Early this morning, shortly after breakfast, I set out on a pilgrimage. I was headed to a temple, but not just any temple; the family temple belonging to the family that runs the Family Guesthouse where I now reside. But like all families who run such facilities in and around Ubud, Nyoman and Ketut – as well as their children and a number of relatives – work where they live and live where they work.
And so, I didn’t have very far to walk; in fact, just down the stairs from my comfortable suite above the owner’s room and diagonally across the family compound to a smaller (also open-air) compound housing the temple and separated from the living, sleeping quarters and kitchen by a stone archway. Herein stand various manifestations of the one Hindu god, each deity represented by a designated shrine – for protection, security, prosperity, and so on.
Lucky me: Today was a particularly auspicious day to participate in this pilgrimage because, this month, Purnama (the full moon ceremony) coincides with Kajeng Kliwon (a day dedicated to cleansing the mind and home, and asking for protection over the family and their home).
Although most members of the family went about their daily business, Nyoman honored my request to learn about the ceremony, offerings and prayers; and invited me to accompany Wayan so that I could observe and assist. I walked and walked, a journeywoman following in Wayan’s steps.
The first thing to note about Wayan is that, more than anyone else in this residence on Jalan Sukwa, she reigns supreme when it comes to offerings. Though she is not the matriarch of the family, Wayan is much respected as the authority on all things related to offerings; and the other women typically yield to her instructions.
Most mornings Wayan goes about her routine solitary pilgrimage around the family compound, laying out a seemingly endless abundance of offerings into the numerous openings and on bases of stone shrines. She works quietly but diligently, scuffling about in flipflops, wearing the traditional garb – sarong, kebaya and sash, returning periodically to the workshop set off in a corner of the compound, to refill her basket with yet more colorful offerings.
In the afternoons, the other women join her in the shade of the central courtyard, surrounded by raw materials to be transformed into offerings. Spread about are bunches of leaves from palm and coconut trees, thin bamboo reeds, rattan baskets and the ubiquitous stapler.
Under Wayan’s guidance, each of the other women contributes to the task; this one cutting out sections or face-like shapes with a razor-sharp, homemade knife; another weaving the leaves, yet another threading thin bamboo sticks through palm baskets.
Wayan, a tightly wrapped bun perfectly centered in the back of her head, with petals peeking out from the top, has pulled out all the stops for this day; she has been preparing dozens of woven leaf palm baskets and decorations since yesterday and the fruits of her labor slowly begin to appear all over the compound.
As if a Full Moon ceremony wasn’t enough! On the day of Kajeng Kliwon, extra offerings are made. Accordingly, Wayan’s baskets are filled to overflowing with fruit, flowers, glutinous rice (little mountains of cooked grains), pieces of meat, candies, cups of water, coffee and other liquids. Some have hardboiled eggs, coconut, wrapped tobacco and crackers.
While Wayan is still on her walkabout, the family’s priest (pemangku) – and brother-in-law – Ketut arrives with his wife. They are both dressed in their finest, all-white ceremonial costumes.. As his wife helps Wayan finish preparations in the temple (sub-) compound, Ketut seats himself on a cushion placed on a platform and faces the shrines. Closing his eyes, he rings a bell gently while he repeats mantras and prayers.
The mantras end, and I am asked to kneel alongside Wayan so that Ketut can bless us both – with flowers, holy water and rice grains – which are squeezed together and placed on our foreheads (to cleanse the mind) and throat (to cleanse the voice). We offer prayers; for ourselves, gratitude for the sun, protection for the family, for their home, and also for the island of Bali. I sneak in a few more prayers; health for those on my mind many miles away, peace in parts of the world I may never touch the ground, compassion and love – for those who need it most.
Before I know it, Wayan has already disappeared, no doubt continuing with the task of placing more offerings here and there – including, I soon discover, at the shrine outside my room upstairs.
Ketut is in no rush to leave, instead launching into an explanation about how he became a priest. Only three years ago, he was a busy artist. Then his wife, Wayan, began to experience some health problems. They tried to seek out medical treatments for her, even going as far as Singapore – all to no avail.
They finally turned to the high priest in their village, who told Ketut that he had two options to choose from if Wayan was to ever to heal: either to divorce his wife or to become a priest.
So Ketut selected the latter, his wife’s condition improved almost immediately; and since then, although he continues to do his art, he must otherwise behave and conduct his life as a priest. Plus, he continues, he must practice the mantras because they are so hard to memorize!
By ten o’clock in the morning, I feel like I have taken a journey of a thousand miles – and I’ve not yet set foot outside the guesthouse. So how is it that I feel that I’ve taken at one big step, maybe more?