The Balinese and the Ocean

Sunset in Sanur, Bali

The Balinese and the Ocean

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The Balinese have a very special and unique relationship with the ocean. The ocean accompanies them all their life, from the beginning to the end, they are blessed in it not long after their birth as well as their ashes are thrown in there after their death.
However, it’s a very complex relationship, you will surely notice that not many Balinese know how to swim…Also we cannot find so much fish on the Island compared to the fact that Bali is surrounded by oceans and that the fishes should be everywhere.
Indeed, if Balinese respect the ocean, they are scared of it. Traditionally the ocean was a dangerous zone, mysterious and unknown. The myth says that deadly diseases come from there, sent to earth by the demoniac Jero Gede Mecaling.
Hinduism is all about balance, balance between the good and the bad is crucial. If the sea got its devils it also got its gods, most of them being demoniacs.
The most famous one, Baruna, is the God of the Sea.

Balinese kids runing on the beach

Gods of the land, Gods of the sea
Good Gods live in the mountains, like the Mt Agung or Batur and the sea hosts devils and ogres. That’s the reason why it is rare to see Balinese families bathing even if the weather is ideal for a beach day.
Loads of ceremonies happen on the beach, in a sign of purification and respect towards our great planet earth. The day before Nyepi processions take place on all the Bali beaches.
God and Goddess effigies and all spiritual objects are bathed in the ocean in order to be cleansed in a ceremony called Mekiis or Melasti. This done, the effigies and symbols will be brought back to the temple and religiously looked after. This ceremony is done in a goal of purification of all human beings and of the entire universe from negative thoughts. Human being’s and the universe are linked. Balinese believe that if all spirits are ‘clean’, the universe and human being’s included can leave in peace and harmony.

Balinese demonic statue

Newborn and salty water
When a baby is born, he is honored with a few ceremonies, the most important of all being the 3 months’ one.
It takes place on the beach because the baby is, for the very first time, introduced to the ocean. The ceremony is quite costly due to countless offerings made of flowers and banana leaves. All the families will come over to meet the newborn and take part of the festivities.
The priest sing’s Mantras and bless the offerings, he will then bless the newborn with salty sea water and bath its feet in the great Indian ocean. The ceremony will last a few hours and end with a nice meal that always includes a suckling pig, a meal so cherished by the Balinese; Don’t forget to taste it while you stay here !!

3 months ceremony in Bali

The Jukung and its fisherman
Surely you already met on the beaches, those particular boats, typical of Bali with living colors which look like little sailboats.
It is actually fishing boats with a unique history. We also use this Jukung for snorkeling and diving like in Padang Bai, Amed and Tulamben where you will hop on a pretty Jukung to meet deeper waters.
Traditionally the Jukungs are designed for 2 or 3 fishermen and are no longer than 5 meters and not deeper than 50 cm. Nowadays, they are adapted to tourism and even have spaces for the diving tanks.
We don’t build a Jukung like that!!
There is rules to follow and they all have their own signification and reason to be. The first one and most important one being the date when the tree is cut. The date will be decided accordingly to the Balinese Saka calendar with the priest. These little boats are built off Belalu wood or Camplung wood ideal because it is light and strong. At the best date, the buildup starts, all the village come helping making the process fast and efficient. They build the boat regarding to his owner shape and look. A small fisherman with got a slim and tiny boat and a little pore shabby one a little bit bigger boat. The boat will likely be finished after 2 weeks, blessed by the priests in an important ceremony and ready to sail on the tumultuous ocean’s waves!!
Let’s not forget that the devils and ogres are living down the blue ocean and this is why the head of all Jukungs are painted with ferocious faces in order to scare away the bad evils.

Colourful jukung in Sanur beach

Cremation and Reincarnation
A death is never a dull moment in Bali. It’s not an end but a beginning. Balinese believe in reincarnation, when your body and spirit stop functioning, it’s simply that the life went somewhere else; thereby a newborn is the reincarnation of one of his ancestors. After being born the priest sees in different signs, similarities with a dead human being, similar movements, same looking face or same expressions and announced whose reincarnation he/she is. Mostly a great great granddad or great grandma.
Hindus are incinerated, the cremations are extremely costly ceremonies and very often the dead are buried before being burned. In order to share the expenses, a village will burn a few dead persons together and then share the costs of the offerings. A person can wait a few years before being burned. And the ceremonies can be even more impressive and great if more money can be collected.
It’s the reason why, even if the cremation is obligatory for Balinese, we still can notice heaps of small cemeteries here and there.
Once the body burned, the ashes are taken to the ocean, where the life started.
The spirit of the death is looked after by Baruna, God of the Sea who will take care of it until all the ceremonies following the death are done.
Once done, the family will call back the spirit of the death and spiritually drop it off in an offering. This offering will be burned and her ashes given to the ocean. The spirit will then be previously kept in the family temple in order to be worshipped.
By all those ceremonies, the spirit of the death will be purified and cleansed from all the bad and negativity, then be reincarnate in a better person.

Cremation ceremony in Bali

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