It is no coincidence that the authorities and vulcanologists have just lowered the volcanic alert level. Which would mean that we have emerged from the emergency “awas” Level 4 to a more livable 3. Seems that we have narrowly averted the longtime warnings of “imminent eruption.” Sure, it might be a temporary relaxation, merely an interlude, because there is no guarantee that Agung won’t sputter, spurt and send rocks and ash our way. In fact, the seismic graph still shows hints of tremors and shakes. But never mind that; at least for now, we are in the calm zone.
My guess is some benevolent Balinese deities are behind this shift. We are, after all, in the land of hidden workings (sekala = seen, niskala = unseen). And with the all-important Galungan festival on everyone’s radar – starting this Wednesday – the timing could not be better.
After weeks of living in limbo, far from the familiar, this lowered level means that hundreds of families can leave evacuee camps and return to their villages and homes. They can get cracking on all the preparations – offerings, penjor, cleaning the temple and village – that others in the safe zones (such as Ubud) have been working on for days, if not for weeks.
Indeed, there’s been a heightened buzz around Ubud the past few days. Motorbikes speed by with large plastic bags filled with decorations. Females of all ages have been gathering gargantuan bags of petals, layering them into hundreds of offerings in dozens of baskets. Chickens seem to be flying through the air at low altitude, hanging by a rope off a handlebar. Pigs have been fattened up in time for slaughter and lawar-making in the wee hours of Galungan day. There’s even a shopping frenzy as the Balinese stock up on new clothes, jewelry, sandals and flip-flops. I’ve even seen queues outside barber shops.
Galungan is in the air. Ash begone. Bring on (or rather, down) the ancestors*!
*The souls of all Balinese ancestors descend from their perch on Galungan, visiting their living relatives and being worshiped in family temples, returning to the high and holy heavens on Kuningan, 10 days later.