It would be a crime to come away from Bali without appreciating the ritual ceremonies of the Balinese and getting to know some of the age-old customs adhered to by this vibrant pinprick of humanity.
Landing at Denpasar airport, visitors head for the beach resorts of Legian, Seminyak and Jimbaran Bay, which are full of powdery beaches, palm-fringed skies and a roaring nightlife.
There is lots to Bali which begs exploration. Head inland to see the extraordinary landscapes — the contoured rice paddies of Kliki, innumerable tinkling rivulets and the animated volcanoes.
Also, see what’s cooking in the local kitchens, to soak in the extraordinary customs and traditions of the locals. You’ll discover family-temples on every threshold, the Bakso-man with his cart of steaming hot dumplings, cocks in wicker baskets awaiting a spar, and stalls laden with exotic fruits.
Walking though the streets of Ubud, a town overrun with art galleries and kitchen restaurants, I noticed small offerings of flowers and food in tiny leaf baskets everywhere. Tony Tack, a Dutch anthropologist, explained the morning ritual: “Each of those flowers has significance. The blue is for Krishna, red for Brahma, white for Shiva and so on… ”
In Bali, people spend a higher percentage of their salary on religious observances than anywhere else in the world. We watched a mother and her two children orient themselves towards Gunung Agung, the highest and most sacred mountain, to pray. “These are vestiges of Agama Hinduism; it has a rare stronghold on the Balinese and is deeply embedded in their psyche,” said Tony.
The colour and pageantry of Balinese ceremonies is eye-catching. Each day, we saw decked-up women and men carrying offerings in decorated boxes, and sandalwood idols to seashores and riverbanks. We chanced upon locals celebrating ‘Tumpak’, a day earmarked for worshipping trees and plants.
Balinese performing arts too, are enmeshed with religious mythology. Ubud’s theatres are replete with shadow puppet shows, gamelan music and loose-limbed dances. We saw the stylised legong dance and chechak, a lively ‘monkey dance’. At Ubud palace, we watched an enactment of the Ramayan involving huge masks and gongs.
Exploring the east and north, and getting lost in the hill-villages was most enjoyable. Here, the locals lived without walls, sat without chairs and ate without cutlery. At Sideman village, we met artist Nyoman Mandra over coffee and banana fritters. The conversation turned to Bali’s connection with India. “It is my dream to visit India someday,” he said.
Where would you like to go?” I asked. “Ayodhya, Dwarka, Vrindavan” he said, his imagination firmly captured in the pages of the ancient texts.