Tag Archives: balinese hinduism

Word for Wednesday: T is for truculent.

Part of the expat lifestyle is getting used to the community ebb and flow, and the new patterns of daily living.  December here is a real shut-down month. There’s a frenzy of Christmas related activity and socialising during the first two weeks, and then there is virtually a mass exodus as the schools close for three weeks, military personal take block leave, and anyone who can, either heads off on holiday or returns home for a brief break.

My usual ‘are you doing anything nice for Christmas?’ question has thrown back a whole host of exciting travel plans from friends out here.  A lot seem to be going to Bali this time; possibly due to the new availability of a direct flight. Bali is one of my favourite holiday destinations to date.  It is such a beautiful country, full of fascinating culture and lovely people, and there is so much to see and do.  There really is something for everyone.

The first time we visited, we took a trip out to a traditional Balinese village called Tenganan.  It is a Bali Aga, where ancient Balinese traditions and customs still live on.  It was an incredibly interesting insight into Balinese culture, and gave the opportunity to see Balinese artisans at work.

There was also a whole row of these tall woven baskets. Inside each, a brightly painted cockerel.  They might look pretty, but these birds were seriously feisty! They eyed each other with contempt and hostility as they strutted about in their confinement cage, awaiting their moment in the fighting ring. Cockerels in baskets which had been spaced inadvertently close to the next were pecking fiercely at the sides of their baskets nearest their enemy, as if they’d like to get an early start on the fight.006a_893 copy

Truculent (adj).

  • easily annoyed or angered and likely to argue
  • disposed to fight; pugnacious
  • expressing bitter opposition; scathing
  • disposed to or exhibiting violence or destructiveness; fierce
  • aggressively self-assertive
  • fierce; cruel; savagely brutal
  • brutally harsh; vitriolic; scathing
  • aggressively hostile; belligerent.

Derivation: Latin truculentus, from truc-, trux savage; perhaps akin to Middle Irish trú doomed person. First Known Use: circa 1540.

“He strutted, stiff-legged and truculent about the body of the fallen enemy”.
 (Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Son of Tarzan).

Cock fighting is an ancient spectator sport, which is still found in many countries around the world. It can be pretty bloody and barbaric, and in Bali as in many other countries, it is no longer permitted for gambling purposes (although many illegal cock fights do still take place each year).  Unlike cock fighting for sport and gambling purposes, ceremonial cock fighting remains an essential part of Balinese spirituality and religious ritual.

Animal symbolism and spirituality is a significant feature of Balinese Hinduism. Cock fighting, known in Balinese as ‘tabuh rah‘ (‘pouring blood’), is a revered form of animal sacrifice.  It is a religious purification ritual, believed by the Balinese to expel evil spirits.  As such, cock fighting is an integral part of temple festivals and religious ceremonies all over Bali.

Cockerels in their woven pre-fight baskets are a very common sight in villages all over Bali. They are highly prized by their breeders and owners, and the more truculent of character and brilliant of plumage the better. In many villages, their presence is inextricably interwoven with the fabric of traditional living there.  Speaking in an interview with a reporter for the Jakarta Post, one village head said in an interview with the Jakarta Post that :

“After we harvest our rice or other crops, we can’t dig the soil before we have sacrificed the birds.  When the soil is dry, it must be left fallow for a few months and we are not allowed to plough at this time.  Our rule is after the ceremony we can start to plough and plant again. This occurs every year and is special to our village.  Our belief is that this is the traditional way to farm. We must make the ground holy so that hopefully we will have good harvests. This belief is ancient, but we still hold it to this day.”
(I Ketut Ludea, head of Malet hamlet).

I have never seen a cock fight, for which I am grateful.  As interesting as I find the religious and socio-cultural significance of it for Balinese tradition, I don’t think I could stomach the sight of two animals literally trying to rip each other apart, in a fight to the death.

I feel deeply divided about cock fighting as a continuing practice.  Obviously I am appalled by the vicious brutality of cock fighting, and find it quite upsetting to think that this is something that is widespread in Bali, both legally and illegally, to this day.  But I am also impressed by the conscious effort that the Balinese make to preserve their tradition and culture, which is so unique to the island and their very special brand of Hinduism.

Have you ever seen a cock fight?  How do you feel about cock fighting as social and religious custom and ritual?

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Life on the edge of a lotus lagoon.

The seafront town of Candidasa, East Bali, lapped by the warm waters of the Lombok Strait.  It is a relatively sleepy little town, with only a handful of restaurants and one wine bar. Tourists come for the laid back vibe, the ashram and yoga retreats, and the nearby scuba diving and snorkelling.

For Balinese people, Candidasa is a much more spiritual place.  The visual and community focus for the locals is a divine triumvirate.  Precariously perched on higher ground, a temple with a fertility goddess statue that people from all over Bali make pilgrimages to, for her favour and blessing in conception.  The temple looks out over a huge freshwater lagoon at the foot of the hillside. Full of water lilies and lotus flowers, commonly associated with purity and spiritual awakening, locals can be seen waist deep in water, picking a stem or two for offerings to the gods. Then finally at the edge of the lagoon, the tiny strip of sandy beach. Every morning people go to make offerings and pray to the gods, once the fishermen have safely returned from their night’s work and unloaded the fresh catches from their boats.

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The lagoon and beach are in such close proximity that when the fisherman bank their boats on the tiny area of raised ground between the two, it looks as is the boats may slip into the lagoon at any minute.

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I never tire of watching Balinese offerings being made.  It is such a profoundly beautiful thing to experience.  The delicate grace of the movements and poses, the person’s total absorption in the undertaking, the serenity it conveys. I’m always mindful that this is a deeply private and personal act, so I don’t normally take photographs, preferring to just enjoy the privilege of observing instead.  But this one, down by the water’s edge, was unobtrusive enough to feel acceptable.

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And of course all that fresh water is an open invitation to hundreds of beautiful dragonflies which lay their larvae in the protective lagoon.  In the early mornings you’d find them resting on the stones at the edge of the water.  They really looked like they were contemplating life as they gazed out over the water, but perhaps they were enjoying the warmth of the sun’s rays on their backs?

Those are my Balinese ‘edges’ for this week’s travel theme. There are lots of others to be found on wheresmybackpack.com.

 

 

 

 

Offerings to the gods.

Bali is an island which is steeped in culture and religion.  It is part of the very essence of Bali.  And there are so many tiny little gestures and signs of it as you go about your day here.  The dominant religion is Hinduism, although Balinese Hinduism takes a very unique form, building on ancient animistic beliefs and reverence for the natural world.  It is also heavily based on art and ritual.

Each to their own, of course, but religion is not something that normally interests me particularly.  And the more overbearing the religion, the more disinclined I tend to feel.  But it is fascinating watching the way in which the Balinese Hindus unobtrusively express their faith.  One very obvious example is the making and giving of offerings.

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Offering as protection against accidents

You will see these all over Bali, in all sorts of places.  At the entrances of homes, businesses and temples; on statues; even on vehicles as a means of warding off accidents.   Often you can see piles of offerings stacked up on top of each other outside important statues and temples, with drifts of incense smoke coming from the topmost layer.

The making and giving of offerings to the gods is part and parcel of everyday life in Bali.  Individual offerings can be more or less extravagant, depending on whether it is for a special ceremony or occasion, or just an everyday offering.  Many families weave beautifully intricate small trays out of palm or banana leaves to make the offerings in, although the most basic of offerings can also be made on just a flat piece of banana leaf.

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Offerings stacked up at a temple

There is no grand ceremony in the actual giving of daily offerings.  In fact, watching it, I am always struck by the quiet and unassuming reverence with which they are made.  But the unpretentious approach to making offerings belies the considerable pride, and complex artistry and symbolism behind offerings.  Foods such as rice and fruit are usually included, alongside flowers, but the exact choice and combination of each can carry real significance, and is often specifically linked to a certain ceremony.

Although I am not Hindu myself, there is something in me that finds it very spiritual watching the offerings being made.  Bali is one of my all-time favourite places to visit, and living in Brunei means we have been lucky to go more than once.  Every time I am here it is one of the highlights of the trip, just soaking in the sight of Balinese people going quietly about their daily business of making offerings.  This time is no exception.