Friday, April 29, 2011

Among the Rice Fields

From Tabulu, in the Central Mountains of Bali

            The utter luxury of laying on abed on the verandah overlooking the rice fields watching the clouds reflect the last rays of sun is astonishing. A lotus pond with a small waterfall makes water songs for the swallows swooping by.

            Day turns grey. The lush green fields, fruit trees, distant blue mountains all lose their color and the distant lights of freighters, fishing boats and cruise ships glitter on the Bali Sea, many miles from this verdant valley.
            I wish you were here, all of you, to share this deep pleasure. The cicadas and frogs begin to sing. My dinner vegetables are rhythmically chopped in the open-air kitchen and there is nothing but utter peace in this moment. I am quiet, I am alone, I am joyful. A gecko chirps, my food arrives. It is delicious, tofu stuffed with vegetables in tamarind sauce.

            This morning, I left the outrageous palace of my artist friend Symon on the north coast (more about him soon) and rode up the mountains to Gunung Batur, the second highest peak in Bali, the mother volcano with Bali’s largest freshwater lake. Dewa Danu lives here, the goddess of the lake. I video the temple devoted to her, Pura Ulan Danu Batur. It is grand and beautiful, with Hindu spires against the sky, and Chinese and Buddhist temples within it too. 

Pura Ulan Danu Batur, dedicated to Dewa Danu, the Goddess of the Lake

            There is no ceremony here today, or it would be filled with people, as all the temples were that I visited last week. But on the way down the mountain, I see a village preparing for the next week’s ceremony, and the beauty of their red dragons halt my descent.

            I am stunned by these magnificent creatures. Fifteen or twenty people from the village sit at the temple and create offerings. Yes, there is poverty here, and tragedy and sorrow, but the richness of spirit permeates all. No matter how luckless you are, you make beautiful offerings each day, you chant mantras, you create beauty, however humble  so the gods will come visit. The devotion here inspires and amazes. Our lives in the west seem fragmented and separated by comparison. 

Here's to our deeper connections, dear friends. May they thrive.


Gunung Batur, the mother mountain  

 Rice field views in next post, with the water tunnels and intricate canals

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Balinese Ceremony

Yesterday I had the honor of being invited to a Balinese ceremony by my friend Anak Agung Gde Raka, my translator when I studied in Bali years ago. Here is a summary of the occasion, that lasted from early morning until evening.

The ceremony is at Raka's home and I am the only non-Balinese person present. Surprisingly, it is a cremation ceremony for his wife, who died four days before I arrived on Bali. We would never invite an outsider to one of our funerals, but Bali is the only Hindu island in Indonesia (the rest is Muslim, or older traditions) and believes in reincarnation. Unlike our Western funerals, these are lively occasions with complex rituals to send the deceased person on their way to the next life. Of course family and friends are sad, but there is no weeping, no overt mourning. A less final, more accepting view of death is observed.

Water is essential to every Balinese ceremony, with sacred water collected from specific temples, springs and lakes, then used often in the ceremonies for purification. In the photo below, a priest is blessing the family members with an arc of sacred water called tirtha.

Balinese priest uses sacred water at ceremony.

As a sign of respect, I wore traditional Balinese ceremonial garb for women, a blouse called a kebaya with a sash and sarong. Both the white kebaya and the yellow sash symbolize purification. The women gave me many compliments and approving smiles, so apparently I did it correctly.

Mara in Kebaya at ceremony
Mara & Wati

This high caste Brahman family is honored by taking their final journey in the sacred bull. During the procession, the tower that carries the body to the temple cremation ground is turned rapidly so the demons will not follow the deceased to their next life (or so I understand it). I ran ahead and captured this video of it.

The body is in the tower in a simple white box. It is transferred into the bull at the temple. Offerings from the family are also placed inside, with mantras from the priest.

Sacred water is thrown over the body one last time, the fire is lit (with gas these days, not wood) and the family watches the loved one released from earth into water, fire, air, and ether.

Burnt bone shards are ground and mixed with sacred water for the final stages of the ceremony, and a last water journey when the ashes are floated on a small decorated vessel out to sea. Born of water, returned to water.

(No fire and last water images here yet -- the Flip camera battery ran out and I had to use another video camera not as easy to upload here.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011


At last, a post from Bali! The Global Social Change Film Festival here in Ubud is great -- amazing films and people. To be with so many talented people dedicated to many aspects of well-being is uplifting -- and fun! My talks about different ways water issues are approached in documentaries, animations and other media forms were well-received, with much interest in the Water = Life online course.

Water is abundant here, with a river running right past me now as I write. Channels flow through the rice fields, priests dispense sacred water during ceremonies . . . and the bottled water is everywhere, deemed necessary, unfortunately.

Here's the first video post with some views. More details to follow. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Water Rituals in Bali

Soon I will be experiencing the water rituals in Bali, with water temples, priests, goddesses and a cooperative system for irrigating the terraced rice fields. I am thrilled to be going on this journey. It ties my soul connection to water with the practical world in an eloquent way.

Check back here for posts and videos next week.