Category Archives: Indonesia

Bali: Temple Run

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The temples of Bali share the top spot on the must-visit list besides its beaches. ANURAG MALLICK goes on a Balinese temple trail to uncover some of these architectural gems

Ubud-Gunung Lebah temple Campuhan IMG_4052_Anurag Mallick

The sun was about to set across the cliffs of Uluwatu, the stony headland that gave the place its name. Our guide Made explained that ulu is ‘land’s end’ or ‘head’ in Balinese, while watu is ‘stone’. Perched on a rock at the southwest tip of the peninsula, Pura Luhur Uluwatu was a pura segara (sea temple) and one of the nine directional temples of Bali protecting the island. We gaped at the waves crashing 230 ft below, unaware that the real spectacle was about to unfold elsewhere.

A short walk led us to an amphitheatre overlooking the dramatic seascape. In the middle, around a sacred lamp, fifty bare-chested performers sat in concentric rings, unperturbed by the hushed conversations of the packed audience. They sat in meditative repose, with cool sandal paste smeared on their temples and red hibiscus flowers tucked behind their ears. At sharp six, chants of ‘cak ke chak’ stirred the evening air. For the next one hour, we sat open-mouthed in awe at Bali’s most fascinating temple ritual.

Uluwatu kecak performance IMG_3875_Anurag Mallick

The kecak dance, filmed in movies like Samsara and Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, was an animated retelling of the popular Hindu epic Ramayana. There were no instruments, yet the unbelievable cadence of intonations formed a musical underlay to the dance drama – Sita’s abduction by Ravana, Jatayu’s valiant aerial fight and Rama bringing Sita back with help of the vanara sena (monkey army). Dressed in white, a playful Hanuman posed for selfies before setting fire to ‘Lanka’. He kicked balls of hay with reckless abandon, drawing big gasps from the crowd. We had been warned about the notorious monkeys in temples, but this was something else!

We filed out of the arena in a daze, a magical start to our Bali tour. Over dinner at the seaside Mata Hari restaurant at Jimbaran Beach, we enjoyed more performances with temple dancers and dragon dances. Tanah Lot, another sea shrine perched on a rocky outcrop amidst crashing waves, was a 45-minute drive from Kuta to Beraban on the west coast. It was late, so we retired to our hotel Mercure Legian Kuta, to continue our Balinese Temple Run the next morning.

Pura Taman Ayun IMG_4112_Anurag Mallick

While Indonesia is largely Muslim, over 80% of Bali’s four million population is Hindu. The 5600 sq km island measures 90 km from north to south and 195 km west to east at its widest point. Yet, with over a thousand shrines dotting the island, one needs a plan to take on the Island of the Gods. After a hearty breakfast, our guide Made gave us a brief overview of Balinese Hinduism on the tour bus. The supreme all-in-one almighty god is Acintya (the inconceivable) or Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, composed of the trinity Brahma, Visnu and Siva.

There are four types of temples in Bali – public temples, village temples, family temples for ancestor spirits and functional temples based on profession. Farmers build a shrine of Devi Sri or goddess of grain in the fields; fishermen consecrate Deva Varuna by the sea. Every village has a pura desa for Brahma, pura puseh for Vishnu and pura dalem for Shiva. The Balinese hold sacred the philosophy of tri kaya parisuda – think positive, speak positive and act positive – to attain nirvana.

Ubud-Pura Desa Batuan IMG_3964_Anurag Mallick

From the bus, Made pointed out statues of Arjuna, Krishna and Ghatotkacha. Bhima’s son fought Karna in the Mahabharata war and is revered by the Balinese as a loyal, intelligent and powerful figure. As a flying knight, he was responsible for the air defense of the Pandavas and is thus believed to provide safe passage to all flights landing in and out of Bali! Driving past the roundabout dominated by the gigantic statue, we slowly climbed to the highlands of Ubud 400m above sea level.

Grabbing sarongs to be suitably attired for the 15th C Pura Desa Batuan, we learnt about the nuances of Balinese temple architecture. Temple layout is governed by the concept of tri mandala or three realms divided by walls – the Nista Mandala or outer courtyard reserved for waiting and performances, the Madya Mandala or middle realm for religious preparations with drum towers and gamelan pavilions and Utama Mandala, the sacred innermost realm.

Ubud-Pura Desa Batuan IMG_3983_Anurag Mallick

The main entrance or Candi bentar was split in two, as if hacked by an unseen giant cleaver. “That is the concept of Rwa bineda or maintaining balance between opposing forces. The left and right halves of the gate denote balance or harmony, a principle that governs our lives. Similarly, the guardian spirits or gatekeepers are clad in checkered black and white cloth,” explained our guide.

Kori agung, the gate between the madya mandala and the inner compound is an ornate roofed tower. Most puras (temples) have an aling aling or protective screen after the entrance to fend off negative spirits. It is believed that spirits travel only in straight lines, so are bounced off the protective wall. After exploring the temple and its various pavilions, we continued to Ubud.

Ubud-Pura Desa Batuan IMG_3978_Anurag Mallick

Centuries ago, Hinduism was brought to Bali by Sage Markandeya, who came from India with 800 followers via Borneo, Sumatra, Mount Demalung in Java to Gunung Agung (9944 ft), the highest mountain in Bali. Here, on the southern slopes, he established the mother temple Pura Besakih, the largest and holiest temple on the island.

Mount Agung is believed to be an embodiment of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe, whose fragment was brought to Bali by the first Hindus. Markandeya consecrated the pancha dhatu (five metals) and following the course of the Patanu river, he arrived at a confluence or ‘campuhan’ of the Pakerisan river.

Ubud-Gunung Lebah temple Campuhan IMG_4051_Anurag Mallick

Made continued the legend as we drove past the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud and stopped on Jalan Raya for a short walk to Pura Gunung Lebah, literally ‘temple on a mountain slope’. We halted at the temple steps near the spot where Markandeya supposedly sat in meditation, chanting mantras and asking the sick and diseased to jump into the river. Miraculously cured, they rejoiced and shouted “Ubad ubad” (medicine, medicine) and that’s how the place was named Ubud!

Even today, confluences are considered sacred by the Balinese who come here for purification ceremonies. Westerners come for yoga, Balinese massages, healing courses, rafting or hikes along Campuhan Ridge. At Ubud Palace, on the doorway of the royal shrine Puri Saren Agung, we saw Kala’s face as portal guardian. The serene lakeside Saraswati Temple was a short walk away.

Pura Taman Ayun IMG_4103_Anurag Mallick

We drove 8km southwest of Ubud, where one of Bali’s most beautiful temples Taman Ayun, literally ‘beautiful garden’ sits in a serene park of trees and ponds. It is a pura tirta (water temple) as well as a pura wawiten (family temple), built by the Rajas of Mengwi. Its pagoda-like multi-tiered roof or Meru, represents the sacred mountain. An ornate sculpture of Lord Vishnu’s vahana (vehicle) Garuda stands proud, a symbol of Indonesia’s emblem and national carrier. It is omnipresent – in shops, the airport and GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana) cultural park.

Bali comes alive during temple festivals, which are elaborate affairs with ritual baths in rivers or ponds, processions, ceremonies and cock sacrifices. Every day outside homes, shops and street corners we spotted locals making ritual offerings or Canang sari, a small palm-leaf basket with flowers, rice and incense. It’s mandatory to include a trio of objects to represent the Divine Trinity – gambier or catechu (kattha) for Brahma, betelnut for Vishnu and tobacco and lime for Shiva. In Bali, there is divinity at every doorstep…

Canang sari-daily ritual offering IMG_4079_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Getting there
Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport is at Denpasar, south of the tourist hotspot of Kuta. Flights from India take 8½–9½ hrs via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok by Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Garuda Indonesia. Ubud is 25km from Denpasar.

Temple etiquette & Tips
Wear modest clothing that covers your shoulders and legs; sarongs are available on hire outside most shrines. Do not enter the temple premises if you are bleeding or menstruating.

Where to stay
Mercure Legian Kuta
Centrally located and walking distance from bars, restaurants and Legian beach
Ph +62 361 9386100 www.mercure.com

Ubud-Pura Desa Batuan IMG_3974_Anurag Mallick

Where to Eat

Jendela Bali, GWK
Panoramic restaurant at Garuda Wishnu Kencana Cultural Park offering Balinese & Western fare with oceanic and mountain views to match. Ph +62 361 700 808 www.gwkbali.com

Sari Organik, Ubud
Organic café overlooking paddy fields with Balinese meals like nasi campur – rice, fried tofu, spinach, tempe (fermented soy cake), veg curry & chicken satay. Ph +62 361 972087

New Mata Hari Café, Jimbaran Beach
One of the many beachside restaurants at the popular Jimbaran stretch offering seafood, live entertainment and great views. +62 361 705 988

For more info, visit www.indonesia.travel

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of JetWings magazine.

Bucolic Bali

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ANURAG MALLICK experiences Bali’s rich culture and cuisine while uncovering fascinating legends that shape the unique island in Indonesia

Bali Airport Denpasar-Ghatotkacha statue_Anurag Mallick

At a busy intersection northeast of the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, it was surprising to see ornate mythological statues of what seemed like Krishna and Arjuna in a chariot. However, unlike the calm exposition of the Bhagwad Gita, the towering colossal figure seemed not en- gaged in holy discourse but had a more warlike posture. Our guide Made corrected us and said it was not Arjuna but Ghatotkacha!

Built in 1993, the sculpture depicts the battle between Bhima’s son and Karna in the Kurukshetra war from the epic Mahabharata. Perceived as loyal, intelligent and powerful, Ghatotkacha is revered by the Balinese and is a key figure in wayang kulit (traditional shadow puppetry) of Indonesia. As a flying knight responsible for air defense of the Pandavas, Ghatotkacha is supposed to provide safety and spiritual protection to all outbound and inbound flights from Bali.

Balinese boys folding their hands in welcome IMG_4127_Anurag Mallick

While Indonesia is largely Muslim, most of the four million population on the island of Bali are primarily Hindus, with temples, traditions and folklore reminiscent of India. Interestingly, Hinduism was brought to the island by Sage Markandeya, the child saint who conquered death and wrote the Markandeya Purana. The story goes that he came from India with an entourage of 800 followers via Borneo, Sumatra, to Mount Demalung in Java. Plagued by disease, the group finally came to Bali and rest- ed on the southern slopes of Gunung Agung — the highest mountain on the island.

Here, Sage Markandeya established the Pura Besakih Temple, till date the largest and the holiest temple in Bali. Here, he consecrated the panchadhatu or five metals for the deity. Built on the slope of an active volcano, the temple miraculously survived the last eruption in 1963 with lava flow missing the shrine by metres.

Ubud-Pura Desa Batuan IMG_3964_Anurag Mallick

Meal with a view

We checked into our hotel in the tourist hotspot of Kuta and drove to the cultural park, Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK). The sprawling campus was covered with immaculate gardens, large statues, perform- ance halls and a souvenir store. But we were headed for Jendela Bali, a restaurant with a panoramic view. Perched on a hillside overlooking the city, we could see the lofty Mount Agung wreathed in clouds. It is believed to be an embodiment of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe.

The three-course continental meal of salad, chicken spaghetti and dessert was punctuated with animated conversations on mythology — of Sage Kashyapa, his wives Kadru and Vinata, the eternal enmity between eagles and serpents, the churn- ing of the cosmic ocean, and how Garuda ended up being Lord Vishnu’s vahana (vehicle), and eventually a symbol of Indonesia’s national carrier.

Uluwatu kecak performance IMG_3875_Anurag Mallick

GWK is a great place to watch Balinese dancers and the famed kecak dance captured so beautifully in movies like Samsara and The Fall. However, we were off to watch the real thing at the Uluwatu Temple nearby. After being warned about the monkeys at the entrance, we watched the sunset by the cliffs before being ushered to our seats in the crowded amphitheatre. About 60 or so bare-chested performers squatted on the ground in meditative repose. They had sandal paste smeared on their temples and a red flower tucked behind the ear.

And then, all of a sudden, they broke into chants of ‘chak chak chak’, their intonations forming unbelievable cadences. As the clouds turned purple in the horizon, two ladies waltzed in. We browsed the pamphlet and learnt that the performance was a retelling of the Ramayana — the part where Sita is abducted by Ravana and Rama brings her back with the help of the vanara sena (monkey army). We watched in awe Jatayu’s valiant fight, Hanuman posing for selfies and fooling around with the audience be- fore setting fire to Lanka using balls of hay, which were kicked around with reckless abandon, drawing gasps from the crowd.

Uluwatu kecak performance IMG_3710_Anurag Mallick

The next morning, we drove 25 km north of Denpasar to the highlands of Ubud, stop- ping to look at master craftsmen of silver jewellery, stone sculptures and batik. The lanes were overflowing with stunning wood- en door and window frames, Buddha idols. At Sari Amerta, we watched local artisans use molten wax to create complex patterns on fabric. Little wonder that the UNESCO had designated Indonesian batik as a ‘masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity’.

At the Desa Batuan Temple in Ubud, our guide Made helped us grab sarongs in the outer courtyard before he explained the nuances of Balinese temple architecture. Guardian deities or fierce gatekeepers were clad in checkered black and white garments, which represents the concept of rwa bineda — maintaining the balance between opposing forces.

Bali Airport-Why gates are cleaved in half_Anurag Mallick

It’s for the same reason the entrance gates are split or cleaved in two, with the left and right halves denoting balance and harmony. Most puras (temples) have an aling aling or screen wall immediately after the entrance to fend off negative spirits. As per the local belief, spirits cannot turn left or right, but travel only in straight lines, and are bounced off as they cannot go around the protective wall.

A priest played the gamelan while locals offered prayers. Made explained that there are four types of temples: pura desa or public temples that are very large, smaller village temples, family temples where ancestor spirits are worshipped, and functional temples built as per your profession. Farmers build a shrine of Devi Sri or the goddess of the fields/grain while fishermen consecrate Deva Varuna. Every day on the streets of Bali, locals make ritual household offerings or canang sari — a small palm-leaf bas- ket with flowers, rice, tobacco and lime symbolizing Shiva, betel nut denoting Vishnu, and Brahma symbolized by gambier.

Canang sari-daily ritual offering IMG_4079_Anurag Mallick

Healing touch

In Ubud, just past the Sacred Monkey Forest, we continued to the Pura Gnuung Lebah or the ‘temple on the small hill’. It is said that Sage Markandeya came from Gunung Agung following the course of the Patanu river till he arrived at a campuhan or ‘sacred confluence’ with the Pakerisan river.

Here he sat down in meditation. Many local people suffering from skin diseases and other ailments came to see this holy man. Markandeya chanted some mantras and asked them to jump into the river. As soon as they did so, miraculously their dis- ease was cured. The people rejoiced and shouted “Ubad ubad” (medicine, medicine). That’s how the place was named Ubud!

Ubud-Gunung Lebah temple Campuhan IMG_4051_Anurag Mallick

After a quick stop at the Ubud Royal Palace and Saraswati Temple on the main avenue (Jalan Raya) lined with shops and eateries, a 15-minute walk past paddy fields brought us to Sari Organik. The view of jade green paddy fields all around and the delicious organic meal made the effort worthwhile.

The Balinese nasi campur — a rice meal with fried tofu, cucumber, spinach, tempe (fermented soy cake), vegetable curry, chilli sauce and chicken satay — was completely organic and sourced locally. In the distance, the tinkle of a baling baling (hollow bamboo wind chimes) kept the birds away, adding a bucolic touch. Back in Bengaluru, each time the baling baling catches the breeze rustling through the coconut trees, I close my eyes and I’m transported back to Bali.

Balinese organic meal at Sari Organik Ubud IMG_4027_Anurag Mallick

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 26 March, 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.