The Long March of Freedom

SILAKARANG ~ Last Sunday morning, 4.30am to be exact, my family went along with the rest of the village, and what seemed like most of Gianyar, on their six-monthly trek to the coast to take part in island-wide beach prayers.

4.30am isn’t my favourite time of day, so getting up to put on my kabaya and wake my 21-month-old daughter, Lola, seemed like a bit of an imposition on my good-natured crossover to Hinduism.

However, once we were on the road, in convoy with a zillion other people from around our area, it didn’t seem quite so bad.

Early mornings in Bali are pretty magical, and heading to the beach for sunrise can be a special experience. It’s especially great for me because, unlike most other members of the family, I only see that time of day once every six months.

Once we arrived at Pantai Purnama, close to Sukawati, everyone idled down the beach and found good spots to sit and pray. The atmosphere was calm and still a bit sleepy, but the pace began to pick up, with the women placing offerings in their designated spots.

Thankfully, my mother- and sister-in-law take care of all the offerings and I don’t have to worry about being stared at as I struggle down the beach with a tower of fruit on my head resembling the precarious landmark in Pisa.

Back and forth went all the priests, their wives and women with offerings, all with that Balinese precision, knowing exactly which flower to use, where to place the incense and exactly how many bell shakes and water flicks are needed to please the gods.

After the usual long wait for prayers to begin, it was all done and dusted in the blink of an eye. Everyone was blessed and sent on their way home, to eat offerings and take naps.

I’m still a bit lost when it comes to the reason we do this ritual, but my husband, Ongky, says it’s something to do with the “bad” time of year, so I guess it’s a good precaution to take. Wearing red, black and white bits of string around our wrists, we are now safe from harm.

Back at home we weren’t finished for the day as it was also Lola’s third Balinese birthday, or Otonan, which meant more offerings and prayers. I don’t even pretend to understand the Pawukon, or Balinese calendar of 210 days, but again I’m very lucky to have my mother- and sister-in-law to guide me.

I know that Galungan is always on a Wednesday and Kuningan 10 days later, on a Saturday, but that’s as far as my understanding goes. Even a trip to Wikipedia (the source of all answers) didn’t clear up the confusion for me.

Balinese birthdays aren’t a huge event, but it is a special day, and offerings were made especially for Lola.

Thankfully, at this point the threat of shaving her lovely little head seems to have been forgotten. As we were in the UK for her first Otonan, we pleaded frigid temperatures and got away with keeping her hair.

Sometimes we also have nasi goreng or some greasy treat to mark the occasion, but just as often it is marked with prayers only.

The only bad thing about the shortness of the Balinese calendar is that my not-even-two-year-old daughter is suddenly three. As if time doesn’t go fast enough when you have a child, in Bali the years fly by 155 days faster.

My Sunday was slightly harder work than usual, but after such a holy holiday, I feel confident that the coming week will be a good one.

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