Oh-la-la Odalan!

Nyoman and grandson Dede

I was ready to call it a night last evening, when I heard Nyoman call up at me from below: Do you want to come to the show with us? I knew by now that these neighborhood performances are a tradition during Odalan, and tonight, the gang from Laka Lekewas puttin’ on the ritz – so I owed it to Nyoman and Ketut (it’s his family’s restaurant) to show up.

Still, I wavered at first, my body aching for rest. But, knowing that a surprise was in store, one that I dared not miss, my intuition spoke up for me. Moments later, Nyoman (dressed up in kebaya, sarong, sash and updo) slipped her arm through mine and we walked down the road to the bale banjar. The neighborhood gathering place and temple. The place where all male banjar members congregate within minutes of hearing the drumming of the kulkul, a signal to all within earshot that duty calls.

The bale banjar is the venue for all significant neighborhood-related meetings and events. Where little boys meet to practice the gamelan; the women gossip while producing temple offerings, teenage girls huddle while flirting with the guys zipping by on motorbikes.

Well, there was no zipping around last night; Jalan Sukma  is blocked off, the whole area in front of the bale transformed into an outdoor stage – complete with a blue carpet that covers a big patch of road. Neighbors, friends, parents and siblings are out in full force and regalia.

Odalan is a festival marking the birthday or anniversary of a temple (of which there are oh-so-many all over the island): Depending on the particular temple being feted, the celebrations typically last from one to four days, occasionally more than a week.

They certainly know how to whoop it up, these Balinese: Lights, music, action. And laughter, lots and lots of laughter. And knowing only a few words of Bahasa (Indonesian language) is no impediment to appreciating the scenes that unfolded in front of my eyes: The pemangku (priest) whose prayers and offerings (prepared by his wife) take precedence before the show, giving thanks to the gods on behalf of all for all that they provide; one magnificently colored and outfitted performer after another.

Music that seeps into your mind, gets under your skin so that you end up humming it on the way home. Children sidling up to parents, one howling no louder than the other. I am mesmerized by the scene, the costumes. It doesn’t get any more authentic than this.


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