THE SUBLIME BEACHES of Bali are not the core of this photo report, and neither are the massive parties in Katu. This piece aims to showcase another side of Bali: its wonderful rice fields in Ubud, the Hindu temples mixed with Buddhism; the spirit that flows in the air and drives you to the healers. Its rich culture.
Temples and religion
It’s hard work to count all the temples in Bali partially because there are three different types of them.
Family temples: each Balinese family -from the richest to the poorest- build their own family temple in their house. Some of them are very small and modest with daily offerings around. Others are spectacular meaning the whole house seems to be only a temple.
Town temple: every village builds a free access temple for the inhabitants of the community. Tourists don’t usually visit these temples where Balinese people come regularly to pray and bring offerings.
Old temples are the most visited. Here tourists are mixed up with believers and travellers:
Tanah Lot temple is situated on top of a rock eroded by the waves. There is a little crypt underneath where anyone can be blessed with holy water and a point of rice on the forehead. In another crypt there is the holy snake and, at the end of this group of buildings, one of the most beautiful images of Bali: a natural bridge made of rocks over the sea where everyday hundreds of people come together to see the sunset.
Tirta Empul temple: here there is a spring from where holy water flows and Hindu believers come to purify themselves.
Offerings are varied, with a little bit of everything inside: fruits and flowers, candies and money, even cigarettes. They can be deposited in the entrance of many different places as shops, markets, on the pavement…
The island of the four names
The Balinese use just four names that are repeated over and over. Usually they get a middle name to distinguish each other plus the surname. The name is given according to birth order. The first man is called Wayan o Putu, the second one is Made, the third is Nyoman and the fourth Ketut; for women the same names are used with a prefix: Niwayan, Imade, Inyoman and Iketut.
Traditional Balinese medicine and the healers
It is common to ignore what traditional medicine is about and easy to judge without having any knowledge of it. For Westerns it is hard to understand; for Balinese people is something special, very real and difficult to explain with words. In the West, where everything has to be classified, we are told that there are three types of healers. Although if you ask the Balinese about this classification is not as simple as classifying each healer in a group out of three: “every healer has a personal way of working, of thinking, of curing”.
After the launch of the film Eat, pray and love the area of Ubud has been taken over by hundreds of ‘illuminated’ healers. Those who advertise themselves and always ask for money are under suspicion by many including Balinese people. They say “if a healer is charging money, he is doing business. A real healer was given that gift from god, in the same way it has to be given to those that need help”.
Some healers apply chiropractic or reflexology techniques, others – the real ones according to Balinese people- use techniques never seen in the West; incomparable with any known practice. The healer starts the session checking the patient to be sure that the origin of the illness is within his/her competence, otherwise they will recommend to go to the doctor. To know what type of disease they have to deal with, they introduce a finger in the ears and then into the nostrils without pressuring. If the pain is unbearable, it is the irrefutable evidence for them to ensure that the illness is a consequence of enchantments and black magic.
Once they prove the illness doesn’t have medical origins, the session of praying starts spreading coconut oil all over the patients body. However, this is not a massage to make you relax, it is a very painful experience in which the majority of people usually scream and cry of pain, and very likely the day after you will have marks on your body.
At the end of the session, the healer will give some advice to follow in order to continue with a healthy life, mentally and physically. Normally, they suggest meditation, yoga, praying and believing that there is some supernatural power –it doesn’t matter the name of the god- that we should give in to everything we are surrounded by. They want you to believe that they are the means for this universal force to cure.
Trick or true, this is how Balinese culture is.
One of the most famous dances is ‘the Barong and Kris dance’. Barong is a mythological animal that represents the good spirit. During the dance this spirit fights against Randa, another mythological creature that represents the evil spirit. The dance means the eternal conflict between good and evil.
Paradise on Earth
Bali goes beyond the sun and beautiful beaches although they are indeed breath-taking.
To sum up the beauty and magic of Bali there is this picture named as ‘the Balinese God of fertility’, due to the beauty and innocence that this pregnant girl expresses while carrying marvellous offerings on top of the head.
Words and photos by Andreyna Valera.
Translated by Ana Escaso.