Mengwi CeremonyFebruary 23rd, 2007
Post 2: Ceremony at Mengwi Temple:
This is an account of our next ceremony, the annual birthday celebration of the mother temple of the ancient Mengwi Kingdom. We didn’t take cameras to the ceremony, so I’ve included some other photos of our trip.
Adolf and Arjuna, mythic hero-warrior-spiritual seeker from the Bhagavad Gita:
Arjuna statue details:
Arjuna statue details:
Ceremonial traffic jam:
Rice paddies from our bedroom window:
The Mengwi Kingdom was the second largest of the 9 pre-Dutch colonial Balinese kingdoms.
The presiding Deity of this ancient temple is Durga, wife of Shiva, mother of Kali. Our host is Agung Kartiasa, who we met through our friends, Bobbie and Allan Goodman. The Goodmans lead amazing spiritual adventure travel tours to Bali. (You can email them for a flyer about their next Bali tour in June at: firstname.lastname@example.org).
We arrive at the family compound in Umabian village and are greeted like royalty. We are shown around the beautiful compound and bungalows.
Agung family compound:
Agung family shrine:
Next we are treated to a sumptuous vegetarian dinner of Nasi Campur over looking terraced rice fields. Each dish is served in itâ€™s own banana leaf boat. Our guide, Brata, joins us for dinner. We have a lively conversation about Balinese culture. I comment to Brata on the incredible artistry, craftsmanship and attention to detail I see everywhere in Bali. He explains how the Balinese incorporate the concepts of Karma yoga (the yoga of action) into everything they do.
A carved window:
Our dinner with Brata:
In the distance we can see people walking to the temple through the green rice fields, brightly dressed in ceremonial attire. The women, flowers in their hair, balance richly woven baskets on their heads filled with ritual offerings of fruit, rice, incense, and food.
Ritual Offerings being prepared. These are sweet rice cakes:
After dinner, Brata ties my sarong, adds a sash and hat, and we head to the temple at dusk. The path winds down through the precisely sculpted rice terraces. We are surrounded by the sound of running water and the emerald green rice, glowing in the sunset.
Steep stone steps bring us down to a deep, strongly flowing canal. Weâ€™re in the forest now and the air is steamy as shadows gather under the trees. Iâ€™m drenched in sweat, even though our pace is relaxed. The narrow, slippery path follows the dike above the canal. A misstep would send me plunging. We approach the temple in the gathering darkness. The sound of chanting and the hypnotic tones of the gamelon orchestra float through the humid night air, dense with spirits .
Entering the threshold of the temple, it seems as though we are stepping back through time. The whole village has turned out. Men and women are sitting or standing in groups. Some of the men are smoking and the air is scented with clove cigarettes and sandalwood incense. Kids are running around laughing. Scruffy dogs sniff the floor, which is covered with discarded ritual offerings of the previous days of preparation; flowers, rice bamboo leaf boxes and multitudes of bamboo and palm-leaf stenciled shapes and woven designs. The atmosphere is relaxed and festive, more like a 4th of July family reunion than a powerful ceremony. The shrines are fully decorated with goldâ€“embroidered fabrics and piled high with offerings; fruit, ornately carved and woven bamboo and palm-leaf designs and incense.
We follow Brata through this maze like chicks following a mother hen. Weâ€™re the only foreigners here and I see lots of curious looks, but the eyes are smiling. One of the temple priests, an older man clad simply in white with a white scarf-hat, smiles at me and we pranam. His eyes beam with inner energy. The plainness of the priests garb and demeanor contrasts with the lavish and ornate decorations of the shrines. Yet the priests all radiate a potent spiritual energy.
We find a spot to sit and wait. The first ceremony of the evening is a purification ceremony. Sandals and flip-flops pile high on the threshold as people clamor into the inner temple and sit crowded together on the ground. The shrines are piled high with offerings and lit with fluorescent lights, which contrast strangely with the candle light flickering in the dark recesses deeper in the temple. I watch a gecko chasing moths fluttering around the light and listen to the night sounds of the jungle forest. A priest begins chanting in a deep resonant voice over a loudspeaker, in what sounds like Sanskrit. People hold different colored flowers, offerings or incense in pranamed hands in front of their foreheads, changing them between each prayer. The chanted prayers continue for a long while, ending with â€œOm Shanti, Shanti, Shanti Omâ€. How those words have followed me through my life!
After the prayers the priests mingle through the seated crowd blessing each person with holy water. As I sip the holy water spilled into my palm, I thank the spirits for the opportunity to participate in this event. (And add an extra prayer that the spiritual energy will neutralize any microbes in the water).
After the blessing, people file out to the outer temple to relax and socialize while the gamelon orchestra plays. I learn from Agung that the instruments are tuned to a pentatonic scale. When the music stops, men chant and sing songs from the Ramayana (Hindu epic poem describing the lives, adventures and antics of the Gods) over a loudspeaker. Brata leaves us to take his turn singing.
After a long wait, the dancing begins. The first dance is by the women for the Goddess, Durga. They face the inner temple holding offerings and do slow, trance-like movements, while a priest, also dancing, holds an incense burner billowing with smoke. The smoke floats eerily around the priest and dancing women, diffusing through the stark halogen light into the dark shadows of the shrine, pregnant with unseen energy.
The next dances are for social enjoyment. The dancers wear beautiful costumes of bright colored fabric, richly embroidered with gold. The dancers represent characters from Balinese mythic stories like the Ramayana. Men in brightly painted masks are fierce or cavorting. A masked warrior man points at Tami across the dance floor, zapping her with energy. He then dances over and taking her hand, kisses it lovingly, much to our embarrassment and the delight of the crowd. In other dances, women in long dresses make intricate motions with their hands and wrists.
Next, young girls in ornate costumes and flowers in their hair dance the Legong dance as their mothers watch with proud smiles.
The next ceremony is a procession carrying effigies of the temple Gods around the inner enclosure of the temple. Women carry the effigies on their heads while the people follow, many carrying lit incense.
After the procession we wait for the final meditation at midnight. Weâ€™re exhausted and sweating in our hot sarongs. Our bums hurt from sitting on the hard cement. Brata offers to take us back, but we decide to tough it out until the final meditation at midnight.
The evening finally ends at midnight with a meditation to Durga. People again crowd into the inner temple and sit on the stone floor. All lights are extinguished and we sit in silence in the darkness, receiving the blessing of the Divine Mother. In the darkness, surrounded by Balinese people earnestly praying in their ancient temple, the awkward mask of my foreignness falls away, and for a time, I lose myself in the vastness of the jungle night. The meditation ends with another blessing of holy water.
On the long walk back, weâ€™re simultaneously exhausted and buzzing with energy. Iâ€™m happy that Brata brought a flashlight to help us negotiate the dark, slippery path and steep stone steps. He casually comments to watch out for the extremely poisonous green snakes. Tami says, â€œI wish you would have told me that before I went into the forest to go to the bathroom,â€ So it goes.