Unlike most of the Indonesian islands' populations who practice Islam, the Balinese are Hindu. As part of their Hindu ritual, everyday through out the island little coconut leave baskets filled with rice, chili, flowers, incense sticks and holy water are placed everywhere, in front of businesses, homes, and hotels and on cars. Called canang these baskets are woven in any of three symbolic shapes; triangles denoting the triple deity, squares for the four directions and circles representing the universe.
Balinese women prepare and place these baskets everyday of the year all their lives (if all the women of a household are having their period at the same time, then the men of the family must fulfill this daily duty). Women are taught from a very young age to weave these little baskets and they can be seen daily weaving them in Ubud and around the countryside as they prepare fresh baskets for the next day. When the canang are placed at various locations a prayer and mantra is recited. At an ancestor’s shrine and at the household temple (every household has a temple), the ibi Pertiwi (mother earth prayer) is said to ‘ensure the security of the place, particularly if it is facing a road(s), bridge, gate, or other place that the owner of the household, often with the advice of a holy man, feels it is necessay. During my Teba House home stay,it was alway a peacful morning moment, sitting on my covered porch sipping tea and watching as Ayu,or Diah (the two women of the household) placed canang baskets on the shrines on every building in the compound, sprinkling on holy water and saying a quiet prayer. Often basket offerings are just placed on the ground to attract butha kala, the earth spirits. This particular offering (called Kajeng) is a one of a number of special ceremonies based on the Balinese calendar and moon cycles.
I was often worried that I might step on a sidewalk offering found in front of a shop or businesses, but no worries. Once the incense is burned, the essence of the offering is sent into the universe, and the canang is no longer considered a holy offering, just another part of everyday life.
The Balinese use the Wuku calendar system, which is based on a week rather than days. There are 30 weeks in one cycle and two cycles in a year. Each cycle consists of 210 days called an oton and there are two otons or 420 days in a year. The Balinese calendar is used to determine the most auspicious days for farming, raising animals, starting businesses and the dates of temple ceremonies.
Twice a year there is a moon festival. These religious ceremonies are held at temples throughout Bali. On this day, women can be seen walking along the roadways wearing their traditional Balinese finery and carrying temple offerings in baskets on their heads on their way to their local temple shrine. Clans, or families attend with family members coming from all over the island to meet together at a designated temple to celebrate this festival together. The clan is determined by the last name of oldest living male member of a household.
Fortunately, I was in Bali during one of the moon festivals and attended with two different clans. Not far from the seaside town of Candidasa is Pura Besakih, the largest temple in Bali, which contains 33 temples within the major temple complex.
Tomasz, another visitor staying at Teba House, told me he was leaving one morning for Candidasa and the temple to see the festival. “May I tag along?” I ask. And Tomasz gave and enthusiastic “Yes.” I called a guesthouse on Skype and made reservations for two rooms. By eleven that morning, we were in a van with six other travelers. Two hours later, we arrived at our Candidasa guesthouse. Upon our arrival, we found that seaside meant steep stairs down to a very unappealing narrow grey pebbly beach. During a late lunch at the hotel, we met Kristen and his partner Anne (an attractive, enormously pregnant young woman) both from Denmark. Tomasz proceeded to tell them about the Moon festival and about a unique little village called Tenganan, which was going to be our afternoon side trip and Kristen and Anne decided to join us.
After lunch, we became a merry troop of travelers, much like Dorothy and her friends on their wizard quest, off to see Tenganan village situated about three miles back from the seaside.
As we rode Tomasz regaled us with the village history.
‘Many hundred of years ago, King Bedhulu lost one of his beloved horses. Finally his right hand man, Ki Patih Briu found it dead in a field. As a gift for finding his horse the King told Ki Patih Briu that he and his clan could have a piece of land within his kingdom equal to the area in which the aroma of the flesh of his horse could be smelled. Being a clever fellow, Ki Patih Briu cut carrion off the horse and put it in his pocket. Thus where ever he and the king’s representative walked the scent followed. After the land was designated to him, he and his family walled in their future village, which can still only entered by one of four gates, leaving the majority of the land outside to lease to others to farm.’
‘When making the gift to the Ki Patih Brui’s clan, King Bedahulu also made two rules. One, all visitors must be out of the village by sundown, and two, if a villager marries outside the clan, he could no longer live within the village confines.’ Tomasz continued. (The second rule I later read was changed in 1925, when it was decided that a clan member could marry a woman from outside the village if she was of high cast, and still live in village. Even today if a bride is not of high enough cast, then the villager is relegated to living outside the village walls forever more.)
By the time Tomasz finished his story, we had arrived at the small kiosk at the entrance, to find that no fee was required, a small donation sufficed and we entered the gate. The village consisted of buildings on either side of what once must have been a wide cobble stone walk way but had become a random path covered with slippery mud, dirt, and shards of stone to make it easier to maneuver up the occasional slight inclines past the numerous houses.
Many of the houses were open with little teashops or antique shops in their entryways or ‘front parlors.’ Others had looms where women sat weaving kamben gringsing cloth, which is woven in only two other places in the world, Potala, India and Guatemala, Central America. (Because of the sale of their cloth and their farming leases, Tenganan is one of the richest communities in Bali).
But I found it a dreary place with its bits of trash strewn here and there. There were neither streets nor cars in the village (which is probably a good aspect), although by taking a path beside one of the houses, we found that along the backside of the houses, it was clean with a small grassy knoll. Yet, except for learning its interesting history, and the pleasure of being with such delightful companions, visiting Tenganan was from my viewpoint a waste of time.
That evening, we dined el fresco each enjoying delightful fish dinners, and the next morning off we went to Pura Besakih temple for the festival.
The evening before, I arranged with one of the staff at the expensive hotel and spa across the street for a car and driver to squire us around the next day to the festival and after to a traditional Balinese lunch. We could not have found a better companion for our festival adventure, for the driver not only brought sarongs for each of to wear within the temple confines, he also told us all the tricks of the voracious guides who prey on tourists like vultures waiting for the last breath of their victims to be exhumed. And prey they did with ‘in your face’ nasty remarks, haranguing and hisses. This behavior continued by any number of young men all the way to the temple as well as inside. “You can’t go in there, you are foreigners.” They shouted at us. Finally in a peak of anger, I lied, “I am Hindu.” That stopped them but only momentarily, and soon they began again.
First of all, “Although they will plague you unmercifully, you do not need a guide.” Our driver had explained. “Also, unless you find walking up the somewhat steep hill to the temple too wearing, then you do not need to hire a ride up on the back of a motor bike no matter how many times you are ask. Once you are at the temple, no matter what the pushy young men, who will be harassing you at your every turn say; you may certainly join a clan’s ceremonies. But please do not stand there watching, rather quietly sit down in the back and be respectful observers.
On the way up to the temple, women were selling pre made canang and Anne bought four as our offerings to the ceremonies. Then up the steep hill we trudged, a band of miscreants ready to make offerings to the Gods. The first clan ceremony we encountered was the biggest we saw all day. In a large temple with large baskets of offerings placed on the dais in the front and prayers, who were mostly dressed in white sitting on the ground, a leader in the back on another dais using a microphone was leading the prayers. As we entered I softly ask a man who seemed receptive to our presence if we could sit and he directed us a place in the back. He also slid before us a large basket filled with flowers and a burning incense stick. Kristen took two of our small offerings to the dais and Tomasz enthusiastically filmed the whole ceremony.
Upon leaving the sanctuary within, we wandered to the top of the hill and we all photographed the numerous temples and shrines below. Heading back down through the temple environs, we came across another much smaller service and quietly joined. Again we were welcomed. Here Kristen gave our other two offerings and in return we were blessed, annotated with ashes placed on our forehead and the naps of our throats, and holy water sprinkled on our hands and our heads. We each gave a generous donation to their clan prayers basket and happily left festivities.
When the nasty young men saw us exit the second ceremony, they were momentarily stopped it their tracks. Here were westerners annotated like themselves and their nasty behavior made a 180-degree turn to curiosity then joy. We were one of them, not the interlopers they had assumed. And we happily descended the long downward stairway out of the temple.
We had all contributed to what was for each of us a magical event, and although not a religious moment, it was a gift to us as travelers; leaving everyone with a memory of togetherness and joy with each other and those who allowed us to share their festival with them.