Brazell auf Bali

3) Beginning of the semester: Mejaya-Jaya ritual

Before the beginning of the academic year, our international office mentor, Agus Adi Kamajaya, organised this ceremony for all international students in his native village of Bakbakan, approximately 15km northeast of Denpasar. Mejaya-Jaya involves a purification rite (melukat) and is meant to cleanse the participants so as to enhance the capacity to learn and study afterwards. Apparently ISI usually carries out this ceremony with all (or all new) students on campus at the beginning of the semester, but since foreign students are not invited to this, our mentor held a small equivalent of the ceremony for us at his house – conveniently, his father’s a priest. His mother and wife did the offerings, traditionally the women’s task.

Some people might feel that participating in such ceremonies as a non-Hindu doesn’t make sense – but experiencing some of these rituals from ‚within‘ actually gives you a feel for the effect they have on Balinese people and encourages you to ask questions to better understand them. (Whether you’ll get meaningful answers to those questions is quite another matter!)))

Pak Agus‘ house is a beautiful traditional Balinese family compound in the rice fields, where he lives with his parents, wife and children. Just being there and wandering around in the ricefields accompanied by his sons was really enjoyable, despite persistent rainfall…

Ricefields that are not being worked are just plain brown. The farmers give each field a rest in a kind of rotating system; but this also depends on the season I think. The Balinese irrigation system (Subak) dates back to the 9th century and has become quite famous lately; it was enlisted as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2012. The water is controlled by a system of canals and tunnels, and water temples mark either the source of water or its passage (through the temple) downhill towards subak land. Farmers are organised in water collectives to manage the water from a common source under the authority of the priests. As with most aspects of Balinese culture and society, subak is closely tied in with religious and philosophical beliefs: Following the Tri Hita Karana philosophy, water temple rituals promote the balance between people and their environment and stress the human dependence on the forces of nature. Bakbakan doesn’t have the huge, multi-terraced ricefields of regions like Tegalalang or Jatiluwih, but the farmers take just as much pride in their fields. – Change of subject: What do you think this ugly little bush is? Zoom in and find the fruit it bears…

Yes – a banana plant! And this palm tree one on the left? Very dark, I know –

The famous coconut! By far my favourite drink here (kelapa muda = young coconut) :)) Eventually, that day in Bakbakan the sun came out on the ricefields and everything looked green and lush and beautiful: Bali as it appears on the postcards. I can only say that you don’t get to see this side of Bali much if you live in Denpasar city…

The actual ceremony itself was like most other ceremonies I’ve participated in since: Long, tiring, hot, a lot of waiting for things you only partially understand the significance of – but touching as well and creating moments of peace and timelessness that I’ve found in Christian ceremonies only during singing. Incense sticks are meant to purify (you wave the smoke towards yourself to clean face and hands) and carry the essence of the offerings to the gods. Each time the priest rings his bell, you pray, raising your hands with palms laid together to the top of your forehead. The first prayer is to empty your mind and connect with the spirit within. In the following prayers, flowers of certain colours are used to address different gods, or aspects of God (the piece of flower is stuck in between your hands while you pray). The last prayer, again with empty hands, is for peace. The priest performs the blessing by sprinkling water on you, giving you some of the water to drink (three times) and clean your face and head, then offering you uncooked rice to mark the forehead, the base of your neck and your temples (the rest can be eaten). All this is a fixed ritual, as are the verses and answers in Christian church services; but this one doesn’t rely on language and fixed phrases. I think it touches me more because it allows you to phrase your prayers in your own way. You’re asked to empty your mind to connect with the gods – meditation being a part of Balinese Hinduism. Maybe that’s why Bali became such a Yoga hotspot.

For all temple ceremonies, Balinese traditional temple dress (pakaian adat) must be worn: For women, that’s a kebaya, kamen (sarong) with selendang (scarf), and the hair should be tied. Outside the ceremonies, when you enter a temple or do the offerings, you should at least wear a selendang (to show you are ’serious‘ about religious worship); usually a kamen too. Men wear an udeng (headpiece), a shirt (usually white), kamen, saputan (cloth on top of kamen that reaches to the thighs) and umpal (waistband). As most kebayas are semi-transparent, you’re expected to wear somethings beneath that – traditionally some kind of corset, but I’m resisting that so far… xD In order to tie your kamen without making a knot (and having this lump beneath your kebaya), women usually fasten a tight, broad belt around the waist on top of the kamen. Now imagine wearing all this clothing for several hours in temeperatures ranging between 30 and 40°C – and I think you’ll understand why I said these ceremonies can be tiring! However, I absolutely love my growing collection of colourful kebayas and sarong (often Batik) :))) Apparently the need to wear a kebaya is rather a recent thing. Traditionally, Balinese women used to leave their upper body uncovered; for formal and ceremonial occasions, they’d wind a sash tightly around it covering the breasts but leaving shoulders and arms exposed. Some sources say the Dutch, when they at last started occupying Bali too (from 1849 onwards), enforced the wearing of the kebaya in an attempt to make the island more „civilised“. However, the Balinese I talked to usually say that wearing the kebaya became necessary when Bali became part of the united, primarily Muslim Republic of Indonesia.

Some of the offerings prepared for the ceremony.

Incense and holy water sprinkled by way of preparing for the ritual.

As in most ceremonies, there was plenty of food! And believe me, after hours of waiting and sitting around in the hot sunshine, you’re gonna need it xD

Finally, below you see most, if not all of the foreign students enrolled at ISI Denpasar this year (twenty-something students). All except me and another girl are in the Darmasiswa programme with which the Indonesian government aims to foster interest in Indonesian culture(s). Only eight of us are in the so-called Performing Arts department (= music and dance, a made-up term for the foreign students; local students choose either music OR dance). The other Darmasiswa study visual arts and crafts: traditional drawing, mask-making, Batik etc.

CONGRATULATIONS for taking in all of this information! I’ll be back:)