I Must Be Off! is having its first annual Travel Essay Contest. Each entry will appear at first without byline or bio. These will be added at the end of the contest. As you enjoy these travel essays from around the world, please feel free to comment; but if you offer criticism, remember to be positive. These writers are my guests.
by Sreelakshmi Gururaja
The practice of making “offerings” is an essential feature in the daily life of the Balinese. The daily “offerings” are simple, relatively small, fit into the palm of a hand and are prepared and placed mostly by women. They are usually colorful with eye-catching flowers, fruits, vegetables, assortment of food items, coins, sweets, candy, cigarettes even, all of which are assembled on a quaint handcrafted small tray, the waft and weave pattern deftly created from palm leaf, bamboo, and banana stem. While each “offering” is unique, there is a pattern in the aesthetic array and its arrangement on the trays. The reverence of the slim batik sarong-clad women in making the “offering”, with heads bowed and hands folded, is unmistakably devout. The ceremony itself is serenely simple with gentle hand gestures directing the incense fumes towards the statue or object accompanied by graceful body movements that have been handed down and followed over generations. When I asked the young woman placing an “offering” at the hotel desk about the practice, she quietly informed me that the purpose is for thanksgiving, to appease the spirits and seek blessings.
To the Balinese, nine temples are considered very sacred and each has its own special characteristics – geographic location, significance of the Hindu God it represents, and historical importance. The mother temple of Besakihtemple, situated on the south slope of the volcano, Mount Agung, is over 1000 years old and considered the most sacred as it represents Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. After climbing what seemed to be hundred steps hewn out of black volcanic rock, we reached the first vast courtyard , then we climbed another set of steps , a little less than before and then another. What is remarkable is the maintenance of the impeccably clean surroundings and the greenery.
There are several ‘mantapas” or shrines in each courtyard. Unlike Hindu shrines in India, the shrines have cloth wrapped around them but are bereft of idols or statues. The colour and pattern of the cloth denotes the deity the shrine represents. The explanation given by the guide is that the idols are brought out ceremoniously by the priests once a year and installed in the shrines for worship. At other times, prayers are offered to the shrines for what they represent in a way implying the omnipresence of the deities, and emphasizing spirituality over ritual.
At the temple we witnessed a procession of men and women mourners carrying elaborate baskets of “offerings” on their heads. We were told that it was a family in mourning and the ceremony pertained to blessing of the ashes after cremation. Clothed in white and holding the holy white umbrellas, they silently approached the priests seated on the raised platforms and placed the “offerings”. Observing from a distance, we got a glimpse of an actual religious ceremony without being intrusive.
Sreelakshmi Gururaja lives in Bangalore, Indiaand workedfor UNICEF for more than twenty years. Upon her retirment in 2005, she returned to her hobbies of reading and writing. She is presently writing a book on her childhood for her grandchildren and extended family.
RESULTS OF THE CONTEST ANNOUNCED ON JULY 20!