If you know me personally, then you’ve probably heard me complain about how complicated and elaborately confusing the Indonesian system of marriage is. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to hear that a typical Balinese Hindu wedding lasts for more than half a day. In early April my husband and I attended a formal Balinese wedding, called a ‘mapadik’ style wedding. There are several ways in which weddings may be performed. For American couples we may identify these as intimate, large, elopements, or civil service only. You can read about the three main styles of Balinese marriages here as well as shedding some light on other major ethnic wedding services. For the record, my husband is Javanese.
It is surprising that Bali would receive such a spotlight considering it is but one small island of the hundreds that make up the Indonesian nation! A majority of the ethnicity in Indonesia is Muslim, in which the Javanese and Sudanese style ceremonies match. There are quite a number of Catholic, Christian, and Protestant Chinese-Indonesians as well. But Bali really takes the cake when it comes to a very original look and unique ritual. This is because the island of Bali is suspended in a world influenced by Hindu, Buddhist, and Animist faith. This Animist element accounts for the abundance of altars, incense, and offerings placed by every house, roadside, and business all throughout the island. When I say every, I truly mean every place. The offerings generally consist of fresh petals, flowers, moss, incense, rice, candy, and sometimes even unique items like cigarettes or a small drink. Our hotel had a statue of Ganesha adorned with a fresh yogurt drink every evening and the Starbucks we frequented on our last day had a cup of coffee for the local spirits.
The Balinese are very mindful of the spiritual realm. On a daily basis they maintain a strict regiment of daily offerings 3xs a day. With this mindset, you can only imagine the ritualized ceremony that comes with something as thoughtful as marriage! Indeed the procession is lengthy, blessings are numerous, and most of the day is tied into celebrating and asking for the blessing of both the living, dead, and godly. Our group comprised of my husband, his former co-workers in a university of Surabaya, several spouses, and a 2 year old. We arrived walking under the entrance of the home that was laden with decorations made by hand with dried palm leaves and colorful paper.
As we looked to our left, we found an ensemble of men sitting down on the ground. They were surrounded by several sets of instruments, collectively known as a Gamelan, which would very soon bask our ears in a terrific splendor of tinny, high frequency notes and beautiful flute melodies.
My husband and I gave our gift. Indonesian weddings, like many in South East Asia, accept money in envelopes. We however arrived with a candle. We were given a small plate with a napkin stapled to it. At first I thought it was weird but then realized how I wouldn’t have to hold the napkin, or have it fly away. Genius! We were graciously asked to choose from the delicious snacks available and a few women helped explain what was set in front of me in broken English every time I turned to my husband and pointedly whispered to him for guidance. Generally, these snacks are meant to help the attendees withstand the lengthy ceremony before eating the full buffet. We had bypassed much of the ceremony since we had to travel most of the day from the airport. So after chowing down on some sweets and nuts, we found the bride and groom sitting in front of a huge altar constructed for the occasion, receiving blessings and praying.
I laughed a little inwardly as I saw the bride flinch from the spray of water hitting her face thrown onto her from the Hindu priest. I had made the same flinching movement in a Buddhist temple in Singapore not weeks before, as a monk asked me to sit in front of him to receive a blessing. The Indonesian heat came into our clothes, made our face and arm pits sweat despite the wonderful swaths of white canopy that hung from above. Eventually our eyes hit the site of a beautiful temporary throne. There was no other word for it really. Decorations of flowers, offerings, incense, and food sat beside an elaborate pair of chairs, followed by a golden embossed couch with cushy fabric, and another set of chairs. This is where the bride, groom, and parents would have spent much time earlier in the day. For the moment, two young girls were throwing petals and rolling around on the sacred spot of a freshly minted marriage. It was a very happy sign I think.
I smiled as much as I could knowing full well I was the only bule in sight and had many eyes looking me over. I wondered how many people assumed I was Australian. Eventually the bride and groom who were relieved of their duty long enough to come say hello. Despite all the formalities, the bride jumped at the chance to say hello and gush about how much makeup she had on, how long it took to get her hair done, and how long they’d been performing their marriage. Her head was a piece of art unto itself. She pointed out the extensive sets of now wilting flowers that had been sewn into her hair that morning, the wax they used to roll up her bun, and the beautiful but heavy collection of metallic gold pieces curled to create a masterpiece. I was both excited and jealous to see someone able to pull off such grandeur, and looked over with a sigh of sympathy when the groom revealed his head decorations came off in one piece. Still, his forehead had a ring of lines where the crown was pushing down and sweat ran down his the side of his face. The groom reminded me of someone I went to school with and I half expected him to tell me about the upcoming Linkin Park concert he was going to. Despite having met him just 5 minutes ago, I congratulated him and fist bumped him saying, “Good job on locking that down.” I have no idea what I was thinking.
Later I found out that the bride had converted to Hindu in order to have their marriage performed. In Indonesia, as you know from this other post on my own Indonesian wedding, you must be of the same faith in order to marry. But I also heard that the groom was actually practicing Islam. So now I was confused; why not just convert to Islam? My husband launched into an explanation about Hindu family and caste systems, the afterlife, and some such when one of our group interceded and said “She’s American forget it she won’t understand.” I tried to strike up the conversation again but it seemed deflated at that point. For now, this American is still Puzzled.