Singapore Adventure

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sarongs and Sashes
by venitha

Within Pura Samuan Tiga, a temple outside of Ubud, we're dressed in our sarongs and sashes, mine, of course, blue, and Sue's, of course, orange. As required, we've gone traditional from the waist down, but instead of the cleavage-revealing see-through lace blouses of the beautifully and formally attired local women, we're wearing simple t-shirts and are therefore feeling, ironically, grossly underdressed.

A woman's chorus provides a mystical backdrop for the temple's chaos as we meander the confused maze of shrines teeming with worshippers. Women balance trays and baskets on their heads, organize enormous piles of edible offerings. Devotees kneel and press their palms together in prayer. A man instructs his daughter how to hold her arms, elbows out, thumbs near foreheads. A priest pours holy water into waiting cupped hands, and three generations of women sip a blessing from their palms, then sprinkle God's grace from their finger tips onto their gleaming ebony hair.

"I don't understand any of this, but it's really cool."

I asked at the entrance donation box (10000 rupiah/person, about US$1) and was assured that yes, photographs were fine, and indeed no one seems offended by my camera. In fact, many seem to want to pose. Little boys flirt playfully, and one woman insists on a picture with me. Everyone smiles at us, though in friendship or amusement, I cannot say.

"So long as they keep smiling, I guess it's okay."

We smile, too, basking in the unavoidable campy Joe Versus The Gunung Volcano glow that colors the scene. The black and white-checked fabric swathing staircases and statues is everywhere in Bali, so we've mostly outgrown its cheesy Italian restaurant feel, but the fringed yellow and white parasols are still straight from 's bedroom.

"We're going to end up on stage eventually."

Instead, we walk straight onto the pages of National Geographic: the procession has arrived. The gamelan music swells as women, balancing monumental towers of offerings - fresh fruits, colored rice cakes, vivid flowers, entire roast ducks - on their heads, enter one after another and gracefully negotiate the many steps to the enormous open-air sanctuary where their families await. All - there are at least 100 - are dressed alike in Batik patterned black sarongs and lacy white blouses, raven hair fashioned into elaborate buns graced with tropical flowers, grains of rice adorning foreheads and throats.

We watch in reverence until all are arranged kneeling before the vast altar, now burgeoning with offerings, and the ceremony can begin. I take one last picture, press my own palms together in a prayer of thanks - terima kasih - for having been allowed this experience, then leave the worshippers in peace.