying to the almighty. I felt blessed to witness this ceremony in this serene settings.
Hundreds of devotees and tourists were there but the atmosphere of calm prevailed. There were many shrines and many pavilions. Some musicians were seen preparing their instruments. There are sculptures of Gods and Goddess all around. A shrine was set amidst the caldera (Lake Bratan which is a volcanic lake). I wanted to spend the whole day in this bewitching surrounding exploring every part of the temple. But my limited time in Bali did not give me the liberty.
Every region of Bali has a different charm. My early posts were on the volcanic landscape and the shore temple of Bali. This time I was exploring the hilly terrain, the city life and the famous rice terraces known for the Subak irrigation system. We were not lucky enough to visit Mt Agung and Mt Batur because of the volcanic activities. For the same reason, we missed the famous Pura Besakih and a few other places located in the vicinity of the volcano.
Subak is a traditional eco-sustainable irrigation system in Bali, being practised for ages. The Tri Hita Karana philosophy forms the base of this system which describes the harmonious relationship between the God, Earth and the Human. Different sources of water such as springs and canals from the mountains flow into the water temple and then to the terraced rice fields. The forest protecting the soil, the terraced landscape, the paddy fields with the interconnected water system, the canals, the barriers, the villages and the temples through which the water passes are all considered the components of Subak. This is a wonderful system of coexistence where every component is benefited.
Balinese are highly inclined towards spiritualism and religion. Thus they tend to protect and conserve the environment in different ways. Again following the Tri Hita Karana philosophy the sacred monkey forest is formed. Thus the Monkey Forest becomes the nature reserve protecting and preserving various species of plants and animal life. Other than the thick forest, a variety of birds and animal species, large numbers of Balinese Long Tailed Macaques form the major attraction of the sacred monkey forest.
Driving from the lowlands to the hills was yet another experience. We were travelling to the North of Bali Island. Along with the topography and vegetation, the weather also changed. From bright sunny day, it gradually turned to a cloudy day. We travelled through the smooth banked roads within the thick forest of unknown vegetation. Some trees loaded with Datura like blooms seemed to be very common. Every turn was intriguing and captivating. Then the rain started and the visibility was lowered. Again after few kilometres, there was no rain. We were near the entrance of Gitgit Twin Waterfalls.
We trekked down through the steep narrow walkway within the thick forest. We could not see the gorge below because of the dense foliage around. It seemed to be the ravine carrying the water of the waterfalls downstream. After a certain distance, we had to climb up again and now we could hear the gushing sound characteristic of any strong waterfall. There was a small shrine symbolic to guard the waterfall. Then there was two thick white stream rushing down and further cascading through the forest bed.
Overwhelmed by the sight I was in the state of wonderment. There was yet more to be explored. From the peaceful temples to the busy markets it has all. Now we were on the busy streets of Kuta which is considered the hub of Bali. Shopping centres to surfing beaches, restaurants to nightclubs, Kuta has it all to become the favourite hangout destination for the tourists. Balinese are known to be master of sculpture, so their creations can be seen anywhere, be it on the roads or in temples or homes. We were again blessed to see these intricate craftsmanship and such stunning creations.
Again there was the majestic setting of the Uluwatu Temple. Seated on a steep mountain cliff beside the blue ocean provides, the temple is an idyllic spot to sit and relax watching the sun gradually going down the horizon. This is an amazing work of nature where the tall cliff guards the curvy shoreline of the deep. I always wanted to be in such a landscape, sitting quietly and watching the waves crashing by.
Sarongs are offered for free outside the temple to wrap around the waist for those wearing clothes revealing their legs while others are required to tie it like a belt around their waist. The loudspeakers were playing some soft, mystic and melodious music. It was magical and enchanting. I was getting into a trance listening to the sweet tune. Later I came to know this was the Gamelan being played.
It was the sunset time. The place was crowded like a busy marketplace. It was difficult to manage a good shot of the landscape from any good spot. The clouds too played a spoilt sport with no good sunset. The temple surrounding is also regarded as the monkey forest. Here the monkeys are notorious to steal and snatch anything from glasses to hats and bags. We were warned about it before we entered the premises. So we were highly cautious.
It is said that the monkeys here have learnt the art of bartering trade. No other than us witnessed the same. As my father was watching the monkey sculpture in awe standing beside a wall. A monkey sneaked out of nowhere and quietly snatched my father’s glasses and jumped away. It took some time for us to realise and act on it. We ran after the monkey in hope to get back the specs even knowing that it might not help. The monkey vanished within the jungle.
A Balinese lady who was seen feeding the monkeys while we entered the temple came to our rescue. In sign language, she assured that she will get back the item. She entered the forest and must have bartered the glasses in exchange for some food item. She did return with the specs but with the end of one of its temple tip chewed and eaten. We had a good laugh on this incident and with a lot of thanks and gratitude to this kind lady we left for our next destination.
Again from the work of nature, we reached the work of humans. We were in GWK Cultural Park. GWK stands for Garuda Wisnu and Kencana. This is the cultural hub of Bali where various cultural performances are held in the amphitheatre. There is an existing large statue of Wisnu (Vishnu) on a high platform overlooking the cityscape of Bali. The proposed construction of an even larger statue of Wisnu riding on Garuda is supposed to be completed within 2018. This statue would be erected on a high platform that can be seen from all places in Bali. This new statue is supposed to be the iconic symbol of Bali.
On our way to the airport to fly back to our home, I was recollecting every aspect of Bali. This day Putu, Ketut’s nephew drove us and he said a few more things about Bali’s culture. The people are religious and they lead a life full of rituals. The Balinese celebrate a day called Nyepi day. This day is celebrated to show respect for nature. As per the spiritual story goes, to fool around the evil spirit this day is celebrated all across the island.
Putu said that on this day all schools, offices, roads and every establishment other than medical centres are closed. There are no vehicles on the road. People do not cook till 6 in the evening. People maintain silence and believe in this way they can ward off the evil spirit away from this island for a year. This annual exercise helps the Balinese understand the need for tolerance, patience and perseverance.
I was awed by every aspect of Bali. The people, the rituals, the places, the artifacts, the natural wonders – every part of Bali is rich in every possible way. On my short stay on this island I had surprises every moment and on every turn of the road. I was in wonderment in Bali, the Land of Gods in the nation of wonderful Indonesia.