There's a crack in everyone and that's how the light of God gets in - Elizabeth Gilbert - Eat, Pray and Love.
Circa March, 2013 - I clicked this picture in the narrow streets of Jalan Raya, Ubud - Bali.
Out of the many pictures I clicked during my trip, this one has touched me the most for many reasons. After clicking this picture, I sat by the street side and silently gazed at this frame of faith, knowledge and wisdom for a very long time. It was an affirmation of my belief in the saying "One cannot find God in noise and agitation but in the silence of the heart, God speaks".
I wasn't really looking for a path to self- discovery nor was I hoping to meet my Javier Bardem like Julia Roberts did in the movie "Eat, Pray and Love" but Bali definitely fascinated me because of its culture and spiritual roots. I wanted to experience the green landscapes, the art, the food, the people and the overall sense of serenity that Ubud exudes.
So this post is a collection of my thoughts, stories and prayers from my trip. Before I actually started working on it, I wanted some time to introspect and get a perspective on life, as a result of which this post is a tad late, almost 2 months after my last one.
THOUGHTS: The sound of silence:
Trust me folks, the silence in the wee hours is beautiful and in this silence of the heart, I speak to my God. Waking up at 4 am or sooner has become my way of life for a few years now. The world calls it "Insomnia" and I call it "The sound of silence".
Sipping my morning cup of coffee by the fireplace and listening to Arjith Singh’s soulful renditions, I reason with HIM about what is good or bad, right or wrong . "You have given me everything in life in abundance, but still there is a sense of restlessness within me, an unseen fear inside me and the feeling is so unsettling, why?”- I question HIM.
2013 was a very hectic year for me, by far one of the fastest paced ones. I was running away from the real world, from everyone and everything. I partied hard, lived out of a suitcase for the most part of the year and didn't know exactly what I wanted from life, why I was doing all this. But by the end of the year, I could tell. I wanted to slow down and find answers to my own questions. I knew I wanted to stop and smell the roses, rediscover parts of me, nurse my ignored heart and mind, enjoy the simple pleasures of life and continue my search for peace....... peace that begins with a smile.
Well, on a lighter note, how many of you remember the scene in the movie ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ where Kajol asks her screen dad Amrish Puri to give her a month's time to travel and experience the world before she marries and settles down. Though Bali was a family trip, during my 10 days of stay in Ubud, I requested my husband to give me a couple of days alone to explore the interiors, meet the locals and capture the essence of the town through my lens. With some directions from a local guide, a cell phone, my laptop and camera bag in hand, I rented a scooter for two days and experienced magic. Though I have travelled a lot in the past 16 years, this particular trip had a huge impact on me and it changed me as a person, slowly but surely....
STORIES: Faith & Frangipani:
As I was riding my scooter by the lush green paddy fields of UBUD, I saw Frangipanis in full bloom. They waved at me and I waved back , they smiled at me and I smiled back at them. These tropical blossoms cast a spell on me with their sweet scent and sheer beauty, thus urging me to share my travel snippets "Faith & Frangipani" with the world.
Islam is the predominant religion in Indonesia but more than 93% of the population in Bali have adhered to Balinese Hinduism. Balinese spiritual culture has its roots in Hinduism, Buddhism and ancient animist beliefs. Balinese people are hugely influenced by the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and they worship many hindu gods - mainly Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha and Saraswathi.
Anything that is done with complete trust or complete confidence in someone or something is faith. Balinese people make offerings to God 3 times a day and it's an important part of their daily routine. Their simple offerings are done with utmost faith and devotion-a small basket made out of coconut or palm leaves
and holding a small amount of rice, fish, meat and flowers. I have also seen people offering cookies, candies and coffee decoction and it reminded me of a line from the Bhagwad Gita that I have painted on the wall of my pooja room: "Anything that is offered to me, say a leaf or a flower in devotion, I will accept it with joy!"
The offerings are placed at the entrance of homes, on the statues of the deities , at store entrances and on street sides for good fortune and to ward off evil.
The rituals for the offerings are normally short and are done with the intention of plain thankfulness and to hold the energy of the blessing. Around sunset along with the offerings, lamps and incense sticks are lit everywhere, be it in a house, restaurant, hotel or a store. I have seen waiters in restaurants stop everything and make time to light lamps and place the offerings.
Religion and prayer are a part of everyday life in Bali and one cannot miss the locals praying at the temple or placing offerings on the street side. Men sit with their legs crossed and women kneel. This is an act of devotion and one can see the locals with grains of rice stuck on their forehead or throat. It signifies a blessing that is received from the priest at the temple.
Out of the many temples I visited during my stay in Bali, the "Pura Besakih" or “the mother temple of Besakih” fascinated me the most. Located on the slope of Mount Agung, it's the largest and the holiest of all temples and while I was there, I was fortunate enough to capture an important ceremony which is a major part of Balinese culture and lifestyle.
The whole of the Besakih temple was decorated to celebrate an annual festival. As a token of respect, all men and women are required to wear a sarong before entering the temple .
The decorations are mainly made out of tender palm or coconut leaves and colored paper.
The head priest, dressed in a black coat, leading an important ceremony in the temple.
Women dressed up for the ceremonial occasion in their traditional lacy blouses and sarongs.
Driving through Bali, one can notice a recurring theme along the road sides and the pattern would be something like this - House, temple, statue........shop, statue, statue, temple........ temple, statue, house, shop!
Majority of the statues one gets to see in Bali are of hindu gods and spirits and they are made of cement, sandstone, lava, lime or green stone.
I loved the red hibiscus flowers adorning Lord Ganesha, it definitely made me stop and take some pics...
With the Dwarapalakas ( gate guardians)...
These statues adorn the house or temple entrances and are mostly wrapped in black and white checked sarongs.
PRAYER: Om Swasthiyastu :
March 25th, 2013 - My status on FB read....
"It's been a while since I posted something significant on Facebook as I was getting a little tired of it. But today I am here to share what I just experienced. I had a fantastic, fantastic day. I rented a 2 wheeler and wandered around the quaint streets of the town UBUD in BALI. I made several stops to chant "Om Swasthiyastu" with the locals, haggled for masks and silver, made several drink stops (read super strong tamarind margarita stops), clicked pictures to my heart's content and lived a day the way I want to............totally non pretentious!! I don't live for others, I live life for myself.”
Though it was just 2 days, being myself and doing what I like to do in life was quite a liberating experience for me and today after almost a year, I am reminiscing and reliving those moments through this post.
Driving around busy Hanuman street in Ubud in my scooter, I took coffee and margarita breaks, continued exploring by soaking in the beauty of antiques, haggling for masks and silver, mingling with the locals, walking into their homes to click pics, stopping at a lovely art gallery turned restaurant for lunch and finally at the famous Uluwatu temple to experience the most beautiful evening of my life.... the cult " Kecak dance".
Ubud being the cultural capital of Bali is filled with quaint and colorful cafes, restaurants, antiques and jewelry stores...
Bali is a mask collector’s paradise.
Barong ( A form of Balinese dance) masks, Tattoo style and Garuda masks.
"Om Swastiyastu" is a famous Balinese chant which means " peace and greetings" from God. It is commonly used by the locals to greet each other or the tourists.
Chanting "Om Swastiyastu" I smile for the camera along with the Barong dancers.
Eating out in Bali is also a memorable experience because many of the antique art houses have been converted into restaurants. Quite a few of these restaurants overlook the paddy fields, so sitting amidst these beautiful pieces of art as you enjoy the sambals and dirty ducks is indeed a priceless experience.
After lunch, I spent a big part of the afternoon visiting the houses of Balinese people. Dwarapalakas guard the entrance of their homes and statues of Lord Ganesha or other family deities adorn the center of the compound.
The "Kecak dance" at Uluwatu was the last stop of the day.
Tanah Lot (meaning land- sea) is one of the most beautiful temples in Bali. It sits on a rock and is famous for its spectacular sunsets.
As the sun was about to set, the tourists gathered around the main grounds of the Uluwatu temple to experience a beautiful Balinese dance drama called "kecak" depicting scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana.
The head priest lit the lamp and a group of 150 or more Balinese men gathered around in circles and started a trance ritual called "kecak". It is also known as the "Ramayana monkey chant" because the "kecak" sound resembles the sound made by a monkey.
Lord Rama and Sita:
Hanuman gives Rama's ring to Sita :