Bali – bathing with saints

2 Jan 2016 13:15  Pura Tirta Empul


Stam pe margjnea bazinului undeva langa “dormitorul pestilor”. Crapi mari japonezi, portocaliu-roz-albi-auriu pătați cu negru. Fat old guys, lazily flashing tails. In this very spot they crowded in a silent pod almost without winking a flap. Sleeping probably.


“They suck onto your fist if you wave it in” G says. Sacred gentle giants. “Leave me alone Mr Sucker! a 6-7 year old kid was saying to the biggest of them”. Was waving the fist in the water teasing the biggest carp in the pond. Not here, in Portugal somewhere. “Just the same though”, G said.

“Should we go to a restaurant?” she says.

“Only if you find a holy one, with holy everything: water, fish, offerings, chin dimples…”

Rode here pretty enthusiastic, the 17km from Ubud. G telling me stories of DKșu and the art of living seven lives. You get to bump into art a lot, commercial or non-comm living this (his) way. I felt in her voice that lightly hovering superstition when telling me these stories. Or her rather often fascination with aspects of destiny. In a nice way. And today I was also drawn into this, at the home ceremony, yes. At the temple as well.

The Pura Tirta Empul mix of colours, soul searching, ceremonious dedication, and the commercialisation of it. An elaborate process to get the water kilts, then the personal cupboard to put your possessions in keep, the showers(?)… then you went all dressed up in your own clothes, with the kilt/drape around your waste. There was joy and patience, a lot of flowing water and you had to know which well to wash in and which to skip from the 11-12 sources (or so).

All buildings and water springs, the whole setup is situated somewhere high, you have to ride up to it, but in a valley, between two hills. And the fact that the presidential (summer?) palace has an overbearing position on a large side of the hills surrounding it, with large gardens and the official villa sumptuously looking from above on the religious arena, was somewhat ironic to me. Political defiance. A manifestation of power imposing on a manifestation of gods. In a participatory way?.. hmm more like patronising…quite presumptuously positioned.

The most interesting moment.. that of the “bell ceremony”. Reminded me of those fragments from Baraka, it resounded exactly into those tones: , despite the mix of higher energies with scattered dis-energies around the place I was in. Or maybe just because of that. Same as in the film, there was this difference in rhythm between those living the life and those feeling it. Those in the serene and us .. outside of it.

Humans after all:

We were watching from the wingside. I would set up camera looking downline from a fringe alley onto the priest’s low baldachin. As we were not allowed in. I’d already seen this young tall guy next to the fence. Sitting overly spread on his plastic chair, not part of this story, but of a more worldly zen, waiting. And as I was zooming in absorbed by the resonant centrepiece, he got up and stepped into the frame, came into the role.. walking with the nonchalance of a (communist-era) waiter, or that particular kind, dragging his slippers with a bored self assurance. Picked up a blessing bowl of water and went on to slapping wafts of it onto the praying heads and hands. Three times on the head, three times in each hand of each man and woman.

IMG_1724In a similar leisurely way people then leave. Toddlers and bottles of water, family groups, trudging their slippers away. The bell sounds the same though. Its echo stayed with me for a longer while, even when writing on the edge of the carp pool later on, or when breathing the remains of the afternoon through the brief summer rain. Watching balinese walk by slowly, from under a roof.  We didn’t get into the water.

There was a thin difference between our world and theirs, we came around each other touching our hands and seeing each other’s faces, but passing by one another. As if the light of our each universes would find acknowledgement in each other’s gaze, but somehow reflect to remain in each respective sphere, with no crossover. Only the sound and the smell would travel through weaving a common thread.

I walked around, and would find in people a tempo and a way of improvising when in need similar to our culture. While on the foreground of a different, richly detailed tapestry of deities and trees: A man was playing with his daughter next to an extensively rooted large tree.

Some guys were hauling a wheelbarrow. A camellia (is it?) with a strong perfume (reminded me of the times spent in Bolivia and the flirts with that Canadian girl. Innocently).  Young, old, with kids or not, tattooed or not stepping into the water. A tease of sorts, a social event, not gregarious but a mix of smiles and prays. Words scattered here and there. And carps weaving through.


The night before:

Had dropped dead asleep on the bed last night (the evening of 1st Jan 16) as soon as I came through the door in the Ketut hotel. Had a talk with my dad for his name day, and my mum; significant line lag though, we would overlap and disynchronise, annoyingly so. Almost like a dialogue from La Cantatrice Cheuve. Had a deja vu moment when talking to dad, like talking to my grandma few years back from Chicago to Pufesti. Months before she passed. He misplaced me, thought I was in Caraibe or I dunno, opposite part of the world.

Tried to read, but my led eyelids were not. Slumber slapping my hands and my face through the mosquitos to stay awake. Then finally walked back in and crashed. All dressed up, slam face down for a 1′ breather, woke up 4.5h later and slipped into proper sleep stance. We were both exhausted, somn like a stone.

Echo-dream (disheveled reality): Had had a full day.
Woken up by cancer dreams: Me and all my close friends were getting tested together. Most of us clean, all but Cimi. I was trying to tell her. She somehow figured it out, however. But S was more efficient. Had a deep sadness mixed with worry when he gave her the details. (I remember his face change when talking to him about En and his situation last summer. Him asking me what he had. And when I confirmed what, and the stage of it, his expression went suddenly numb. Like a whole pack of nerves had suddenly stopped working. A grey veil in his eyes. I almost waved to him to see if he’s still alive. This shocking painful disconnect in the face of living sadness is something that will stay with me. Something that is of S. a very silent impressive distress). Somehow seemed there were solutions, only she had to act fast. “Tell her THAT!, that she needs to do something QUICKLY!”, I kept shout-thinking. But he was gentle about it. To smooth reality into cognition. 

G leaned over shaking my shoulder out of it. Awaken.

The blessing ceremony:

Good setting at this hotel. “Eat. Pray. Love.” Ketut’s place. Da verdad! Only that for me this has been more like a Sleep. Pray. Live. travel setup. All week. So waking up in time for the 10:00 AM blessing session with the son of Ketut was part of the Pray layer. We were avoiding any palm reading, and getting ready for this I had a bit of a silent should shudder. A reconnection with some earlier versions of me, closer to my more mystic discoveries. A brief nudge to that self to wake up as well and be part of this. Slowly absorbing this, with gentle gestures of purification. Didn’t feel any contradiction to Eastern-European Christian traditions. And the deification present in the preacher’s ceremony were at the junction of my beliefs and the provocations found in Eliade’s novels. We were closer to his deep ground of yoginic practice in this part of the world, but not exactly centre-spot, as Bali had its own religious dialogue. Wished a lot for health for friends, especially for one, and then focused on that explosion of heart. Fast but gentle spreading like blood into every pore. That need to be overwhelmed with it. In the breathings of sprinkles of water and incense emanated on us I was watching G. The preacher asked us what we were to each other. She hesitated, I said cousins. “Now it’s official!” she said, as in consecrated I guess. Officially relatives. But do you need a blood blessing to be so? Look at En and me. But felt good. First woman I have any type of religious ceremony with, felt her close this way, closer. Simultaneous worlds, living a lot of this life in different ways colliding quite often though, understanding each other in those moments. I liked that.


The sexuality: In Bali, I looked everywhere for overt sexual traditional representations across museums and private houses. Didn’t find any, only some erotic stances, or deities, like the rice goddess – Dewisri. But she’s the fertility goddess as well. Befitting.


but found one here, in Ketut’s place hanging out on a beam under a canopy in the courtyard… probably more appropriately to a town fuelled not only by its hindu practices and overall religious layout, but by the popular layer of eat.pray.lovism you come across. So finally, just a few streets away from yoga barn and their ecstatic dance I came across this. Well, very traditional style.


Hemingway again:
Wanted to read and write a bit more yesterday (1st Jan), to set my year mood that way. Only briefly through a Wyoming Wine story by Hemingway in the end  . Finished that one on 2nd Jan right after the blessing ceremony. When G felt exhausted by the impression and touch with this thin otherworldliness and crashed for 30’. Now reading that melange of french and american, I could very well imagine Hemingway doing that, but had quite a strong unexpected taste to it. Two of my loves: the french flambés sound + the hemingwayan road voice. A combination of passion and refinement where frenchmen felt at home in an american setup.. well, as real as it felt, still had a good contradictory feel to me. In a very compelling way though. One I would enjoy when coming across a similar setup in New Orleans. That creole fascinating tasty veil-over-waters life style vibrating in the air in that part of the continent. In the story it was different, but good.

West coast sunset:
Day ended up just after sunset at Tanah Lot – a miracle of a rock set like a piece of island broke loose from the land and wanted to sail away against the furious waters. On the far side of it, even in calm days, the sun sets or ripples in the water leaving deep wavy traces that rush onto the land with force. I can’t see myself swimming in these waters. They fan out in ever thinning layers in the sheltered side of the rock and sometimes you get overflown beyond your knees as yo try to walk your way to the base of the temple. There’s a small queue there to a holy spring. It flows a bit too abundant to be just a spring, but a man has a beyond practical relationship with water, especially flowing one, so I go for it. Cross myself and enjoy our brief evening ‘scape. We rode quite a lot in a rush, even marginally dangerous during the last 20 minutes of the trip back from Ubud to get here in time. A couple of fruit smoothies gazing onto the ocean. G’s Bali Bali braved once and tried to buy his way onto the islet, to sleep there. It was apparently forbidden even to his generous offer.


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