From the End to the Beginning

Yesterday, before we left Ubud for Munduk, we rearranged our entire day’s schedule because Surya told us that there was going to be a mass cremation ceremony at the Temple in the Monkey Forest—57 people being cremated at once—and that we could walk there to witness it. I’ve done this twice before in Bali and know what a powerful and amazing opportunity this is. Here, cremations are the most significant of all life passages and they welcome tourists as long as they’re dressed appropriately for a ceremony.

So, we informed everyone the day before that told them they’d need to have a sarong and temple scarf to be able to witness the cremation, and those that didn’t already have one, went out and purchased one. We arranged for box lunches on the bus to Munduk because we’d no longer have time to go out to lunch, switched the writing group from the morning to the afternoon, and generally cleared the decks so we could be part of this powerful ceremony.

At noon, after our morning writing class, we walked all the way down to the site, passing thousands of parked motorbikes along the way. The streets were jammed with people and the site was full of hawkers trying to get us to buy their sarongs (carried in huge stacks on their heads) and cheap fans. Once we got there, we found out that the ceremonial grounds were already packed with thousands of people and that the guards weren’t letting any more in. Surya talked to this guard and that guard, tried to get us tickets, and tried every way he possibly could to get us in, but finally had to admit defeat and apologized to the group. Our group is good-spirited and though we were all disappointed, we accepted the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen.

But then we got an unexpected gift.

We arrived in Munduk yesterday afternoon. This morning we went on a long hike to learn all about the agricultural bounty in this area: rice fields, the harvesting of coffee, nutmeg and cloves. There will be more about all of all that in a future post, but what I wanted to share with you now is how serendipity occurs. We missed the cremation yesterday, but as we wandered on a narrow asphalt road through the settlement of Bata Galih today, we came upon a compound where the villagers were having a baby-naming ceremony, the blessed ceremony at the other end of Balinese life. The celebration of the start of life.

The Balinese consider new babies so holy and sacred, that for the first three months they are not allowed to touch the ground. During those early months after birth, they are still considered to be in the heavenly realm. At three months old, their feet touch the earth for the very first time and they are given a name.

And we just happened to come upon such a baby-naming ceremony. The family had gathered with all their neighbors, and they invited us to come take pictures and smile joyfully at the chubby little boy who was being named.

The compound was filled with offerings and gifts were stacked high. A high priest was preparing the blessings and the grandmother proudly showed off the baby.

There was a large ceramic bowl filled with water and Surya told us that the family would place fish and snails and shrimp and that after the baby touched the earth for the first time—three times in a row—the baby would be taken to splash in the water—those things in the water representing the hardships we all face in life. Then, one of the large woven mesh baskets that we’ve seen all over Bali with chickens and pigs by the side of the road, would be placed over the baby’s head. These large mesh holes symbolize the many paths the baby might take in life. The parents then lift the basket off the baby, welcoming it into life and into their family.

The naming process, as Surya explained it, is remarkable. Family members write eighteen possible names for the baby on lontar leaves. Each of the eighteen names is laid out and topped with a candle made of a cotton bud dipped in coconut oil. All the candles are lit and the tagged name under the candle that burns the longest becomes the actual name of the baby. And then everyone feasts on suckling pig.

How lucky we were to witness this joyous occasion. Now you can witness it too. Just scroll through the pictures below.

Proud grandma. Photo by Marsha Morgan.

About to touch the earth for the first time. Photo by Marsha Morgan.

Photo by Marsha Morgan.

Photo by Marsha Morgan.

Readying for the ceremony.

The high priest.


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