Hindu temple of universal truths
Even demons become kinder if they are fed on time and treated well.
I learnt this last week, when we attended a service at a small Hindu temple in the remote mountains of western Bali.
My husband, Bill, and I went for a bike ride. We rode in the equatorial heat along a shady road, flanked by towering mountains of green jungle that swept up to high, mysterious ridges.
Across the empty sea was the perfect cone of the massive volcano that guards the Java Straits.
We turned onto a narrow road that led to the mountains. At the end was the Hindu temple. We pedalled towards its white walls and the gold spires glinting in the heat shimmer.
It was a time of service, and perhaps 200 hundred Balinese were converging on the dragon-flanked gates.
We left our bicycles and quickly wrapped ourselves in sarongs that we carried in our shoulder bags.
We joined the slow flood of the crowd as the sole foreigners, but as we were appropriately dressed, no one paid us undue attention.
The men wear tailored white jackets with a long, straight row of buttons in the front, and hats like short turbans. The women all have long sleeved blouses and, like the men, colourful sarongs. Often, both men and women wear white frangipani flowers behind their ears.
Temples here are embellished with statues of various mythical creatures; buxom goddesses, scowling demons and dragons with bulging eyes and protruding tongues, all carved in stone with awesome artistry.
These figures guard the entrance to the temple from the outside world.
In Bali, Hinduism blends with an ancient form of local animism. Nature is imbued with spirits and they must be both honoured and placated three times each day.
Every Balinese creates small offerings out of flowers, plaited leaves and small fruit treats and these appear everywhere — on sidewalks, in doorways and in front of the hundreds of shrines and temples.
Many worshippers were bringing their offerings in small baskets woven from banana leaves.
Offerings for demons were placed on the floor near the entrance. To the demons went food, and even cigarettes.
For the gods, they left flowers, fruits and incense. Every being in creation is worthy of respect.
“Our demons are mostly peaceful,” we were told with a laugh. “After all, we feed them well!”
The outdoor altar filled with hundreds of little baskets, and countless sticks of incense swirled aromatic smoke in the mild breeze.
My eyes swept over the fine-featured Balinese with their light, mahogany skin framed in brilliant white; the women’s hair, thick and dark and luxurious.
Wild mountain slopes stretched up beyond the altar, and birds called from the deep forest. The service began. It was simply beautiful. It was a ceremony of purification.
The priest came to every sitting person and dipped a handful of sacred durva grass into a silver jug of holy water, sprinkling it over our heads and into our cupped hands.
We brought the drops to our lips. I felt like a happy child in an enchanted land of vivid colours and aromas. I kept smiling. Bright sun was shining on me and I felt it in my soul.
At one point during the prayers all the people raised up their hands together holding pure white flowers and there was the gentle ringing sound of bells.
In that instant, I realised that both beauty and truth are universal, and that all gods and people are one.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com