The Balinese like to celebrate – no, not in the same way as John – by impersonating leather clad, long-haired rock stars – but by preparing ornate offerings of coconut, flowers, incense and rice, cooking up feasts and then spending up to three days at the temple before heading on down for a cock fight. They have these ceremonies frequently. As in pretty much every week. They have a ceremony on the full moon and at the new moon and then as far as I can tell, every other day too. Poor cocks.
To claim the Balinese are spiritual is like saying that the Dalai Lama is some kind of peacenik. Their religion is based on a mix of Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism. Houses are built in such a way as to confuse evil spirits (who can’t turn corners), with fishponds to absorb any evil spirits that happen to make it past the corner. Offerings are made every morning outside every house (even our heathen one), laid out by beautiful sarong-clad women. These offerings are made at dawn following the belief that no one in the house can eat until the spirits have.
There are three tenants at the heart of the Balinese belief system– respect and love for God, respect and love for humankind and respect and love for the earth. If any of these are out of harmony then chaos reigns.
Made (said Maday not as in here’s one I made earlier), our neighbour, explains that all Balinese try to live with these three tenants guiding them. If only the rest of the world did, John remarks. I feel humbled. Most of the time I barely hit one out of three. Actually most of the time I don’t even get one.
Made takes us to the temple in his house’s compound. It is a big ceremony day – well averagely big – there are maybe 60 people, not all 160 families who live in our village. The offerings are only stacked three high. I am feeling lucky that I bought all those sarongs (to give as gifts of course, there was no intention of making them into dresses you understand) because we are now wearing them as they were intended to be worn. As sarongs. Not as cute little Mac Jacobs style dresses. John is next to me looking like David Beckham circa 1999 and I am shuffling along like a geisha (not sure how you tie these things).
An old lady (turns out she’s the priest) flicks some water over me and slaps some rice on our foreheads. Lula starts eating it (not off my head, off the offering) but that is apparently what you’re meant to do. Made explains that the ceremony is about giving thanks for all that we have. We are kneeling on the wet ground and I can’t help but feel suddenly overpowered by how apt it is that we are here, amongst our new neighbours, invited into their home, into the heart of their community to offer thanks. There is so much to be thankful for – the fact we are here, that we have made new friends in such a wonderful, peaceful and beautiful place, that Lula is happy and healthy, that I have a nanny who gives massage, that I have discovered ecstatic dance and and how good John is at pretending to be Bon Jovi.
When we get home Lula starts wondering around the house gathering up petals and leaves. She disappears for five minutes, then comes back and takes John by the hand and points out all the little offerings she has made – several dozen in every corner.
‘They are offerings to say thank you’ she says, ‘for ice cream and chocolate. You mustn’t ever move them ever.’