How the Balinese stay true to their roots to worship their Gods and pay tribute to their ancestors...
As the center of tourism in Indonesia, Bali has experienced so many changes. According to the Tourism and Agriculture department of Bali, the island now has over 2,000 hotels with approximately 60,000 rooms. Nearly 400 hectares of rice fields have been transformed into houses and other establishments. At the same time, the high economic demand increases urbanization.
However, despite the rapid development, the Balinese people never forget their roots. Being a Balinese Hindu and a photo journalist myself, I was intrigued to capture their bhakti – the sincerity of the Balinese in worshipping their God and paying tributes to their ancestors through a visual story that I am sharing with you here...
Man of Duty
The Balinese spiritual and religion are rooted back to Indian Hinduism, Buddhism and ancient animism belief. The theological basis of Hinduism in Bali comes from Indian philosophy while animism belief inspires most of the rituals. The Balinese Hindu people strongly believe that natural incidents are caused by spirits. Therefore, they present offerings – which are made of harvests and crops – to the spirits. Mount Agung (the highest mountain in Bali) is believed to be the home of the Gods and ancestors. Hence, the mountain is known as the Mother of the Mount, and it is sacred for the Balinese.
Three years ago, my family got our turn to take care of our ancestral family temple in our hometown. Every Balinese family has to take care of their family temple for three months. Once they’re done, another family will take over the duty for another three months. Among the responsibilities are making daily offerings, performing ceremonies on certain days such as during the Full Moon and Dead Moon, and cleaning the temple.
During our three-month tending the temple, the Balinese celebrated Galungan and Kuningan, two of the most important religious days as the Balinese celebrate the victory of dharma (virtue) over adharma (vice). So, our family prepared all of the offerings for our family temple, including making and erecting the Penjor (bamboo poles decorated with coconut leaves) which is a symbol of our respect towards nature and victory.
On the Galungan day, we woke at 3 a.m. My mother said, “We must deliver and place the offerings as early as we can. We should be finished before 7 a.m., before people come flocking to the temple to pray, since we have to serve the pilgrims and help them place their offerings.” That day, we also prepared the tirtha (holy water) and bija (rice grains soaked in flower-fragrant water to be put on the foreheads as a symbol that ‘God has blessed you’) for those who come to pray.
It was 4 a.m. when we arrived at our ancestral family temple and prepared everything. Mind you, my family and I live in Denpasar, while the temple is in Gianyar, which means we had to travel around 35 km back and forth every day to take care of the temple. And during the Galungan and Kuningan day, we had to be there before sunrise. This experience made me see and admire the sincerity of my parents in practicing their beliefs. They have sacrificed their time and materials to perform their bhakti to their ancestors.
Bhakti in Karangasem
My parents’ devotion to the Balinese ritual made me wonder whether other Balinese people in other parts of Bali would do the same. Would they perform their bhakti to their Gods and ancestors, just like my parents did? With this question in mind, I started my quest to capture the Balinese performing their bhakti in several villages in Karangasem Regency.
The first one was Selumbung Village where the community holds a ritual named Ngusaba Puseh every year to honor their ancestors and to welcome the guardian spirits of the village. On my visit, some people were in trance and led the community to the temple, while others came screaming from all around the temple. They ran to the center of the temple and danced in trance. The men were in a state of trance and started to hit their abdomens or arms with a dagger without feeling any pain.
Meanwhile, Bugbug, Jasri, Bebandem and Ngis Village hold the greatest ritual in Karangasem named Ngusaba Gumang once every two years. The ritual takes place at the top of the Gumang Hill, and is attended by around 10,000 people from the four surrounding villages. They come by foot and walk to the top of the hill. The ritual is held to celebrate the reunion of their ancestors – they believe that the Gods from the four villages will gather together with the God of Gumang Hill. On top of the hill, the villagers will show their gratitude to the Gods by offering roasted pigs.
A different kind of ritual is revealed in Trunyan Village, which is located in the crater area of Mount Batur. This village is home to Bali Mula, the original inhabitants of Bali who believe their ancestors were descended from heaven, unlike the ancestors of the majority Balinese who migrated from Java and brought Hinduism from Majapahit Kingdom to the island. On October 2014, the Trunyan villagers held the Saba Gede ceremony for their Gods. The celebration lasted for one month and ended with the Barong Brutuk performance.
Brutuk is derived from “baru tuwuk” which means “to meet.” This performance symbolizes the meeting between Ratu Ayu Pingit Dalem Dasar and Ratu Sakti Pancering Jagat, who are believed to be the ancestors of the Trunyan people. The Barong Brutuk is a rare ritual where the performers wear costumes made of dried banana leaves and wooden masks. This dance is only performed by young Trunyan men who have been selected, purified, and gone through a 42-day quarantine.
There are 21 masks of Barong Brutuk – each one represents one role, from the king to the queen, the knight, the queen’s brother and more. During the dance, the audience will try to steal the banana leaves, while the dancers will whip them to prevent them from stealing. Banana leaves stolen during the performance are believed to be lucky charms and good for fertility.
From traveling 35 km every day to take care of the ancestral family temple like my family did to going by foot to the top of the hill for a ceremony like the villagers of Bugbug, Jasri, Bebandem and Ngis, or holding performances like the Selumbung and Trunyan Village, the Balinese show a true devotion and sincerity when it comes to worshiping their Gods and honoring their ancestors. And as a young Balinese person, I believe these rituals must be preserved as our precious heritage. These rituals bring the Balinese people together while paying respect to their age-old traditions.
Contributor : Agung Parameswara
Magazine issue > Craft&Culture