Holy people sleep inside a temple for a week

It was actually cold that morning as we drove high up into the mountains.  I wrapped my scarf around my neck and tucked it into my jean jacket, thinking about how both items only ever get used when I go up to one of Bali’s volcanoes.

Mount Batur and Lake Batur

Mount Batur and Lake Batur

My motorbike driver, Ketut, successfully dodged the big pot holes and, after stopping briefly to take a breathtaking photo, we reached the small village of Abang Songan in good time for the ceremony – which meant that I had time to eat some of Ketut’s mother’s wonderfully tasty and spicy food.

Once we were off of the motorbike the air was just fresh, rather than cold, so it was comfortable to get changed into my traditional clothing and walk up to the temple with Ketut’s wife, Komang.

This particular ceremony was to inaugurate no less than 16 men and women as Mangku (holy men/women), plus many others as… well, like, Temple administration staff.

The High Priest (Pedanda)

The High Priest (Pedanda)

The rituals were many and, yet again, different from anything I’d seen before.

An event like this will only happen maybe every 10 years or so in any given village.  But apparently this particular ceremony only occurs in three small mountain villages.

It includes, among other things, the new Mangku, and their assistants, having to leave the temple, get changed into new, clean, white clothing from which hangs kepeng (old traditional coins). Then, newly clothed, they all returned to the temple for a blessing from the Pedanda (high priest).

Symbols drawn in honey

Symbols drawn in honey

Now this blessing was really interesting… using honey on the end of a very small stick of betel, the bejewelled Pedanda drew ancient, sacred, Sanskit symbols on each Mangku.. starting with the third eye on the forehead, then the collar bone, the front of each shoulder and then twice on the back and then on both sides of the hands and finally on the tongue – both sides.

Long lengths of white threads, loosely woven together to a diameter of at least 5cm, were wrapped around each Mangku’s upper body and head and then four specially designed coconut leaves were placed just inside the threads on the top of their heads, making a crown of coconut leaves.

Carried, barefoot. around the temple three times

Carried, barefoot, around the temple three times

They all had to go around the temple three times with rituals which included a pig, duck and chicken.  A ‘holy’ cow had already been slaughtered as part of the ceremonial ritual offerings.

I say ‘go around’ the temple as opposed to ‘walk around’ because the new Mangku were not allowed to touch the ground – they were physically carried around three times.

These new Mangku, and their staff, have to sleep inside the temple for seven nights.  Double beds are made up for them, and their new Mangku wifes, inside makeshift bamboo huts within the temple grounds.

The only time they will leave is to go to the new temporary toilet/shower area that has been built just outside the temple gates for this special occasion.

These are the beds the new Mangku will sleep on for a week inside the temple

These are the beds the new Mangku will sleep on for a week inside the temple

They will be catered for and looked after while they spend the week communing with spirit inside the temple – as well as with each other.

You might spot what you consider to be a German swastika on the bed… look again… it has a different orientation.  This original image has been used for thousands of years in the East.

It has been symbolising good fortune and balance since well before Hitler’s regime sullied it’s reputation.  I’ve met some people who have the name ‘Swastika’ and I’ve eaten in a restaurant with the same name.  How sad that a western country took that ancient eastern name and symbol, with it’s beautiful, harmonious meaning and caused it to be associated with the opposite emotions.

Many New Mangku

Many New Mangku

The first section of a long list of new Mangku and their Temple assistants

The first section of a long list of new Mangku and their Temple assistants

Each of these white clad villagers are given a role such as Jero Mangku Tukang Banten (we have no English equivalent but I suppose it is the holy one who manages the offerings) or Jero Mangku Tukang Subak (the holy one who manages the decisions about the subak which is the water irrigation system).

Plenty of food and drink was provided free for everyone during the ceremony itself which lasts for hours.

And then, towards the end of the ceremony, as the gamelan music built up to fever pitch, the whole village sat on the ground after praying and waited for a sprinkling of holy water.

The ceremony ended with a blessing for everyone and then, once again, I changed my clothes and wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck for the dark return journey home down the mountainside this time on the back of Pasek’s motorbike …

Thanks to Ketut and Pasek and the whole village for another wonderful experience.

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  1. There seems no end to the sheer numbers of Hindu rites and rituals. It seems their belief system informs everything they do, all day, every day. I find that astounding.

    • You have hit the nail on the head, in the west we generally speak of religion as something you choose… but here, Hinduism, it is a fundamental aspect of everyday life.


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