If you’re looking for the source of Bali’s religious practices, try taking a trip to Uluwatu Temple.
This phenomenal rock cliff temple is sure to inspire awe and curiosity. The temple is built upon a rock cliff offering stunning views of the Indian ocean and offers a somewhat controversial history as to its origins. Among the many stone paths you may find yourself listening to the crashing of waves lulled by the chatter of tourists from all manners of countries and ethnicity. This divine spot I believe offers both an open view for tourists and worshipers alike. You will need to be dressed appropriately either with a sarong, or a sash. At the time we visited these were offered inclusive of our entrance fee. Luckily I had been gifted a beautiful orange sash from our Balinese wedding which I had brought in case it was needed. I’ve already experienced the embarrassment of being asked to leave an Italian Catholic church due to being dressed inappropriately, and I hope to never experience something likewise again.
If you step onto a path in the midst of branches and vines, please mind the monkeys! They often steal phones, glasses, bracelets, and earrings. There’s a rumor that they’ve been trained to do so and I did indeed witness one of them snacking a pair of reading glasses right off the head of a poor elder German tourist. She was also given quite a fright. Of course, you can trade your items back with fruit I’m told, as well as pay a guide to try and retrieve the stolen item. I quickly removed my earrings after one of the guides warned me, and told me he’d seen a monkey rip them off a woman last year. Her ears were bloodied.
There are many spots to check out that lend themselves for photography, reflection, and simply spending some good quality time absorbing and learning about this holy place. One particular spot was a pool with layered steps of grass beside the main temple where I found kids tumbling in the grass and couples basking in the sunset light.
After roaming the grounds Rio and I headed to the amphitheater for a Balinese Fire Dance or Kecak Dance which illustrated part of the Ramayana. A very popular event in Bali, although Uluwatu offers the distinct ocean background and blazing view of the sunset. At the beginning we were greeted by a very jovial man who pointed out that despite the Ramayana being a Hindu story and tradition, he was so pleased to be welcoming people from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. I would imagine this is due to increased tensions and the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. It reminded me to be grateful for the peace that exists in our world today, and to uphold these connections and respect individuals and societies can feel for one another.
As we sat upon our stone seats, a chant of 50 men embraced our ears as the sun set. Inciting a trance like state, the men offer their voices and energy to the re-telling of Sita and Rama. The play lasts for about two hours and these men sang completely a capella. They kept beat to the lively hunt of a golden deer, the capturing of Sita, and the epic battle for her safety and return. If you’re not familiar with the story, there is an excellent animated movie produced and donated graciously to the Public Domain called Sita Sings the Blues. Uluwatu’s dance performs but part of the whole story.
While the monkeys on the temple grounds may steal your glasses, Hanoman, the White Monkey God and devotee to Rama, stole the show. He chased audience members, sat and watched the play with us, and even did someone the honor of picking bugs from their hair. Hanoman also faced the most physically challenging role as he battled with evil Ravana.
By the end of the night, Sita was saved and Rama happily took her back home. The men of the chorus finished their tale, and hoisted Hanoman upon their shoulders as praise.
What I particularly enjoyed about this play was the obvious love the actors have for the story. The tradition of Bali and their spiritual practices are also steeped into the production itself. It is important for Balinese to acquire the blessings of local deities, ghosts, and elements that surround them before performing any action. In the play there is a particular stunt performed with the use of live fire. Without explanation and in the middle of the production a priest is performing a blessing on all the props and actors involved, while the play is in production. I felt that this act was a revealing regard for the way in which the Balinese live.