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By Hannah Black
The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ A four-day odalan or temple anniversary was suddenly sprung on me last week by my husband, Ongky. Dinners with friends were duly cancelled and my kabayas came out of the closet for a wash and iron; I couldn’t possibly be seen wearing the same one twice in the same odalan.

I didn’t realize it beforehand, being so blasé to ceremony prep now, but it was actually a pretty big one. Arriving on the first night, the road was packed with bikes, cars and the nomadic toy sellers that magically know when it’s ceremony time. All the warungs were set up, the stage decorated for music and dance and even a cock-fighting arena had been built in the middle of the courtyard. It was a grand scene indeed.

So many people I know here seem to think temple is a sort-of burden to me. It may seem to those who have had to sit through hours of church, synagogue, mosque etc. that Hindu ceremony is just another place to sit and be preached to, but it isn’t like that at all. There is a carnival atmosphere at a big odalan: kids running wild, people eating, drinking, smoking and gossiping. Lots of people-watching goes on and everyone dons their best temple gear for the occasion.

A cousin who has been travelling around Asia for the past seven months arrived just in time for the last night of the odalan and immediately commented on how trendy everyone managed to look. Each person has their own twist on the traditional garb, especially teenagers, who seem to set the trends. The current trend in kabayas is chiffon fabrics in bright florals with contrasting trim, just in case you need to hit the temple in your best anytime soon.

We watched some dancing and smiled at all the proud parents taking pictures and cheering for their sons and daughters. All the boys who roam the streets in packs by day shooting things with bamboo blow guns and performing life-threatening bicycle stunts in the style of Jackass were transformed into graceful warriors. You would have thought wearing as much makeup as the girls would embarrass them, but they don’t seem to mind one bit.

The children can’t wait for the topeng or masked dancer as he always sends them screaming as he chases after them. All the dogs that have followed their owners to temple go crazy, baring their fangs at the armoured dancer as he skips around.

The main reason to go to temple is of course to pray, but it really doesn’t take very long. Each session, if you get there just in time, takes about 15 minutes. If you happen to get there early and get stuck in a difficult spot to climb out of, you can end up with a very numb bum; so the best tactic is to hang out outside amongst the warungs, snack on some fried goodies and sneak in right at the back just as prayers start. That way you get the whole prayer session in but don’t get pins and needles – also good when Lola, 14 months, starts to get wriggly.

One of the great things about these ceremonies is the fruit towers, cakey things and roast chickens that the whole family gets to devour afterwards. The best apples and oranges and special fruits like grapes and pears are bought for the offerings and are never wasted. Women take real pride in the look and size of their offerings and often make showy examples of the amount of money spent on them; I’ve often seen things like supermarket dragon fruit still in its Styrofoam and plastic wrapping pegged to the side of a tower. I can’t say I particularly like this kind of showiness, but it is quite funny to play Spot the Strangest Item.

There is a real feeling of community at ceremonies. No one brings negativity to the temple and no one is forced to go. If I don’t feel like praying one night, I don’t; and if Lola gets tired and needs to go home, we go. Ongky always says to me there is no pressure to be the best Hindu you can be; if you keep your life balanced, you will be rewarded in your next one; if your life is off-kilter, you will have more work to do balancing later on.

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