I am sat cross legged in awed and silent contemplation. Only the soft rhythms of a Holy Man’s handbell filter through the silence. When the ringing stops I clasp my hands prayer like and raise them slowly above my head. In my palms I gently rub flower petals and make my humble gesture to the Gods.
The Holy Man makes his way through the faithful gathered in the temple and stops before me. His stern eyes bore down on me and take in my sarong, sash and the udeng on my head. With somber purpose he drops sacred water in my hands and commands me to drink. More water is splashed on my head and as the trickles ease down my face the Holy Man places rice on my damp forehead. Grains are also placed in my hands and I am told to eat. With that he turns and walks away. This is the signal that the ceremony is over and with it my day as a Hindu.
The invitation to the Full Moon Ceremony came from a Balinese family. I had been staying with them a few days. The home stay was just $20 a night for room and breakfast. The early signs had not been encouraging. Their village, like many in Bali, was pockmarked by mounds of rubbish tossed mindlessly and at random. The Balinese are not enthusiastic about waste management. You’ll never see the recycling bin outside on a Tuesday……or any other day for that matter. But driving into the family compound was like entering a new world. Everything meticulously clean, nothing out of place. My quarters were newly built with incredibly ornate doors and beautiful tiles. It was pristine.
Over four days the two brothers, their wives, their two children and other friends and relations took me into their family and I took them into my heart. Their English was limited but they were desperate to improve. At nights we would gather on my verandah, all of us sat on the floor passing away easy hours with attempted talk and much laughter. They loved my iPad, particularly the camera and the “Speak Indonesian” App. There would be howls of laughter whenever I pointed to myself and then played the pronunciations of “I am 30” and “Do you have an English menu”. Through the course of these evenings other people would come and go, some practising their English others just sitting and being part of a gentle family evening in the warm caress of a Bali night. The generosity and kindness of their collective embrace touched me deeply.
The family invited me to return for the full moon ceremony, purnama, one of their favourites. So a few days later I was back.
I was given traditional Balinese dress to wear which I was told was compulsory. There was a choice of sarongs, a sash for my waist, an udeng for my head and a shirt. I fiddled around for a while, checked myself in the mirror and was pleasantly surprised with the results. I knew the whole extended family was waiting outside my room so out I went and strutted myself catwalk style.
The screams and shrieks almost burst my eardrums. The women in particular were almost in hysterics. It was clear I was the new village idiot in a clown costume. After a minute or two Made came to my rescue, took me inside and dressed me properly in Balinese style. It turns out the choice of sarongs wasn’t actually a choice at all, both were to be worn and in a very specific way. The sash I used as a cumberbund around my waist should have been folded in half and worn under the shirt. As for the udeng it’s best nothing more is said.
Suitably re-arranged we set off for the ceremony. An hour later we are at Tampak Siring Temple, 30 minutes north of Ubud and one of only two holy water spring temples in Bali. We joined a throng at a small gate waiting to enter the cleansing area. Finally we were in. I stood on the edge while the family, young and old, entered the cool water and joined hundreds of others in semi orderly lines snaking to a line of spouts to purify themselves. After thirty minutes they were tightly packed in a heaving
mass of bodies. The children and elderly often disappear from view. The intensity increases as they inch towards the gushing water. It looks frantic but as each finally reaches their goal and submerge themselves they reappear with profound joy on their faces. Their spirits immediately purified and their souls alight with happiness. It is an amazing spectacle. Two more smaller pools follow to complete the process and the family finally leave the water, cold but exuberant.
After drying and changing into their finest clothes we go to the temple. The few tourists wearing temporary sarongs are stood just behind a rope where a sign reads “Prayers only allowed beyond here”. I dutifully stop and observe. Moments later Agung and Made return, guide me past the rope and into the inner prayer area. The women and children are already kneeling along with sixty or so others. The men join them and the Holy Man begins ringing his bell. Prayers have started. I stand solemnly and respectfully at the back. Shortly Puta and Ari turn and beckon me. At first I pretend not to notice them but they are insistent. I move with a little trepidation and sit behind them in the third row of the faithful. Moments later the women and daughter Ita part and signal me to move forward. I am frozen to the spot until the men also make space and move me forward. I am now sat cross legged on my own at the very front. The Holy Man begins his prayer instructions. I am at a loss with nobody ahead or besides to follow. Balinese Hindus have a range of deities and at this moment I am in dread that up in suarga, their heaven, they will not be best happy with me. Sensing and seeing my difficulties Agung and Isma move to join me at the front and guide me through the ceremony.
I place a petal behind my ear and more in my palms. I offer up my hands to the Gods and I say a silent prayer for the family. I follow that with an earnest wish that the Holy Man, who is now heading towards me, is not about to punish my heresy and cast me down to bhur, or hell, where the demons live and Hindus believe our spirits go as punishment for misdeeds on earth.
Many strict Hindus will fast on purnama, full moon day. My family don’t and we head off for a Balinese picnic by the river. We sit around in our fineries, eat simple food and delight in the day and each other. I quietly watch them. I see their ease with each other, their contentment with the world and I pray that the Gods send them every ounce of health and happiness they have to spare, and a little bit more.