When the dead aunts go home

There isn’t a situation, circumstance, life event, object, (animate or inanimate) in Bali that doesn’t have a particular ceremony assigned to it. The big ones, marriage, birth, death, are universal. But a day to bless metals? An elaborate celebration before a baby’s feet are allowed to touch the ground? A ritual dealing with incest? The coming of age practice of tooth filing to rid the body of carnality? These are foreign concepts. Then there are the temple birthdays, a day to bless the animals, another for trees and plants, the list goes on.

But every 210th day on the Balinese calendar, the spirits of dead ancestors return to their earthly homes. Elaborate preparations are made by the living to receive them and the festivities continue for ten days culminating in Kuningan when those restless souls take their leave to go back to their haunts for another 210 days until the cycle repeats.

Today was Kuningan.  I woke up having slept a total of about two hours all night, and felt the urge to walk. The sky was that particular shade of wisteria with a steady breeze out of the east. I set out heading north on Monkey Forest Road toward the Ubud Royal Palace. Offerings hung from doorways and women in temple clothes lit incense and sprinkled holy water over mounds of square palm baskets filled with flowers, rice, and treats piled on the sidewalk. 2015-07-25 10.24.55As I ambled along in no hurry to get anywhere, I looked back to see this car, adorned with the woven, shield-shaped ornaments that signify protection. Many cars and motorbikes had these woven palm talismans hanging on the front.

2015-07-25 10.10.53Bicycles, too, were the recipients of offerings and blessing.

2015-07-25 10.12.27

My lazy stroll took me past residences that I never see when the streets and sidewalks are crowded with people. But this morning I was the only non-Balinese person about, so I took advantage of the opportunity to photograph the stunning second story residence of a wealthy Ubudian. Every door and window was framed by intricate stone carvings, and the shutters and doors themselves were carved and painted the deep reds, greens, blues, and golds of the traditional Balinese style.

2015-07-25 10.24.29The home sitting next to this one was another example of unique architecture. Resting at the top is a lumbung built in the style of the old rice barns. This one has been embellished with paint and looks more like an elaborate child’s playhouse, which maybe it is.

2015-07-25 10.24.05My trek had gotten me as far as the football field, a well-known landmark about half-way between the Ubud Royal Palace and the Sacred Monkey Forrest. It was in the background across the street when I asked a young woman who was putting offerings in the roadside temple if I could take her picture.

2015-07-25 10.19.01Of my several walking routes, this morning I chose to take a left on Arjuna Street for the quieter feel off the main thoroughfare. I had seen men working on penjors earlier in the month but had not been back since they’d been installed. This year those towering arched poles with swaying tassels, seemed taller and more intricate in design than I’ve ever seen them.

2015-07-25 10.25.59 Arjuna Street comes to a T. I hang a right that takes me up to Jalan Raya, the main east-west artery in Ubud. More altars with offerings, palm weavings and flowers graced this busy area mail.google.comAs I continued along my way, down the steep hill to the bridge over the river and then the slow climb out of the valley, I watched family after Balinese family in full-on temple garb, riding sidesaddle and carrying the square baskets that hold everything needed to send the dear departed once again on their way.2015-07-25 10.44.00No matter how many times I see the offerings, the temples, the penjors, the men in their udeng headgear and double sarongs, the women in their kebayas, I delight in the exotic beauty of it all. Today was no different. When I got home, Ketut was back from his family responsibilities in Abang Songan and had performed the ritual blessings for my house, and even though my ancestors probably can’t find me here, I’m prepared! P1090939

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. karin grouf
    Jul 25, 2015 @ 10:58:55

    HOW CROWDED BALI HAS BECOME. MANHATTAN DESERTED FOR MONTH OF AUGUST WITH THE EXCEPTION OF VISITORS AND THEY ARE ALL BELOW 59TH. JOY OF JOYS WEEKENDS ARE DESERTED. I’M IN BLISS

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 25, 2015 @ 20:40:00

      It’s hard to imagine Manhattan deserted! I’m sure you do enjoy the relative calm. And yes, Ubud has become a major destination in Bali which has created a growth boom in every area. You wouldn’t recognize it.

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  2. pat grimsbo
    Jul 25, 2015 @ 15:43:25

    Dear Sherry, Dad and I have just gone through this whole ceremony here together, he is sitting on his walker and I have read what you have written to explain each picture. When I asked him what he thought about it all, he said, “It is VERY interesting” I said “Have you anything to say to her.” He replied, “Thank you – and I love you, Sherryl” Now we will go back to our love seat, he will have his afternoon snack of V-8 juice, baby carrot sticks and toasted almonds that is waiting for him and I shall pick up again on the Tropical Vacation Dishcloth that I am knitting to give as a gift to Inger-Lise and Gudmund who will be coming from Norway to the Grimsbo Family Picnic next weekend at John and Joyce’s (the Farm where Pete was born and raised). Bye now. Love, Mom and Dad p.s. I thank you for these pictures,too.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 25, 2015 @ 20:48:57

      I’m so glad you both enjoyed the Kuningan walk with me! The customs and the people of Bali are endless sources of enchantment and surprise. Thank you for raising me with an appreciation for other cultures and encouraging a spirit of adventure. Please greet my Norwegian relatives (that includes the ones coming from Norway for the picnic and all the others) for me. I love you too!

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  3. sageblessings
    Jul 25, 2015 @ 17:19:15

    I walked with you Sherry. Thank you!!

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