Bali blog #3 – offerings


We’ve never been ones for over-planning a holiday, and quite rightly too: try too hard to see everything and you will miss what is happening right beneath your nose. It’s a theory which isn’t always rewarded, leaving your phone at home and sipping beers languorously with your back to all the action. But it is a practice which is always rewarding, and now and again it delivers unexpected experiences.

That is what happened to us on our last night in Lembongan when I was waved down on my moped by a well dressed Balinese man in dark glasses. The road (the one road through Lembongan beach village) was being closed down to traffic for a Hindu ceremony. I wasn’t too far from our hotel and I had my camera with me, so I jumped off the bike and stopped to observe. The performance turned out to be some sort of Legong; a sacred Balinese dance based on ancient Indonesian mythology. Other onlookers later informed me that it was a type of ‘Sanghyang’ which involves entrancing the performers with ‘hyang’ spirit, resulting in out of body trances and voodoo like reactions from participants.

At first however it was purely expressive pantomime and I was carried away by the pomp and rigour of the event. I was asked to buy a sarong and told it was fine to take photos. I have mentioned the incessant Balinese practice of offerings before; Canang Sari, treats for the gods laid out by one and all day and night, little bundles of banana leaf, chewing gum, flowers, incense, and cigarettes. I find the practice fascinating because of the dedication and homegrown industry which surrounds it, beautiful because of the aroma and colour it brings to the island, and occasionally deeply moving (when I first hired my bike our hotel staff placed one on my number plate before my maiden journey). It is also occasionally frustrating – the synthetic products which are included may be considered a gift to god and the environment, but I am sure neither see it as such when it is later swept into the sea. Well, the pantomime was preceded by offerings on an epic scale, and all the beauty of the smoke and flowers, delivered by impeccably dressed Balinese women and girls, gave me a head spin.

You can read more about the practice and meaning of the offerings on fellow blogger Shanon’s website, or on the excellent Kura-Kura Guide website.

Back to the ceremony. In fact I had to go and come back myself because the original reason I had gone out in the first place was to get lunch, a bag of soggy rice and vegetables still hanging by my side, which my wife was patiently waiting for at home. She and the kids would love this performance, I considered. The thought of her made me reach to touch my wedding ring, as I often do. And it was at that point I realised I had left the ring at the beach, taken off before my surf so as not to loose it in the big swell, with my sweaty, suncreamed fingers paddling back and forth. Ida likes a bit of freediving, but I don’t think she would appreciate me sending her out to the reef to look for that! Panicking I ran back to the hotel, dumped the rice, told her to get ready, mumbled an excuse and sprinted back to the beach. It was completely deserted when I got there, with everyone at temple. It was then I remembered that I had placed the ring inside the cover of my book, which I had recovered after the surf in order to jot down a girl’s number who I had met in the water. This was because she lived in our next destination, Sanur, and I thought it was someone Ida might want to hang out with. But I could see this explanation as being problematic at best: “I lost my wedding ring, the symbol of our enduring love, but on the plus side I got this yoga instructor’s number!” I slumped to my knees in despair and there, balanced on a the rocks, was the ring. It was a fortuitous event to say the least.

Would the ring have been there if all the local kids were playing on the beach as usual? I don’t know, maybe someone would have handed it in to one of the local warungs. All i know is that i returned to ceremony, wife and kids in tow, thankful for all the little offerings left (and found) that day.

The show went on for some hours, entertaining and shocking in equal measure. Our eldest was memorised by the be-costumed figures coming out of the temple, by the dances and of course by the ‘dragon’ Barong, the king of spirits. Now every time he passes one of the numerous temples which align every street i Bali, he peeks round the corner expecting one of them to come out. For our part we were quite taken aback when some of the female performers a collapsed and started to go in to trance on the temple stairs. The men around looked panicked and quickly scrambled the women into the temple. We had no idea whether it was intended and it was accompanied by bone-tingling screams from deeper in the crowd as some onlookers followed suit. But other members of the audience smiled and assured us that this was a very good thing.

All round a day of unexpected and unplanned good things.