Saturday, 23 April 2011

Bali - Rain, sun, and some temple touring

When I said Bali, a dear friend immediately commented that my trip sounded like I was doing an Eat, Pray, Love number. Well, we (my sister and I) certainly did eat. We went to temples too (though I am not sure we prayed). And unfortunately we found no Xavier Bardems :( .  But I can't say I have any complaints.

Kuta, where we were staying, is the heart of touristy Bali. With a dozen lodges and inns, uncountable eateries, bars and discotheques and unending rows of shops, it caters to all the necessities of a tourist destination. Additionally, Kuta is also home to the Bali bombings (2005) memorial. Beautifully lit at night and smack in the middle of the busy Jalan Legian (the arterial road in Kuta), it draws almost every tourist in the area. It is also the only sombre note in an area that defines the 21st century notion of Fun.

Knowing that we had a little more than 2 days in Bali (technically we were there for 3 but counting arrival and departure we were left with about two and a half days), sister and I had packed in our sightseeing schedule with the things we absolutely wanted to see in those two days. What we didn't account for was the rain and cloudiness which forced us to adapt and change our plans on the 3rd April. With the rains playing spoil sport, we barely caught sight of Mount Batur and its caldera lake. But when we did, it definitely was a sight worth seeing. The next time I go to Bali, I am going to make sure I have enough time to do the midnight hike up Mt. Batur to the crater itself!

One of the reasons I had chosen to combine Bali and Cambodia (Angkor at any rate) was that they are both Hindu cults and there is, even today, an element of Indianization in their cultures and way of life. I figured they would give an interesting perspective on how religions and cultures spread and adapt.

During our stay in Bali, we visited three temples - Gunung Kawi, Goa Gajah and Uluwatu. The first two are smaller temples, the last a major tourist spot. One of the first things we noticed about temples in Bali is that they are very one with their natural setting (Angkor in this respect was more like India). They are not tall, imposing, cloistered spaces meant to intimidate or over awe. Instead they are squat, horizontally spread and with plenty of space for people to gather. At Gunung Kawi and Uluwatu, we could not see the main temple complex till we were very nearly at the doorstep. Another interesting departure from how the temple experience is constructed in India is that there is no priest at the temple officiating over everyday prayers. People of the community to whom the temple belongs may go make offerings and pray in whatever manner pleases them. Priests officiate only at special occasions and ceremonies. Our driver Gusti, at the Gunung Kawi temple, also performed an everyday ceremony for us... the way the locals would. He also took us to his village and while we were too late to see the ceremony at his family temple, the size of the temple offering his mother-in-law was carrying quite stunned us.

Temples in Bali are also highly personal in that each community has its own temple into which outsiders (including other Balinese) are not allowed. Larger temples such as Pura Besakih, Uluwatu and Tanah Lot are temples where all the Balinese pray (outsiders are still not allowed... even if you are Hindu) but the smaller community temples are meant for the community alone. The community gathers there each evening to pray, sing and dance, as Gusti informed us.

How religions adapt to local culture was evident in more than just how the temple is built and the absence of a priest. While in India it would be unacceptable to bring meat near a temple or religious ceremony, we learnt that in Bali, no ceremony is complete without the sacrifice of a pig and that the delicacy/offering for the day is made with the blood of the sacrificed pig! The depictions of gods and of Hindu mythology also varies pretty drastically. Gods in India are clean shaven and well groomed. Not so in Bali. They sport huge handlebar mustaches and elaborate hair-dos. Sis and I did end up having an interesting debate on why the Gods would end up looking so unlike the local people and figured it was probably an attempt to make them look more intimidating.

At Uluwatu we also saw the Kecak dance that is performed every evening for tourists at the temple's amphitheater. The Kecak is interesting in that it is not accompanied by any music but instead by a rhythmic chorus that tends to go on in a monotone. The dance that evening was depicting a part of the Ramayana (The Ramayana is the major epic in Bali and most dances will depict one or the other part of the epic) - from Sita's abduction to Anoman's (Hanuman) burning of Lanka. Based on a traditional village purification ritual, the dance began with the lighting of the lamp and the priest blessing the chorus. The chorus interestingly, is not just the chorus but also forms the set as well as the props for the dance. The high point of the dance was the actual lighting of Lanka for which the entire stage was set ablaze.

But Bali was not just about temples. We spent a good part of our second day on the island at the Nusa Dua beach jet skiing and sunning ourselves - much needed relaxation for the sister and me. About this though, the less said the better ;) I'd suggest anyone who wants to know how it was gets themselves a beach, a deck chair and a nice mocktail :)

Pics                                                                                                                First Impressions

1 comment:

assorted cookies said...

If you visit Bali again, skip the Kuta, Seminyak area and head to Ubud or Lovina or Candidasa. My personal favourite is Ubud. Kuta and Nusa Dua get a little too artificial.