Apsara Spotting: Temple Festival Parade Bali Indonesia
I was in my carb induced coma when I overheard it seems there is a traffic jam in front. Lazily I opened my eyes but when I looked on the road, along with my eyes my mouth also opened and my jaw remained a prisoner of gravity. Right in the middle of the road, on the sidewalk and almost in every direction I could see Apsaras. I must be dreaming I told myself and tried to close my eyes, but my neuromotor coordination hit rock bottom, partly due to what I was seeing partly because Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery is correct.
When I was a kid I read about Apsaras, (अप्सराः ) you know those enchanting beauties that are found in heaven or paradise. Indra the supreme lord of Heavens who in spite of all his power and wealth always feels insecure so sends Apsaras to earth every time he feels somebody is conspiring to take over his throne. And how does Indra finds if somebody is trying to take over his throne ? Well, it was simple if anybody meditated on earth, the all-powerful supreme lord of the heavens decided this bugger must be contemplating how to take over heavens so I must do something. His favorite weapon? Well, this was before the invention of AK47 and Bofors etc. so he resorted to sending Apsaras. The modus operandi of Apsaras was simple they just showed up wherever the poor sage was busy in meditation and although the Sage was in meditation for some reason just at the right moment he would open his eyes, and the moment he saw the Apsara, he will lose his concentration and throne of Indra would be saved.
Hindu and Buddhist mythology are strewn with fables when an Apsara enchants a sage or demon deep in his meditation just because Indra felt insecure. As I grew older while the desire to meet my own Apsara grew stronger but I dismissed the idea as a myth and moved on with other more practical things in life like a job that had a requirement to wear a tie everyday to office. Well, I still have tie marks that still make my neck itch just by thinking about those days when my soul was tied in a tie.
But my faith in Apsaras has restored thanks to a traffic jam in Sukawati in the tropical heaven of Bali in Indonesia. If you are wondering what is the relationship between traffic Jam and Apsaras then please read on about my sighting of Apsaras on a busy road near Sukawati market in Bali.
We were returning from the Penglipuran Traditional Village in Bali when our Bus was caught in a traffic jam. Now normally I have a few simple rules about traffic Jams – If I am driving I curse everybody around me ( making sure my car glasses are up and music is loud) if I am not driving I prefer the driver to follow my SOP about screaming and shouting while I try to nap. But in this case, none was possible, as I was not driving so I expected our Bus driver to curse everybody around, but these folks in Indonesia they rarely honk, leave aside cursing anybody loudly when driving. So I thought of cursing myself and let the driver nap, but as I do not have an Indonesian driver’s license the driver refused to let me curse and drive. Now the only option left with me was to investigate the cause of the traffic jam. But I could find none till we reached the very bottleneck and I saw some girls on the sidewalk dressed in a colorful traditional dress and magnificent floral and golden headgear. My first thought on seeing them was it must be some marriage ceremony for which everybody was dressed up in their finest clothes, the hypothesis gained strength when I saw a band party also. But soon we were out of the Jam and stopped in Sukawati Art market for some shopping in Bali, and I was told that we have about an hour of free time before we start again.
Enthused by this announcement, I started running back towards my Apsara point as I have hastily named the spot where I first spotted the Apsaras.
“Prasad Come back in an hour, “somebody screamed behind me.
“Leave if I don’t come in time,” I screamed half hoping one of the Apsaras will carry me back with her to the heavens for today was the day when streets of Sukawati in Bali were being overrun by Apsaras.
OK, the fantasy part is over, now let us get real and let me give you what I actually saw ? Still with me, good. So just so that we are all on the same page let me recap below :
I ran towards the Apsara point and exchanged smiles with anybody who was willing to not ignore me among all the festivities around. As most people were busy most of them ignored the Touristo Indicus var. desi
( HAAAW desi is a TOURIST !!! ……… Did I hear that ? ) .
My attempts to communicate with the Balinese people who were celebrating the Pura Dalem Sukawati Festival or the Palace Temple of Sukawati festival. Finally, I met somebody who could understand my Indian Accent and helped me understand about the festival.
Those of you know your geography and other subjects taught in middle school ( or at least have watched EAT, Pray and Love ) will remember that Indonesian Island heaven of Bali is predominantly Hindu. The Hinduism in Bali is in a time warp carefully calibrated to about 900 years ago when the religion first took roots in the fertile volcanic soil, thanks to Gunung Agung the dormant but still dominant resident volcano that gave birth and shaped the landscape of Bali. Many of the ceremonies in Bali Hinduism are lost in India but are carefully preserved in Bali and they come out in full grandeur and opulent display during one of the many festivals celebrated on the island.
As my luck will have it I was witnessing one such festival, the Pura Dalem Sukawati festival. In this festival, a large contingent of local kids, girls and boys and women dress up in traditional finery that takes you back in time when Hinduism first took roots here in Bali.
Like many festivals in Hinduism and Buddhism, this festival also celebrates and respect forces of nature and is basically a purification ritual that uses water for purification. The ceremonial parade starts from Pura Dalem Sukawati and travels to Pura Benji for Mendak Tirta , my understanding is that Tirta is a holy place like a Tirtha Sthan (तीर्थ स्थान ) in India e.g. Varanasi.
The ritualistic parade slowly walks the streets of Sukawati a former princely state in the area whose current king still lives in his palace nearby. (More on this later in the post) .
The idea of the parade is to recreate the earlier royal cum religious ceremony and bring water from the Mendak Tirta from Pura Benji and take it back to the Pura Dalem and use it to cleanse it. So it was obvious that this Pura Benji ( Benji Temple ) is a more revered temple whose waters are believed to purify.
Note to my Balinese friends reading this: Please help me in correcting this hypothesis as it was difficult to understand what my Balinese benefactor informed me at the top of his voice but still no match to all the musical instruments playing devotional songs around us. Any mistake in my understanding of the rituals of the festival is purely out of ignorance and unable to find anything on the internet, I will be happy to correct the information on this blog post about Temple Festival Parade Bali in Sukawati Bali.
Some of the women and kids are walking silently in the processing just humming to the music around, others are singing loudly some with the choir some has the songs written on a paper that they check every now and then to be with the chorus. Some of the devotees are carrying offerings for the gods in bamboo buckets, I notice assorted flowers for offerings like Marigold, Rose, Pink Frangipani, Hibiscus and a few others all to on their way to the altar.
Soon I was part of the ceremony talking to a father lovingly carrying his daughter who was tired. A mom nodded in agreement as I pointed towards my camera questioning if I can click her son. Two of the girls smiled and waved, clearly amused at the antics of this bewildered – Touristo Indicus var. desi ( And the Tumult of Haaw Tourist !!! pierce my ears again ). They explain to me more about the festival as I am clicking them.
I try to keep pace with the musicians and point my camera towards them but they are in no mood to be disturbed and anyways are no match to the Apsara fest happening all around me. So I decide to let the musicians play in peace!! I again joined the parade of Balinese girls dressed up like Apsaras and mermaids with Aurum crowns adorning their pretty heads and a colorful tail daintily following them on the hard tarmac, occasionally giving a glimpse of their tiny alabaster feet waltzing to the rhythm of the music divine.
The kids aged from maybe 5 and above carefully walk as their mothers proudly make videos and adjust the flowers on the kids dress as the kids struggle to break free from the clutches of adoring mother.
Well, I don’t blame the kids, you can be a kid as long as you want but it is a special day you get to play gods walking on the streets.
The line of kids is followed by the procession of girls and women who are all melodiously chanting some mantras while others are busy casting a spell with their kohl-rimmed eyes that can make you follow them to the other end of the world and in the other world too if they only desire so. I too was following the procession like mesmerized urchin following the Pied Piper of Hamelin and wanted to continue until the end of the world.
But no such luck for poor desi Traveler, for the procession, starts turning in a narrow lane just before the Sukawati Market, where the Pura Benji is located. Here the congregation on both sides of the narrow street has swelled and except for a narrow streak in the middle, most of the road is taken. A couple of policemen are trying their best to make sure that the crowd does not spill over on the path of Apsara Parade. I was in two minds to follow the parade in the narrow lane or go back to the group as I stood on the corner of the street in front of a formidable gate my dilemma is answered by a sweet voice that called me inside the gates. You can come inside if you want she gestures me. In two minds but in no position to resist the invitation inside this beautiful house I accept her invitation and ask her
“ Is this a temple ?” she just laughs and asks me to follow her towards a platform where some people are chatting.
She guides me towards an elderly gentleman who looks at me with a big smile and asks
“Where are you from?”
On hearing India, his smile broadens and he folds his hands and says
“Om Suastiastu” followed by a “ Namaste”
I too say Namaste and say, “ I am sorry to enter like this, I thought this is a temple, this place looks so beautiful” and pointed towards the girl who invited me in. Everybody gives a big chuckle while
The elderly gentlemen smiles and says, “No not temple this is the ancestral Palace of King of Sukawati”
I am totally dumbfounded at the answer and somehow mumble
“Oh, Palace of King of Sukawati, I was wondering what is this, I thought this is a temple. But good it is the Palace of Sukawati, I am so lucky to be in the Palace, if this is the Palace so where is the King of Sukawati”? I ask, still not sure what to make of the situation.
“You are talking to him” replies the gentleman totally enjoying the look on my face as I try to comprehend the situation.
To be continued in an upcoming post…..
In the meantime, you can watch this small video made using made by Flo app
I would like to thank Indonesia Tourism Ministry for inviting me to Wonderful Indonesia on the Trip of Wonders. Watch this space for more.
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