Yesterday began in the very early morning hours with a thunderous rain shower that flooded streets, sidewalks and ditches all around Ubud. It poured throughout the morning. I saw it as a sign of foreboding – for the significant ceremony being held midday.
After yoga, I changed into de rigueur temple-dress and ambled over to the house, slowly side-stepping puddles and sludgy, muddy spots all along the main road. The sarong-ed men who had recently began constructing a funerary tower in front of the palace were on a long break, resting, smoking, chatting amongst themselves under the roof of the grand bale across the street. Tourists took cover too, in vans, buses – and Starbucks. Even dogs cowered, withdrawing to drier ground.
As I approached the house, I noticed the gate was wide open and people were milling about everywhere, holding umbrellas as they went about their business; setting up large baskets of offerings (banten), sweeping the grounds, placing even more offerings in apparently strategic places inside and outside, affixing small cone-shaped palm-leaf offerings to doorposts and lighting incense.
I only found about the Melaspas or Upacara Rumah – the blessing ceremony for the house I’ve leased – the day before. However, I wasn’t altogether surprised; Balinese are often invited to a wedding or other life cycle event the same morning of the celebration – and often by SMS or a brief phone call. Nothing like the pricey and ornamental engraved invitations mailed out in other countries, months before the date!
Upon entering the house, I found the diminutive Pak Raka sitting cross-legged in front of a low table over-flowing with offerings, vessels containing holy water, trays of flowers, eggs and incense. He was decked out, top to bottom in white, at which point it dawned on me that he was also a mangku (priest) and not solely the family patriarch and title-holder of the land. He gently rung the priest’s bell, held frangpiani petals lightly in one hand, flicked holy water and petals here and there, and chanted mantras.
Pak Raka’s wife, Pak Made, his wife Ketut and a few others scurried about, discussing among themselves the correct way of setting up the baskets (filled with flowers, leaves, roasted ducks, rupiah bills, Chinese coins and more), ensuring that they faced the right direction and were stocked with all the proper ingredients – to ward off evil spirits, appease the gods, and to bring luck, security and prosperity to the occupants of the building.
Though I was to live in the house, I was a mere observer to the proceedings. Even with my absence, the ceremony would have been conducted in the same way. True, I was offered a tray of flowers during prayer (which I’ve learned how to follow), but not being Balinese, my participation was, in the family’s eyes, perfunctory. And yet, the family appreciated my presence (and my friends’), gifts of sugar and kopi (Balinese coffee) and financial contribution.
After the prayers, other rituals began; I joined the family on their purposeful walk around the compound – placing offerings at the family temple, in the gardens, both floors of the house; lighting fires, felling banana tree trunks, murmuring prayers at many spots.
At the conclusion of the countless rituals, large trays of refreshments were uncovered on the kitchen counters: cooked jack-fruit, chicken, roast pig, fried vegetables, rice, beer and other drinks. A selection of sweet Balinese cakes too.
When Pak Raka finally arose from his stoop, I knew his departure would signal the conclusion of festivities. And so it did.
Then, just as he stepped out the front door, the clouds began to part and rays of sun poked through.
I’m sure (aren’t you?) that the universe was conspiring, FINALLY… to usher yet more light into my home-to-be… and so, my thanks to Pak Raka, his family and.. the universe.