Serendipitous Moments in Spiritual Bali

The past days have been serendipitous in mystic Bali with moments that seemed as though the perpetually-honored spirits were communing to make our stay incredibly special.

Jinbaran Beach

Two days ago, I started the shrimp-colored morning with a walk through unexplored territory to the east of our Jimbaran hotel, Villa Puri Royan, while Shawn went jogging on the beach.

Though I was aware that Bali is a place with much spiritual practice prior to arriving, I was nevertheless still surprised to see that practically every home, temple and storefront entry as well as all intersections, are adorned with spiritual offerings. They range from rice-filled rattan trays, to receptacles woven from banana leaves that are filled with dollops of saffron-colored rice and multi-colored flower petals.

One woman I saw on Tuesday gracefully carried a pretty tray on her hand before kneeling down to place a delicate organic vessel in the middle of a backstreet intersection. She shot a lovely smile my way and then inserted a smoking incense stick into the bundle before dancing off to another location at which to make a delivery. As the woman walked away, a little girl on a corner across the street placed a similar bundle of offerings in front of a neighborhood temple.

Stray, but overwhelmingly friendly and well-fed dogs roamed the back roads. Children in blue and white school uniforms walked home midday and temples made from black volcanic rock seemed to populate every other block. There were also an abundant supply of ‘hellos’ and wide smiles. Balinese grins are the sorts that make the smile bearer’s entire face smile. You sense that the smirk is genuine and the faces radiate happiness.

It took me several minutes to cross one of Jinbaran’s busier streets. Cars, but mostly mopeds driven by soloists or families of two and even four passengers weaved by from both directions. When I finally traversed the bustling road, I saw an increasingly larger number of schoolchildren. Around a corner, I found Jinbaran’s Elementary School No. 5. When I walked into the courtyard, I was immediately introduced to Ms. Erna, the school’s English teacher.

I was surprised that the young teacher shared the same name as my childhood piano teacher (whom you may remember from an earlier posting). Balinese Erna is the third person I’ve ever met to share the name of my special teacher.

Erna invited Shawn and me to the next day’s Full Moon celebration at the school. As a prelude, Erna ushered me to one of the neighboring classrooms so that I could observe a group of children practicing a song to honor the goddess of education, who will be honored later this month. The students’ male teacher stood at the chalkboard, prompting the young learners to vocalize each word.

In the early afternoon hours, following a stroll along the beach, Shawn and I returned to our guesthouse to catch up on online tasks and reading. When I heard intoxicating local music in the neighborhood, I instantly assumed it was coming from a car stereo. A hotel employee, however, explained that it was being performed live. My curiosity was instantly piqued.

With Shawn at my heels, the employee led us to a home compound across the street. In the home’s courtyard, several families were performing a ritual purification ceremony for an infant boy and his mother. (In Bali, a child and his mother are considered impure until the child has reached 42 days old. Prior to this milestone, a mother cannot enter sacred places like temples. A child is also thought to be vulnerable to witches.)

When the family saw us peeking through the compound’s gates that were carefully watched over by the elephant god, ganesh, they enthusiastically ushered us in. Young men and boys, donning the traditional Balinese sari, sash and headscarf, played traditional instruments (lent out by the local community) while other family members watched the ceremony being performed by the family’s holy man. The air was festive, the smells indistinguishable yet invigorating.

The work that went into the ceremony must have been incredible as evidenced by the impressive spread sitting underneath the family temple’s roof. Trays after tray of offerings were studded with tropical fruits and flowers. A roast pig, golden-blonde cakes, oranges and dunes of rice rounded off the overflowing table.

Our primary host, Mariana, was charismatic and philosophical, with excellent English. He explained that each tray contained items that would allow the child’s soul to be purified from his ‘foundation’ (feet) through his ‘middle body,’ to finally his mind and soul. The boy was at home in his mother’s arms, but seemingly perplexed as a delicate red thread was tied first around his chubby ankle, then progressively upwards.

Family members snapped shots of the proceedings as if forming miniature paparazzi. As the ceremony drew to a close, a baby chicken was removed from a rattan cage and carefully cradled in a female family member’s hands, as she and another relative rode off to the neighboring Indian Ocean. The couple headed to the beach to release the chicken – symbolizing the release of impurities and freedom of the child’s soul.

Shawn and I were touched by the generosity and hospitality the family was extending us and we conveyed our emotions to Mariana. He explained the importance of doing good deeds for others, given Balinese Hindu karmic principles. “I am you, and you are me” he stated, philosophically.

Mariana’s statement succinctly illustrated why we are feeling so welcome on this beautiful island, among the banyan trees, roadways overflowing with flowers, and these gentle and beautiful people.

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

8 thoughts on “Serendipitous Moments in Spiritual Bali

  1. Sounds like you are experiencing the true heart of Bali, how wonderful. What a special experience to be invited to a ceremony, I have yet to experience one first hand.
    Beautiful images, what camera do you use? Thank you for sharing this beautiful insight into Balinese culture, it really is a special place. I look forward to reading (and seeing) more!

    1. Sarah, we have been very fortunate to have already participated in two ceremonies, thanks to our chance meeting with our neighborhood family. They seem as thrilled to share the traditions with us as we are to observe and participate! It’s quite touching. When you were in Bali, in which cities did you stay? We went to Kuta Beach yesterday and were overwhelmed by the activity and plethora of tourists and salesmen. Jinbaran is really quite laid-back.

      About two weeks ago, I purchased a new camera. It’s my first DSLR and is a Nikon D5100. I opted for the 18-200 mm. lens because if offers much versatility. I look forward to delving into photography now that I have more time!

    1. Greetings, Caitlin – so glad you learned a few tidbits about this rich culture! Indeed, it’s incredible how seemingly every aspect of life is governed by spirituality in Bali. From the beautiful sarongs and sashes we wore the other evening to enter a temple (symbolizing a man and woman’s connection to Mother Earth) to the multiple ceremonies that are performed before an infant even reaches one year, I’m not certain how the people keep all the details straight! It’s refreshing how they take a laid-back yet reverent approach to it all.

      We will be heading to Thailand in the coming months. Having only been to Bangkok, I’m looking to explore more of the country. Were there any special places that you visited that you would recommend for an authentic experience there?

  2. Your’e truly having a mind expanding trip. Paradise is in your mind, the power of it attracts others to furthur your journey.

    much love


    1. Monty & Merna, we’re so happy that you’re following along in our journeys, via our blogs! We reflect fondly on our Queen Mary cruise, Windsor, and of course our Heidelberg wedding, and look forward to our next adventure together. We’ll keep our eyes open for a steaming marathon in SE Asia!

    1. Thank you, Jane. Bali is really extraordinary in many ways, but especially in a cultural sense. It seems that every other day, the locals are engaging in big celebrations – for the full moon; for Saraswati, the goddess of education; and yet another special day yesterday that we were uncertain about. The people sport their traditional dress, bring offering baskets and wear glorious smiles — it really is quite beautiful!

Join the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: