Landing at the airport, the pagoda columns seem to welcome and herald visitors to behold the natural and man-made wonders of Bali the picturesque island in Indonesia. While the majority of Indonesia’s people are Muslim, in Bali, more than ninety percent professes the Hindu faith of its ancestors. By the end of the first day, it becomes obvious that Bali could be, globally, among the most pious and hallowed tourist spots with the pervasive influence of the Hindu religion on its music, art, dance, temples and way of life.
At daybreak in Bali, the bleary-eyed sleepy tourist scrambling to get some breakfast could very well step on or jump over ‘the offerings’. On the other hand, to the observant tourist these offerings are at first, intriguing and later become an interesting item for they are more than quaint. The ubiquitous offerings are placed at doorways and entrances of homes, hotels, commercial establishments, shops, and street corners. Even a nondescript mobile phone kiosk will have its sacred spot with an offering.
The practice of making offerings is an essential feature in the daily life of the Balinese. It is a form of thanksgiving and offered to appease the spirits, seeking their blessings. Painstakingly prepared by women with attention to detail, they are simple, relatively small, fitting into the palm of a hand. Each offering is unique and contains colorful eye-catching flowers, fruits, vegetables, assortment of food items, all of which are arranged neatly on a handcrafted small tray, the waft and weave pattern deftly created from palm leaf, bamboo, and banana stem. Yet there is a structure and design in the aesthetic array of objects on the square or round trays.
The reverence of the slim batik sarong-clad women in making the offerings, with head bowed and hands folded, is unmistakably devout. The ceremony itself is serenely simple with gentle hand gestures directing the incense fumes towards the statue or object accompanied by graceful body movements that have been handed down over generations. Watching from afar, the spiritual aura of the scene inspires a silent prayer to the creator of the universe even in the atheist.
Bali’s prominent temples are built with black lava stone and orange-red clay bricks, their layered black pagoda roofs and ornamented engraved doorways are inspirational and arouse esoteric feelings. The Balinese consider nine temples very sacred and each has its own special characteristics – their location, what they represent among the Hindu Gods, and historical importance. For instance, Besakhi, the Mother Temple is the most sacred being more than 1000 years old and is situated on the side of the volcano, Mount Agung . Tall geometrically harmonized pillar-like structures, erected on either side at the entrance, are positioned gracefully, classical and elegant, presaging the grandeur and magnitude of the interiors. The mystery of the courtyards at different levels unfolds after climbing about a hundred steps hewn out of black volcanic rock. The most intricate and sacred set of shrines is at the very end accessed after passing through buildings and of course, climbing more steps. To most visitors, the empty platforms in the pillared structures are puzzling with the absence of idols, statues or any physical evidence of worship. The guides offer some explanations. One of them is that the viewer can pay reverence and worship according to his/her inner faith and divinity, inspiring spiritual awe and wonder.
Similarly, the Thanot Lot temple, perched on a rock in the middle of the sea seems almost celestial. Built in the fifteenth century to guard Bali from the sea, it is probably the most famous of Bali’s temples. Literally, Thanot Lot means “Land in the Middle of the sea” and the belief is that it is guarded by poisonous snakes living under it. Fortunately, preservation and restoration work in recent times has saved the temple from the ravages of erosion. The tall pagoda temple surrounded by smaller shrines atop the ragged black rock dotted with a few green trees is picturesque. At high tide, with frothy waves hitting the sides of the rock with thundering sound makes it an ethereal spectacular sight. For some moments, one forgets the earthly world with its ills as the lofty sight inspires deep inner thoughts of peace and tranquillity.
Tourists come to Bali for its beaches, caves, temples, music, dance, paintings, handicrafts and its lush forests bountiful in flora and fauna. But to me, Bali was enchanting for its preserved uniqueness, the harmonious blending of tradition and faith in its modern present, the gentleness of its people, its respect and closeness to nature, conserving its past and gracious beauty. Given all this, Bali will always be a source of inspiration where I could spend time wisely without remorse.
About the Author: Sreelakshmi Gururaja took up writing on retirement from UNICEF after more than 20 years of service. She lives in Bangalore, India and continues to be an advocate for children’s and women’s rights.
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