Brazell auf Bali

2) September: The first ceremonies

Balinese Hinduism (Agama Hindu Dharma) is a distinct form of Hinduism and practiced by the majority of the population on Bali. It includes the belief that places, objects and all creatures possess a spiritual essence and are thus ‚alive‘ or ‚animated‘ (animism). It also involves worship of the ancestors and acknowledgement of Buddhist saints. In a way it seems to be a mixture of Indian Hinduist beliefs and indigenous customs that were practiced on Bali before the arrival of Islam and the Dutch. In order to be recognised by the Indonesian government as an official religion however, Balinese Hindus needed to describe their belief in way that made it look monotheistic. Only citizens who belong to an officially recognised religion (and one of the requirements for that is monotheism) are granted the rights of citizenship – such as for example the right to vote!

It’s one thing to read about Balinese Hinduism – quite another to experience it in daily life. There are religious ceremonies all the time! So many aspects of daily life are influenced by religion, whether it be what day you make a voyage or where you dump your rubbish. A large proportion of Balinese Hindus‘ lives is dedicated to preparing offerings, preparing food, preparing one’s selves and preparing houses and temples for all sorts of ceremonies that take place all throughout the year. Balinese Hindus follow their own 210-day calendar (as well as a lunar calendar) which deviates considerably from the Gregorian calendar. This special calendar prescribes all the different days for specific ceremonies as well as suitable days for all sorts of social events, like weddings, name giving, tooth filing etc. It’s incredibly complex! Usually for important events the Balinese themselves need to seek advice from their priests to find suitable dates according to the religious calendar, which few people understand in all its complexity.

With time I will hopefully be able to understand some aspects of Balinese religious practice, not least because I now have more Balinese friends who I can question about them. But during my first few weeks here, I really just stumbled into this bewildering world of ceremonious events. The first ceremony I ran into during my first week on Bali was an offerings procession called Pengaskaran. It’s some sort of purification ritual that takes place after cremation ceremonies (Ngaben). Hundreds of offerings (banten) of fruit, flowers and food in the traditional light bamboo boxes are carried by women through the streets accompanied by priests and procession music (Baleganjur). I can’t elaborate any more on this type of ceremony, simply because I did’t find any intelligible information or explanations at the time. Here’s a little glimpse of the procession in Sanur. It was a huge gathering!

The second ceremony in September I was invited to by one of the teachers at Narwastu (see ‚Gamelan Narwastu‘) who I had but just met for the first time. It was the blessing of the gamelan in the instrument museum of the Institut Seni, a ceremony called Tumpek Krulut performed every six (Balinese) months or 210 days. ‚Tumpek‘ are special days on the Balinese calendar, there are six altogether in the course of one Balinese 210-day cycle (called Pawukon) honouring in turn the creation of iron objects, plants, the ancestors, animals, the wayang shadow puppets. ‚Krulut‘ derives from Javanese and means ‚pleasant‘. Tumpek Krulut is the fourth in the row of the Tumpek days and is held to express gratitude for the creation of sacred sounds in the form of the bronze gamelan. It is dedicated to all musical instruments and also masks and other tools used for art performances in religious ceremonies. There are quite a few sets of gamelan from all over Bali in the ISI museum collection, but the ceremony was held in the room of the largest of these sets possessing the largest gong, the Gamelan Gong Gede. The university student gamelan played in another room of the museum while priests performed the sacred ritual and women carried around offerings to bless all the other sets of instruments in the museum by sprinkling holy water on their gongs and leaving small offerings on each set.

Maybe you will notice (as I did) that there is only one girl playing in the university gamelan. That’s already one more than you’ll find, on average, during ISI temple performances. Maybe one out of 20-30 is enough to do justice to what in German we call the „Frauenquote“?
Small offerings on the Gong Kebyar from North Bali …
… on the Javanese gamelan …
… and on the Gamelan Degung from Sunda (West Java).

At the end everybody gathered to pray in the room of the Gong Gede. As in all ceremonies I have visited since, I (then the only foreigner) was invited to join in the praying, which felt very weird indeed, as I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing and just tried to imitate without attracting attention. (For a detailed description of the praying procedure, see the next post:))

This is Pak Kadek Astawa, the younger of the two Narwastu teachers, who invited me to this ceremony. He works at the museum of ISI Denpasar, besides being a musician and teacher with his own sanggar.