Odalan

The birthday of the temple. With so many temples in Bali, there are likely to be several Odalan ceremonies happening on any given day. The Balinese year is only 210 days, so a visitor is very likely to see one in progress, even if the meaning is not quite understood.

The calendar has rolled around for our village. We listen for the kul-kul, the ancient communication gong of every village in Bali, and start getting ready. In about an hour, there will be some action. Preparation is a procedure in itself. We really need that hour. For me,  a shower, makeup, then the tortuous process of fastening the sarong just right, securing it with the corset-like undergarment (breathe in), buttoning up the kebaya and finally, tieing the sash, just so. Yes, me too. Now that we are part of this village, attending a ceremony means being properly attired.

The process for men is a little less complicated, but the sarong takes some fiddling (the current fashion is to have folds almost to the ground), the skirt-like saput must be secured, and the headgear, the udeng, at just the right degree of cool.

We head down to the village meeting place, the bale banjar, around 5pm. Some people have gathered but there’s by no means a crowd. Families bearing offerings trickle in, the young dancers arrive in giggling huddles. This is a big occasion for them and they wear spectacular costumes and make-up. They’ve been practising hard and tonight is almost like a debut into proper village life.

Balinese ceremonial occasions involve a lot of sitting around. Gossip, laughter and waiting. Patience is a virtue easily acquired. A certain block of time has been allocated, and everyone can just sit and enjoy the moment(s). This time we are waiting for the Pedanda, the High Priest. At about 7.30 there’s a noticeable shift in the energy of the now-packed area. He must be on his way, and sure enough at around 7.45 his car and entourage arrive and he is escorted into the holy area. Now the young people can dance. The main man is here and while he is preparing, they begin the night’s entertainment, accompanied by the village gamelan orchestra. First the girls looking beautiful and coy, followed by the warrior boys. In 210 days the next young batch will be the ones on show. No doubt they are among this crowd, watching keenly.

The masked topeng dancer has begun, but we’re hungry now and have met our village obligation by attending. We know that it’s appreciated and that nobody will mind if we leave. It will soon be time for prayer, a private devotional time for the Hindu Balinese, so we slip away four and a half hours after the call of the kul-kul.

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