Bali, isle of heavens

No other place in the world has been so highly praised for its beauty as Bali,  many temples, shrines and beautiful palaces.  Even the most remote  corners of the island, the visitor’s eye is engaged by magnificent views of these richly ornamented constructions.  Very much living shrines, they are the sites of both daily observance of the Balinese Hindu rites and more spectacularly religious festivals.

A mask dancer performing in Pura Sadia temple during the Galungan-Kuningan festival, the most important in the Hindu Balinese calendar, celebrating the victory of good over evil.  It is believed that during Galungan spirits descend to bless the earth and ascend back to the heavens on Kuningan day.  Music and dances performed in temples are considered as offerings to the deities.

Bowl of flower petals and holy water are left on temple altars after blessings or purifications rituals.  For the Balinese people, offerings of food , flowers and incense to the gods and the elements, promises a state of equilibrium where man, nature and the divine can co-exist in peace and harmony.

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IMG_0529                                Rows of fishing boats along the beach of Jimbaran.

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Carved decorative Balinese door.

Children learn to dance and play musical instrument at a very young age.

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31Women dressed up in their splendid attire in preparation for a temple festivity.

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Barong a character in Balinese mythology He is the king of leader spirit of the host of good.  Banas Pati raja the good spirit which animates the Barong.  The character of the Barong often accompanied by two monkeys (dancers dressed in monkey costume)

 

 

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Indonesia at a glance

Bali Island landscape

 

Arched gracefully between two continents of Asia and Australia is a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands with the musical name of “Nusantara” better known as Indonesia.  The islands were blessed with spectacular natural beauty, including majestic volcanoes falling steeply to crystal clear highlands, lakes forested gorges, rocky highlands and golden beaches.

Indonesia was discovered by Portuguese traders in the early 16th century.  Then the Dutch came, ousted Portuguese.  Because of Indonesia bountiful spices and other commodities, the Dutch established their presence on Java island and gradually to the rest of the islands.  The Dutch colonized Indonesia for 350 year.

Jakarta capital of Indonesia was named Batavia by the Dutch.  There are still many old Dutch buildings in downtown Jakarta close to  China town.   Also a functioning draw bridge similar in Holland heading to “Pasar Ikan” or fish market where there are several Dutch colonial storage buildings.  It is a tourist attraction now.

During the war in Asia, The Dutch surrender the islands to Imperial Japan.  They occupied  the islands for three years.  After their country destruction from the atomic bomb, they surrender to the Dutch.    The Dutch did not colonized the islands any longer.  Indonesia received independent on August 17, 1945,   with President   Soekarno and prime minister Hatta for Indonesian finally became a free country.

The islands having large variety of plants, animal life, both aquatic and terrestrial.  Among its rare species are the Orangutan primate, the Komodo dragon (giant lizard).  Another assets of Indonesia is its people, rich in colorful cultures and traditions inherited from the dawn of civilization.  Indonesians are divides into approximately 300 ethnic groups, speaking about 365 languages and dialects.   By decree from President Soekarno that all Indonesian have only one language to communicate with each other  that is “Bahasa Indonesia”.

Indonesians are well known for their friendliness , politeness and hospitality.

The country motto “Bhineka Tunggal Ika”  unity in Diversity.

 

 

 

 

Photography by Kalpana Kartik and Kamala Saraswathi  Copyright

 

Monkey Craze

Bare breasted men sit in a circle around the flickering light of torch, raising their hands while reciting rhythmically “cak, cak, cak”. This is an ancient Balinese Sang Hyang trance dance in the form of a religious chant, ritual prayers destined for the spirits ancestors. No visitors to Bali should miss this unique performance which has over the years fascinate choreographers and filmmakers. It was Walter Spies the Dutch painter who in the early 1930’s revolutionized this ancient ritual chant to become the most famous dance in Bali. Together with Limbak and his village troupe of Bedulu they would incorporate other dance movements for the lead dancer eventually adding the Ramayana story line with the army of monkeys as its central theme.

From ritual chorus to a dance drama re-imagined by Walter Spies and now the Javanese born choreographer Sardono will also revolutionize the traditional Kecak dance into another contemporary style  The new contemporary version of Kecak created in 1974 tells the story of the battle between Sugriwa king of the monkeys and his brother Subali over the Goddess Tara.

I Ketut Rina the Balinese dancer from Teges Kanginan, studied under the guidance of Sardono from a very early age, and after his world travel with the dance group he came back to Bali and founded the Cak Rina Dance.   Today his amazing Cak Rina dace can be seen twice a month during the new and full moon in Ubud.  Unlike the traditional Kecak dance when the dancers usually form a circle, the Cak Rina dancers are mostly free standing with quick wild movements.

 

Dancers holding torches are unique to this contemporary version of the Kecak

 

This is how the sound of Kecak……………  with images landscape and people of Bali.

 

Geringsing: ritual cloth of Tenganan

Geringsing cloth worn during a ritual Rejang dance in Tenganan, Bali
Geringsing cloth worn during the ritual Rejang dance in Tenganan, Bali

Geringsing is the unique double ikat woven cloth made by the Bali Aga in the traditional village of Tenganan Karangasem on the island of Bali. The Bali Aga are the original inhabitants of Bali living on the island prior to the arrival of the Hindu Javanese. They are mostly found in the eastern part of Bali with the village of Tenganan more open to tourism and where the famous geringsing ikat cloth is still produced. The cloth plays an important role in their ceremonies and being open to outsiders, the village is the best place to glimpse into the life of the people where ceremonies and dances are regularly performed. Although similar to the Balinese, the Bali Aga have their own unique culture where the cloth plays an important role and used for ceremonies especially that of the rites of passages.

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While musicians play at the main Bale Agung of the village …

Bali Aga musicians from the village of Tenganan
Bali Aga musicians from the village of Tenganan

Geringsing cloth are still actively produced in the village

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Divine gifts, aesthetics in the art of Balinese offerings

Temple offerings

As I was strolling leisurely along the shores enjoying the sun setting behind the horizon leaving a glow of spectacular colours, I saw a small crowd of people dressed in local attire carrying baskets of flowers and food heading towards the sea. I was told that this was a purification and cleansing ritual. Strong believers in the supernatural, offerings are considered as means of communication with the invisible world and one day without presenting an offering to the gods would be inconceivable for any Balinese. Offerings are made from simple arrangements on woven palm leaf trays to a more decorative style blending religious and symbolical traditions with their natural artistic flair.

When I first visited the island many years ago there were miles of coastline with pristine beaches devoid of tourists, Kuta was a simple coastal town with a handful of restaurants and few half naked hippies bathing along the sea. The many trendy luxurious hotels that bloomed along the beaches of Legian and Seminyak did not exist, it was so much nicer then.Today although the island has changed considerably catering to the rapid growth of tourism and unfortunately damage its once flawless natural beauty, its religious rituals remain unchanged. A devotional attitude passed down for centuries has kept the island to be one of the few places in the world acclaimed for its timeless charm. For the Balinese, offerings of food, flowers and incense to the gods and the elements promises a state of equilibrium where man, nature and the divine can co-exist in peace and harmony. Daily offerings are always aesthetically and meticulously arranged even if it is meant only for one day.

Seaweed Farming in Bali …

Seaweed farming along the coast of Kutuh Village
Seaweed farming along the coastal village of Kutuh South Bali

Traditional seaweed farming can still be found in some areas in Bali, Nusa Penida, Lembongan and in Kutuh village in the South. Major usage of this type of Carrageenan tropical seaweed (Eucheuma Cottoni) is widely utilized in the food industry such as agar agar. Thatched bamboo huts where sea farmers work, lined up along the beautiful white sandy beach, one of Bali’s “secret” beaches. Although the areas south of Nusa Dua have been transformed into touristic villas and hotels thus casting aside many traditional sea farmers, the pristine coastal village of Kutuh towards Timbis with its lovely cliffs have been spared and today protected for sustainable living. These villagers are poor and due to their poverty stricken land, many have switched to cultivating the local seaweed to earn their living and some have been working for more than twenty years. Depending on the planting and harvesting which can be daily, the villagers would come spend the day in their working huts, replanting and harvesting seaweed in shallow water mostly in the morning and towards late afternoon at low tide.

Kutuh Seaweed farmer
Seaweed farmer

Seaweed seedlings are attached to the prepared ropes and replanted at sea …

Preparing the ropes for the seaweed
Preparing the ropes for the seaweed

Cleaning and selecting dried seaweed ready for sale ….

Seaweed farmer
Seaweed farmer

More images on traditional seaweed farming …

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