A glimpse into village life during a Balinese festival

The Balinese year (of 210 days) is rich with celebrations and ceremonies. Galungan is one of the most important of these and celebrates the victory of good over evil.

Gusti at temple gates

On the first day of Galungan, our friend, Gusti, took us to two local village temples to observe the ceremonies and rituals taking place.

Boys at the temple

It was utterly fascinating. I was worried we would be intruding but Gusti assured us we were not only not intruding but welcome. Such a beautiful, Balinese response.

Blessings at Sebali temple

We felt so very privileged to be able to see some of the blessings and rituals being performed and I was particularly thrilled to see this dukun at work.

Dukun (holy man) at Sebali temple

Dukun are holy men: spiritual healers, custodians of custom, tradition and ancestral knowledge, diviners, mediums and even sorcerers.

This is one of my favourite photos from our entire trip. My dad and Gusti : two fathers, two cultures, two friends.

Gusti and dad at the temple

Even the youngest members of the community participate in these rituals.

Kids getting blessings at the temple

That lifelong participation is, in part, what makes Bali such a cohesive society but also what feeds the almost tangible sense of spirituality on this island; a richness that seems to ripple in the atmosphere around you – unseen but palpable.

Leaving temple

Village streets are lined with penjor  – tapering bamboo poles adorned with elaborate palm leaf decorations –  and specially constructed bamboo altars.

Whole penjor

Just like the ubiquitous palm-leaf trays of offerings, each penjor is a work of art. And a much faster thing to put together since the arrival on Bali of the stapler! Before staples, each elaborate twist and turn of decoration was secured with little bamboo tooth picks. We were told that there is good-natured competition to prepare the most beautiful penjor although it turns out you can go too far. One penjor on the road to our villa was lit up with electric Christmas lights. According to Gusti that one “didn’t count”.

Penjors and offerings Sebali bud

This is Gusti’s gorgeous wife Narie, his two beautiful boys and his dad holding an offering they were taking to their family rice field.

Narie, Gusti's dad and the boys on motorbike_edited-1

That evening we sat on the edge of the street in our village (yes, I adopted it wholesale) and waited for the Barong (a lion-like creature from Balinese mythology) to come past.

There were no cars on the road and only the odd scooter every 15 minutes or so. So in between those  rare modern intrusions it was easy to pretend we had been transported back in time to a Bali of 100 years ago. All along the little street, in front of their houses, women and kids were dressed in their beautiful holiday finest awaiting the arrival of the Barong with the men of the village. As they waited they prepared offerings, lit incense, chatted.

Sate lilit offering

Occasionally the women sitting across the road from us would nod to us and smile gently.

Entering the Sebali temple

Then from the dim dark came the distant sound of drums and bells and laughter and slowly the village Barong snaked its way along the street in front of us.  it was gone almost in the blink of an eye but that half hour will stay with me forever.

I couldn’t get a decent shot in the darkness but I do want to show you how fearsome the Barong are. I found this beautiful photo on Flickr. Attribution below it.

Barong by Hoks on Flickr

(Above photo only: Balinese Barong Dancer by Hoks. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I took the next photo blind, i.e. literally just snapped it into the dark to see if I could capture any of the magic of the moment not only without the harsh effect from the burst of a flash but also so as not to intrude into the simple acts of devotion these women were making.

The resulting shot kind of made me draw breath. I know darkness and a long exposure makes for blur and distortion but  this has an especially other-wordly feel. Maybe blur accounts of much of it but there certainly seem to be more figures here than there were women. And so I keep coming back to the fact that Galungan is also when ancestral spirits return to earth.

For me, that evening was one of those moments that sinks deeply into your soul and reminds you, no matter what your fears, to keep travelling…keep striving for the moments.

Galungan women Sebali 1

Advertisements

Island of the Gods: a trip to Bali

Silhouette temple Ubud golden light

Every morning I wake at 5.30am, just as the insects start their relentless stridulation and the roosters their crowing in earnest.

Rice fields Ubud with yellow flags

This early rising is unusual for me. Then again, the tropics have always agreed with my body clock.

Entry Balinese house_edited-1

I sit on a wooden platform, set within the lush jungle on a steep hill, perched high above the rushing river Os below. As the sun rises slowly behind the palm trees on the ridge opposite, it gently burns away the thick, morning mist drifting up through the lush valley.

Os River Valley

Through the trees are glimpses of emerald-green, terraced rice paddies and the still morning air, is broken only by the occasional whooping bird call or the sound of over-sized foliage falling from the canopy.

Rice fields Ubud and edge of Villa Vajra

As the sun finally rises above the treeline, its golden light illuminates the garden. Delicate spider webs appear as if out of nowhere, suspended between over-sized fronds, last night’s rain drops sparkle like jewels on deep green leaves and pale leaf tips glow with a bright translucency.

Offering at Villa Vajra

From the other side of the river bank the rhythmic tok, tok, tok of a temple drum starts slowly, increases in urgency then slows again until the last, lone, beat fades to silence.

Sunset over rice fields in Ubud

And the scent. Well, I wish I could tell you it is the heady fragrance of frangipani and tuberose but it is overwhelmingly eau de DEET-infused insect repellant. It’s cloying but essential at this time of day.

Ricefields near Chedi Ubud

I am in Bali. And I apologise for coming over all overly sentimental, but I feel like I’ve come home.

Palm silhouettes against sunset

I haven’t been here for 11 years. And that time was for one short terrifying night and day. Long-time readers might remember the story but if you are newer here, you can read the background to all of this in this post I wrote from Jakarta last year. I feel the need to warn you that it’s a bit of a harrowing story. But if you are interested in why being back here in Bali, in paradise, after so long is making me cry (in a good way!) each and every day, then that post gives you all the background you need.

Old Balinese lady, Sebali

However, if, like me just now, you don’t really want to contemplate anything that came before or the whys and wherefores, but just sit and be, then I hope my photos will simply convey a small sense of the deep beauty of this place.

Young rice with water droplets, Sebali, Ubud

It’s so good to be back.

Looking down to living bale, Sebali

PS: I have finally got around to starting an Instagram account. You can see some other Bali shots over there and I’ll be updating regularly over the next few days of our trip so follow along if you’re interested. Click here.