Of course no nationality is perfect, but I’m renting a room from a family who fully live up to the Balinese stereotype as constantly smiling, caring, warm and patient people.
Even when the daughter in their family had to stay several nights in hospital the tranquility of the family home prevailed. Their smiles through hard times ‘were like medicine’ her brother said.
So I was honored to be invited by the family to their local temple this week for a festival referred to as ‘the birthday of the temple’, where I could witness first-hand how spirituality is woven into their community life.
These celebrations are no small affair. They run over four days, and the family would attend every day, with their own role to play.
Before we left the home we made our preparations; we washed and then dressed in the customary sarong (and a headdress for men, scarf around the waist for women), and prayed in the family’s temple for protection on our visit to the public temple.
As we arrived, the temple and it’s the large entrance-square were buzzing with the activity of hundreds of people; dancers in costume awaiting their time, ladies carrying trays of cups and saucers, and rows of seated male musicians filled the air with the tuneful clanging of bronze xylophones.
The celebrations were traditional, yet informal. There was freedom to move around as you wished, to explore the expectant, joyous atmosphere. Gatherings of young people, all clothed in pristine traditional dress, talked excitedly amongst themselves. Children played games on their smart phones, oblivious to the surrounding spectacle.
As I joined those sitting cross-legged in the section of the temple reserved for prayer, I received a few intrigued stares and amused giggles. Luckily a procession soon moved through the crowd, distracting attention from me as multi-coloured umbrellas were held high and giant puppet-like figures were paraded up to the altar.
I made my way back into the square in time for the dancers’ performance. Groups of heavily made up women, and then men, moved in unison to the hypnotic music, twirling their hands with expressive dexterity.
As the tropical rain started to fall I slipped back to my home-stay, feeling lighter from the infusion of music, colour and celebration.
I’m spending a lot of time here reflecting and digging inside, thinking about life, but I’m also resolved to follow the Balinese and not take myself too seriously, and to give back out the warmth of smiles than I receive.