The temple at Tana Lot on Bali by low tide and sundown, a special time. The grotto is only accessible at low tide and a ceremony is being held with prayer, offerings and a seal of the priest with a grain of rice pressed into the skin of my forehead: a prayer for long life. On July 4th, Budha Cemeng Ukir, Budha Wage is a reocccuring auspicious day for meditation and cleansing the mind of negativity. At this day, which is also known as the day of Sang Hyang Mankik Galih who descended as Sang Hyang Ongkara Mreta to the physical world, the Balinese Hindus pray to Dewa Sang Hyang Sri Nini for prosperity and protection with special offerings (http://www.Tanalot.net).
The most important temple is the Mother temple of Bali , called Besakih Temple in central Bali, located on the slopes of Mount Agung. This is a vast complex of individual family clan temples and each family is expected to undertake a pilgrimage to it once a year. Why a temple complex this vast is built on a volcano, completely beats me, as many volcanoes, once thought dormant, came to life again. Indonesia’s islands are scattered on a fault line that is highly active, with many earth quakes and volcanic eruptions.
Wikipedia: an earthquake in July 2006 on Java caused a three-meter-high tsunami, which destroyed houses on the south coast of Java, killing at least 668 people and leaving at least 65 missing. An underground earthquake in the Indian Ocean caused a major tsunami in 2004 with many deaths, although it spared Bali and Java that time. The highest death toll in Indonesia was on Sumatra in the province of Aceh on that fateful Sunday, 26 December 2004. The earthquake was caused by subduction and triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 meters (98 ft) high. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. With a magnitude of Mw 9.1–9.3, it is the third largest earthquake ever recorded on aseismograph. The earthquake had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimetre (0.4 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. Its epicentre was between Simeulue and mainland Indonesia. The plight of the affected people and countries prompted a worldwide humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than $14 billion (2004 US$) in humanitarian aid.
No wonder the people feel little control over their lives when nature and the gods exert that much power in their lives. The Balinese are the most devout people I have met. Similar to the people of Mexico, much time and attention is spent on practicing of their religion, although the Balinese beat any nation I know, at least in terms of real state dedicated in their homes and family compounds to religion, altars and temples.
The photos below are from Java, mostly. The number of temples in Indonesia is astonishing. The number of ancient ones even more so. The Prambanan, the major Hindu temple on Java in the photos of this post is as much a beacon of the the cultural prowess in this region as the Borobudur (both built centuries ahead of many other places of worship in the East, as well as in Europe). Even more impressive in my view is that this temple co-existed with the major Buddhist temple, the Borobudur, both religions in peaceful coexistence, their worshipers not claiming their god(s) as the most important, or the only God.
The temple complex was built in 900s by the ruler of the kingdom of Keraton Boko, as it is now called. It was in the period of the Sanjaya dynsty; their religion was Hinduism. In the very same period, the dynasty of Sailendra whose religion was Buddhism, was also booming. At that time, Buddhism was at its peak.
The name for the Prambanan came from the town where it was located, although the complex was built as a temple to the Hindu God, Shiva, so its proper name is Candi Siwa, in Indonesian. The complex is built in 3 groups of buildings, each dedicated to a deity, the most important is Shiva in this complex. At that time, the school of Hinduism in that area were followers of the Shiva sect. Hinduism was born in India, does not have one individual as the founder, and was based on a fusion of many religious beliefs and philosophical schools, so it is said to be a religion of a million and one gods. The walls of the mid sections of the temple of Shiva (believed to be the creator anddestroyer) are decorated with 41 reliefs that tell the story called the Ramanaya, which is the story of Prince Rama, eldest son of king Dasarata, who lived an exemplary life, followed all the rules of Dharma–duty–and redeemed himself for good behaviour. After having been mistreated by his scheming step mom (who wanted her own son on the throne) who caused him to be banished from court for 14 years, he lived in the forest as a poor man. He encountered many challenges, which he overcame. His role and central place in the Hindu religion reminds one of the Christ figure. It is believed that the God Vishnu reincarnated in Rama and lead him to redeem himself. The Ramayana story depicted on the temples walls has a similar purpose as those of Prince Siddhartha and his path to enlightenment, depicted on the Borobudur walls: to educate and to remind followers of the important rules of the religion and their religious duties.
Similar to the Holy Trinity in Christianity, Shiva is a God glorified in the belief of Trimurti–the trinity– of God: as Shiva, as Vishnu, and as Brahma–the Supreme Reality behind all that is. Shiva can also take many forms, such as Supreme master (Mahaguru), as symbol of happiness (Ganesh, with the elephant’s head) , and as as the ruler of the universe (Durga Mahisasuramardi). Most Hindus believe in at least one or more deities, believe in reincarnation, value the practice of meditation, and observe festive holidays like Diwali and Holi and respect the authority of the holy texts, the Vedas, and the priestly class, the Brahmans. About 80% of of India’s population regard themselves as Hindus; 30 million Hindus live outside of India. In Indonesia, about 2 % of the population is Hindu (US state department International Religious Freedom report 2006). Wikipedia.
Each section of the three groups of temple buildings has a statue of Shiva in various appearance inside the largest central temple of each grouping. The largest statue is in the Candi Siwa group and is 3 meters high and in standing position, as if mediating. The base is sculpted in the form of a lotus flower which could hold water with flowers in it to purify the statue. The used water is considered to possess scared powers will pour through the dragon’s mouth located at the lower part of the building and kept in a vase for distribution. This water is much sought by the Hindus.
One of the other forms of Shiva is Ganesh, also called the son of Shiva.
On the way to another temple we passed a large, very old banyan tree which is thought to house a spirit of its own by most contemporary Indonesians; offerings are made daily. Animism is still part of the culture: all living things have a spirit, some of them good, some bad.
My guide also stopped at a modern Buddhist temple with a reclining Buddha covered in gold. Thought it was a nice contrast. The body is covered, not sure why.
When mortals visit a Buddhist temple one is obliged to tie a rope to hold back the source of all evil: the sex organs and gut. On us, Caucasians it looks quite ridiculous and out of context, but we abide by the customs. Go ahead and laugh. Men and women need to cover their legs and tourists must buy or rent a sarong or a piece of cloth to cover up if they are wearing shorts. My advice for travel in a foreign country would be to dress conservatively and leave the shorts for the beach and the hotel pool.
Back on Bali: my travel companion and I made some trips to the north, to Ubud and to various other temples and sites. The following photos below are from a trip on Bali to Ubud, centre of the arts.
The traditional gamelan orchestras and the theatre performances are spectacular and unique, its sound haunting, from gentle to frantic and back to soft and melodic, sometimes its acceleration to frantic popping and shrieking sounds to those unfamiliar with it. The gamelan orchestra consists of woodwind, string and percussion instruments that are typical for the Bali and Java islands and are part of the culture. Gamelan orchestras accompany dances and pretty much all ceremonial and religious events. The gamelan predates Buddhism and Hinduism in Indonesia and is very, very old music, possibly imported from India. It must be played outside in the open, as within a walled building the sound would quickly surpass the pain threshold of the ear. The Maharajah of Jogjakarta was famous for his gamelan orchestra. Apparently, Claude Debussy, the French classical composer, loved the gamelan music.
The heart of many theater performances are traditional parables and its characters are often representations of the world of deities, based on the Hindu and Buddhist religious texts, meant to educate and entertain the people about the struggles in life. They believe that good and bad is within us and life is a constant struggle to remain good and to fight bad forces within us. Its most important representation is the Barong, a monster that is sometimes good and sometimes bad in a story, there to remind us and to educate about life and the principles of life.
The dances might be a piece from the Ramayana that is performed, or the Prince or Princess is seduced and/or threatened, captured, or meet the Barong and are saved. The king of the monkeys is an important character, and an ally, representing ancestors. All apes on the island are treated with respect and fed in their own temples on the outskirts of a town, generally. (A really practical measure, as it prevents a raid on the villages and the gardens for food).
The theaters are open but sheltered from the sun, with richly inlaid tiled seats and up front seat for the important (rich) people. The climate is very hot and humid, so I was grateful for some shade. If lucky, a bit of a draft will waft through the building occasionally, cooling off the skin by evaporating the collected film of moisture that travels with you at all times. I now understood why fiery, spicy food goes so well with tropical climes, as it causes you to sweat, which then in turn gets a bit of a AC going right on the skin by the breeze coming off the ocean causing evaporation..Forget about putting on makeup, that’s just a lost cause. I can compare it to the hot yoga class, which feels like the same kind of heat.
The modern day dancing has removed itself more from the religious themes apparently, and a completely new art form, stripped from its historical, literary and cultural context has developed, which I have not seen yet; maybe next trip.
The main micro movements of the dances that are most striking are the extremely flexible hands and finger movements of the dancers (called mudras) and the head movements, that almost suggests that the head of the dancer is on a gear, allowing it to slide from one side horizontally in the opposite direction.
The eyes are prominent and the theater makeup is extraordinary, with eye movements exaggerated and signifying a lot in its expression. There is practically no singing, but always gamelan music. Kids are starting their training as a dancer as young as age 7.