Ceremonies and holidays make up a huge part of the lives of the people around us, but I’ve been hesitant to write a post about them because they still seem so mysterious to me. The holidays that have occurred since we’ve been in Bali (Galungan and Kuningan) have been explained to us many times, but I’m still a little hazy about what they celebrate — I imagine explaining Easter and its contemporary celebrations would be equally as baffling to someone completely unfamiliar to it. I’ll stick to what I know best in this post: a little about religion in Indonesia, and a lot about what it’s like to be an outsider in Hindu Bali.
The Indonesian Constitution guarentees freedom of religion, but recognizes only six official religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism), according to the state principle of belief in one god. Hinduism obviously bends the rules a little — someone told me that the argument is that Balinese Hinduism has one main god. Almost 90% of Balinese identify as Hindu, well above the national average of less than 2%. Balinese Hinduism is also very different from the Indian variety: for example, the caste system is only loosely applied.
The most visible aspect of Balinese Hinduism are the rituals and ceremonies performed for ancestral spirits. Balinese belong to a temple (pura) based on their descent. Nuclear families usually have a small shrine in their yard, and families that live in rumah asal (family compounds, the subject of my mini research project!) have a larger temple in a central location. On certain holidays each extended family will march together to an even larger temple that covers even more people.
Last week a few of us were given the opportunity to go to one of the bigger temples with our extended family. Try to picture this: starting at around 8pm, a hundred or so people, dressed in kebaya and sarong, holding ceremonial ornaments, and sometimes accompanied by a marching gamelan band, literally take over one lane of the street as they march en masse to temple. There they pray and are blessed with hundreds of other people from other (sometimes distantly related) families. There are lots of colorful flowers and incense. There is a barong dance-performance, in which an ornate lion/dragon dances around, sometimes lunging towards the audience. A few men go into trance, writhing and yelling. Then everyone leaves the temple — maybe buying toys or cotton candy from the vendors outside the temple — goes home, talks for awhile, and then goes to bed.
I brought my camera but didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures for most of the ceremony. Once the individual praying had stopped, however, Sabrina (our friend and guide for the night) encouraged me to take pictures. There were also some Indonesians taking pictures, which made me feel better. I have to scoot or pay for another hour at the internet cafe, so I’ll leave you with some pictures. Here are some offerings we helped Sabrina put together; the village temple; and various ceremonies, including a man going into trance. It was a lovely night and I feel so thankful that our family allowed us into such an important part of their lives.