Policemen with flowers? – or understanding Bali

Did you ever see a policeman with flowers tucked behind his ear? Or rather one uniformed and with stiff expression sending goosebumps all over your body? Our first encounter with Balinese uniformed men was in the airport just as we landed. Already then we were surprised to receive a smile and a very pleasant “Enjoy Bali”. We wondered whether it has something to do with hinduism and philosophy of achieving inner peace, or just an Indonesian hospitality?

Weeks later when we were invited to participate in the ceremony in a temple of police office (oh dear God!), nevertheless, we were still surprised: temple? in the police office? These men that could stop us driving our motorbike without a license will pray with flowers between their fingers in the temple? Bet ya, we wanna witness that! So it was. In the early morning a white police van with huge letters “POLISI” came to pick up us and dancers to perform a ritual dance.

Daily life of Balinese people is soaked with beautiful religious rituals. Temple ceremony that we were about to take part in is like a birthday for a specific temple or shrine celebrated every 210 days according to Balinese calendar. Since almost every family in its compound has a shrine dedicated to ancestors and every village has bigger temples, there is a temple ceremony or festival – Odalan – every day somewhere in Bali with its 3,5 million hindus.

The birthday celebration is very vivid – the shrines and statues are dressed in ceremonial clothes, red, white or black umbrellas are put in front of the temple, “towers” of colourfully arranged fruits and cakes are brought to the temple by women. Rituals performed to satisfy the gods, among them a blood sacrifice of very little chicken, and “presents” are given: holy water, fresh coconut milk, flowers, cakes, fruits, raw eggs, chinese coins, and of course, prayers. One of the most spectacular part of the ceremony is a ritual dance. Vital for understanding Balinese culture and arts is that these dances are not for the entertainment but have deep religious meaning in it, thus performed facing the inner and the most sacred part of the temple.

During Odalan in the police temple group of young girls performed Rejang Kompol dance for delight and enjoyment of gods and spirits visiting the temple. In the ancient palm leaf book called Usana Bali, the Rejang dance is mentioned as being the appearance of angels of heaven who serve the gods and make all the necessary preparations for them to enter the temple. Six young females dressed in bright yellow and white clothes are entering the temple in the slow procession leading the gods inside. It is not for the words to describe the elegance and mesmerizing beauty of the dance, as fingers shiver in perfect unison with the flickr of the eyes, long strip of cloth is gracefully spread to the side at the same instant as slightly bending knees tightly covered in golden cloth.

The girls guide the gods into the inner pavillion of the temple holding each others sash (long strip of decorated cloth worn around the breast and adorning the front of the dancer) – like a golden pathway for the gods. Now that the gods have entered the temple, the celebration will continue a whole day with more “presents”, ritual songs and dances as we rush back into the white Polisi van and girls “attack” napkins to refresh after tiring dance…

After spending five weeks in Bali, now it does not surprise us anymore, that almost every house has a little shrine, every institution performs rituals, like you would see offerings for gods in a big supermarket next to the cash machine, or tagged behind a license plates of your motorbike. The ceremony at the police temple helped us to get even deeper insight into Balinese culture and daily day, though we were still joking for quite some time – only in Bali you would see a policeman with frangipani flower tucked behind his ear.


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