She sits impossibly straight, her legs tucked delicately beneath her, wrapped tightly in a bright blue sarong and tied with golden orange sash. Her eyes are closed and her face is strikingly serene. With a slow steady movement, she raises her hands, pressed together, fingers flat, to her head. The bright red flowers shoot up into the sunset lit sky. The world freezes and she takes the moment to breath and set intention.
We kneel on the beach and look up at the temple. Offerings spill over the stone onto the sand. Incense fills the salty air with a thick scent. The embers glow in the dusky darkness. I watch as my coworker Nadia and her friend Sudarma demonstrate the ritual. I clumsily follow suit. The simultaneous joy and solemnity of the moment does not go unnoticed. It is transformative.
Offerings are given three times a day in Bali. The delicately assembled palm baskets are filled with the softest and most vibrant flowers, each color representing a different element, God and prayer. We hold the flowers delicately in the tips of our fingers and close our eyes to the moment, raise our hands to our heads and give gratitude to the Gods and nature around us.
It is Melukat, a water purification ceremony intended to cleanse and welcome positive energies. We are on the beach in Tianyar, surrounded by local Balinese families of all generations shapes and sizes, making offerings, setting intentions, giving thanks. Children and grandparents move around the space to complete the full circuit of offerings which includes a special water immersion.
Fully dressed, in one of the only sets of clothes I have in the village, I walk into the ocean beneath the new moon. The cloudy night sky is cast purple. The palm trees sway along the bay. I hear giggles, the music from the merry-go-round set up for kids, and endless Balinese chatter. I submerse myself in the cool waves and feel the salt collect on my face. Melukat is about washing away the negativity and letting go. I float at the surface and let the past 5 months hang about me, reflected in the moonlight.
We break the moment to refresh with the sweet spring water bursting forth from seven spouts and mixing with the sand. Kneeling before each spout, I raise flowers to my forhead and give thanks. To the sun. To the mountain. To the people. To my family. To the Earth. To the food. To the ocean. I hold the sweet water to my lips five times. I splash it across my face and over my head five times. I stand feeling entirely rejuvenated.
Bali moves to the three-beat pulse of prayer. To the tides of the moon. To the To the dependability of daily offerings. To the simplicity of nature and family. Religion colors everything the Balinese do. It is apart of them. It is how community is created and maintained. It is how weather and storms are explained. It is how stories are told.
As I walk away from the temple, the ocean throbbing behind me, the cool breeze chilling my now-wet clothes, I am reminded that this was the beach I came to on my second week in Indonesia. I had sat in the sand lonely and afraid and full of anticipation. Now, on my second-to-last week in Indonesia, I walk away from that beach. I leave enriched, empowered and serene.