Recently, my fiance, Tia and I were invited to attend a sacred ceremony of the Balinese. We really didn’t know what to expect or the depth of the invitation but we were definitely in for a surprise! After entering the ceremony (which is not open to outsiders) we witnessed things that were both beautiful and a bit unsettling.
This was not your everyday Balinese tourist stop nor was the family just any family. The Banjar temple sits at the street front of its village and serves as a kind of government for their villagers. For the past week, the temple had been preparing for what seemed to be a special event, so I decided to poke my head in. Fifteen or so women were gathered on the ground weaving baskets. I asked if it would be okay to visit the temple sometime. In broken English, a woman said “Ya, it’s okay.” She invited me to the ceremony which was taking place in a few days. I asked if I could bring my fiance. She said it would be fine and added “she must not be in minstre!” Her English was hard to understand but after a few embarrassing moments the women all laughed and I understood what she meant. Women are not allowed to enter the temple if they are menstruating.
The next day I asked our driver to explain the Banjar ceremonies and what to expect. He explained that there are hundreds of ceremonies and there would be food and dancing. The next day when he came to the house he handed me some clothes and said “You must wear these.” It was the traditional ceremonial attire.
The night of the ceremony, Tia and I got dressed and walk to the temple. There were hundreds of family members. From the front of the temple we could see over the wall. There were several men standing in front of the entrance so we decided to watch from there. From over the wall we could see what seemed to be Banjar leaders all being handed some sort of drink that was being served in a banana leaf. Some of the men started to gag. They danced while traditional music was being played by their choir.
Once the dancing and music stopped, everyone entered the temple and we were asked to join. The temple was decorated beautifully with colorful cloth covering everything. Offerings were adorned throughout the interior. Hundreds of incense and coals were being burned throughout the temple. Smoke filled the temple. Everyone was dressed in their traditional ceremonial clothing including the children. We were greeted by the Ayu (the woman who invited me). She thanked me and said I looked very good in my clothes. A friend (Putu) who had also invited me to the ceremony greeted us and thanked me for being so respectful to wear their traditional clothing.
Music and dancing continued throughout the night. Since this was all close family all eyes were on us for most of the night. At first, there were laughs and staring but eventually everyone settled in. After a few minutes Ayu and another woman came and sat by us. The woman I was sitting next to spoke pretty good English so we chatted most of the night. She explained that she was Ayu’s sister-in-law. She also told me that her husband had passed away a few years back. She was very sad about this and said she could not be with another man until her husband gave her permission. She said this would happen in a dream.
During the evening she explained the importance of the ceremony to me and said this particular event only happens once a year and that it was their most sacred ceremony. The Banjar was also blessing the new temple. Ayu is the wife of the head Banjar of the village and from what we were told, this particular Banjar is one of the main Banjar of the island.
At one point during the night certain men gathered in the main circle with weapons and two at a time would face off with their weapons and proceed to dance a sort of kata (routine) depicting a fight. This is when it started to get interesting. All of a sudden these guys are grabbing knives and swords and sticking them deep into their chest and even into their own eyes. I don’t understand how they avoided injury but it was incredible to watch. Finally the night ended with an offering to the God of land. This was the most unsettling. We watched as live animals were sacrificed by their own hands. Although this was captured on this exclusive video, I decided it was not appropriate to show. The video depicts some of the ceremony.
Tia and I could not have expected what was in store for us that night or the following night when we were invited back to their closing ceremony. As we drove up to the temple a man came running up as we rode up on our bike and grabbed me. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the closing ceremony. Everyone cheered me on (including Tia) and said to join the woman who was performing the traditional Balinese dance in the middle of the room.
As I sit here at a local restaurant finishing this story there is a convoy of motorcycles and trucks passing by. It was the same village (family). There were 100 or so cycles and a few trucks with big flags and huge kites. It looks like they were coming down from their main temple in Ubud. What an amazing family. This was definitely an experience we will never forget.
A special thanks to Ayu for inviting us and for sharing this adventure. And many thanks to the entire family who welcomed us and made us feel at home.
Learn more about the Banjar