I had been watching Iluh make offering baskets for a couple of days and she was kind enough to invite me to the ceremony at her village temple, one commemorating the temple’s “birthday” held on the day of the full moon. At two in the afternoon she and I hopped on her motorbike, along with two bags full of offering fundamentals, and chugged off down the road in the direction of Amlapura, past the brilliant green rice terraces on the foothills of Mount Agung. We stopped at her family compound, a large area of several buildings and animal pens where her parents still live.
In the kitchen building Iluh proceeded to assemble the offering dish from the various items brought in the two bags. These included lots of different fruits, a bowl of rice, two different kinds of ring cakes, and an entire cooked chicken spread-eagled against the side. Each of the higher placed pieces were held together with bamboo splints that Iluh carved from a pile beneath the table.
As she prepared her offering, her mother went around the kitchen and then the compound placing her own small flower baskets on the various temple altars. I drank a cup of Bali coffee as she worked and could hear the rustling and nosings of the animals in the pens out back (and smell their presence).
After the offering was completed to Iluh’s satisfaction, I wandered around the compound taking pictures of the animals, including several small piglets who came racing up to me wagging their tails like dogs, expecting to be fed.
The family keeps, in addition to cattle and pigs, quite a few caged birds, many fighting roosters in bamboo cages, and several hens and chicks running around the yard. Iluh and I dressed in her temple attire for the ceremony; each outfit consisted of a sarong, a girdle, a sash, a beautiful lacy shirt, and a flower for the hair updo.
Iluh also put on her gold jewellery – beautiful! I rather spoiled the effect of my outfit with the big black motorcycle helmet I insisted on wearing for the ride to the temple, the only person in the village so equipped, drawing quite a few quizzical looks.
Once at the temple, I took a seat on the grass with everyone else and watched the procession and placing of the offerings unfold. Wave after wave of young girls, temple dancers wearing very tall elaborate bamboo headdresses, and boys, carrying metal temple standards, and women, with enormous offering baskets on their heads, and men carrying umbrellas for the gods, appeared.
Each family must send one girl to become a temple dancer; all of these prepubescent young girls, each between 7 and 11, were beautifully clothed and made up. Later, several men carrying gold and red temple replicas on litters, accompanied by percussion music, took up their place next to the offering site, along with women whose heads held what looked like red and gold wooden boxes with god statues affixed to the tops. A young boy dressed in a triangular hat and red and gold robes, along with several older women in white, danced around the assembled offerings.
The ceremony itself was conducted by a white-robed priest and his assistants, consisting of the lighting of great quantities of incense, the administering of a great stream of water over our heads (I tried to protect my camera from the waters), the placing of rice on the forehead, prayers with flowers, and the beheading of a live chicken (I could not watch this), whose headless body fluttered around for several minutes before collapsing lifeless in a flurry of feathers. (Apparently sometimes a pig is sacrificed …). With these rituals complete, many of the villagers, including us, retrieved their offerings and hopped back on their bikes for the ride home to consume the food so blessed, while the rest entered into the temple interior to watch the young girls’ sacred dances. Interestingly, in the area just behind where the ceremony takes place is a cock-fighting ring.
The procession and ceremony were really fascinating, a feast of colours, sights and smells that, even though I did not understand the intricacies of the proceedings, was beautiful and strange. For the Balinese, everything they do is in homage to the gods and everyday life and its rituals is a thing of beauty and reverence. Many thanks to Ilhu for inviting me.
See more pics here.