Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mount Agung and the Mother Temple

High above the jungle treeline near the center of Bali rises an active volcano, Genung Agung. Although this lava spewing giant is mostly quiet, it has erupted as recently as the 1960's, leaving its slopes covered in rocky black remnants of lava flows. As the tallest point on Bali, it has dominated not only the landscape, but also religious ceremonies and rites for centuries.

To the locals, Genung Agung is a representation of Mount Meru. Mount Meru is, according to Hindu tradition, the center of the universe where the almighty god Shiva lives. We were lucky to visit on a clear day as normally the peak is shrouded from view by the clouds rolling in from the sea.

Near the foot of Mount Agung on the eastern side of Bali is Pura Besakih, otherwise known as the Mother Temple. All of the other temples on the island get their spiritual energy from this temple. When it last erupted, Mount Agung sent lava streaming down towards Pura Besakih. Miraculously, the lava missed the temple, sometimes by just a few yards. The Balinese took this as a sign that the gods wanted to show their power, but did not want to destroy this monument erected by the faithful.

Here we are at the steps leading to the main temple shrine. Jennifer and I are wearing the customary sarong with a sash that all visitors must wear. The gate with two spires is really a spire that has been split in two. This is a representation that each of us has a good side and a bad side. When a worshipper enters the temple, the bad is left behind, leaving only the good. Being cleansed from evil and only having good is symbolized by the unified spire in the middle of the main temple area.

The temple has many courtyards which are used for prayers and other ceremonies. One of the main features of a major Balinese temple is an eleven-tiered pagoda, like the ones in the background below. These are called merus, and are built to honor Shiva.

Here is another look at one of the courtyards. The huts are used for various ceremonies. The smaller huts are actually thrones for the gods of the temple or for deceased ancestors.

Here is Craig standing behind one of the thrones for the gods located in the temple.

While we were visiting, one of the local patron villages visited the temple as well. They all dress in white clothing and walk up the steps to participate in religious ceremonies. These women are carrying offerings up to the altars. The offerings are mainly flowers and fresh fruits that are placed in tin bowls or woven baskets.

Every 100 years or so, the Balinese will bring live animals to this temple to sacrifice them to the gods. They march up these steps, then onwards up to the top of the mountain. When they reach the volcano's crater, they sacrifice the animals to the volcano (our guide said they do this by throwing the animal into the lava pit in order to make the gods happy). One of the reasons the volcano erupted in the 1930's was because the local sacrifices happened on the wrong day, so they had to be re-done. The last such sacrifices were in the 1970's, and attracted tens of thousands of faithful Balinese to the temple grounds.

In addition to animal sacrifices, Balinese religion features many rites that are performed on behalf of deceased relatives. This procession was held on behalf of a close relative who had passed away earlier that year. This ceremony will allow the dead to pass into the highest part of heaven.

Here is another view of the processional. Ancestral worship is a major part of life on Bali. Each family home has a small throne in it where the family's ancestors can stay. This is one reason many families in Bali pass down property for generations. The place you live becomes more than a home for your immediate living relatives. It's a home for all of your ancestors who have gone before as well.

By the time we walked around Pura Besakih, it was filling up rapidly with visitors who came to worship and offer prayers. In addition to the Mother Temple, we visited the Monkey Forest Temple and the Water Temple. Keep checking our blog for updates!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bali in October

This past October we took a vacation to Bali. Bali is an island that is part of Indonesia. It is located south of Borneo in between the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean. The coasts are popular with surfers and are adorned with miles and miles of white sandy beaches with blue waves crashing on them. We stayed at those too, but our first few days we spent near the center of the island in Ubud. In contrast to the white beaches with blue waters, the interior of the island is dominated by deep shades of green. Lush jungles and terraced rice paddies cover every inch of bare ground. Here we are in front of a terraced rice paddy.

Ubud was home to the ruling family of Bali until the Dutch established colonial rule in the 1800's. Now it's a small quirky town full of tiny boutique shops, family shrines, and rice paddies. Our hotel, the Alam Jiwa, was near a rice paddy. This is a picture of the rice paddy in the morning that was just outside our room. If you click on the picture, you'll be able to see the morning dew on the rice shoots.

Here is a picture of our room, the "Angsa". We had a private entrance through a jungle garden complete with a lotus flower pond, guardian statues, and a balinese gate.

Here is Craig feeding the fish outside our room. The fish swim around the lotus leaves eating bugs and  providing the plants with -ahem- nutrients.

This makes conditions perfect for growing giant lotus blossoms!

Every morning our breakfast was delivered to our room where we enjoyed eating it on our patio overlooking the rice paddies and the garden. Craig enjoyed eating jaffles, which are like sandwich pockets with eggs and cheese. They're an invention from Australia. Jennifer liked the balinese crepes with ginger and honey.

Near our breakfast table is the balinese shrine for our room. It's like a mini throne where the spirits or deities that protect our room stay. People in Bali are intensely spritual, and these little thrones are built everywhere, including in homes, around shoppping areas, and inside of temples. Each day fresh offerings of incense, flowers, and fruit are brought to these shrines in order to make the protecting spirits happy.

Craig had a great time staying at the Alam Jiwa. Here he is with two of his friends, Liam and Willa, in the hotel lobby. You may recognize his glasses from his Halloween costume.

Near to Ubud there are entire villages dedicated to carving wood or carving stone. Naturally, there are may carved pieces all over the small town. In Bali, these statues serve as guardians to protect the island from evil spirits. They are frequently dressed up, like the statue pictured below. The white and black checkered cloth is a symbol of balance between good and evil - a sort of Balinese take on "yin-yang".

Ubud is also home to a market that has local crafts. Indonesia has a huge selection of baskets, batik sarongs, wood carvings, and a very particular kind of bottle opener (if you've evern been to Bali, you know what I mean). The markets are very colorful, but you have to bargain! So, yes, Jennifer was in heaven!

The markets also sell fresh local fruits. We recognized the mangoes, dragon fruits, and bananas from other spots in Southeast Asia. A new treat in Bali was the "snakeskin" fruit, which is sort of like a pear only the outside looks leathery and scaley like snake skin.

Although Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, Bali retains is unique brand of Hinduism. Hindus, in contrast to Muslims, eat pork and not beef. Because we also live in a Muslim nation, pigs are hard to find, so we ate all the pork we could! Bali is not only famous for its suckling pig but also for its American-style pork spare ribs. Here we are at Naughty Nuri's getting ready for our ribs, hot dogs, and french fries! That's just the right food to give us energy for another afternoon of touring Bali!

Ubud is a beautiful place - a great mixture of food, shopping, culture, and rice paddies! Keep checking back for more updates from Bali, including a visit to the Mother Temple and an essay on why monkeys are not cute and cuddly.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Selamat Hari Deepavali!

Selamat hari Deepavali, or Happy Diwali! Deepavali is the time when our friends from India celebrate their new year. It's also knows as the Festival of Lights. It's a time for families to get new clothes, light diva lamps, and get dressed up in traditional Indian attire. Penang has a large Indian population, so it's celebrated all around the island and at Craig's school.

Here is Jennifer and Craig all dressed up in traditional Indian attire. Jennifer is wearing a sari in her signature pink color. Craig is dressed up in a punjab suit. Aren't they cute? The local Indians love it when foreigners participate in their culture by wearing their traditional clothing. When else can you spend a day in a sari and not feel too conspicuous?

Craig was selected by his teacher as the "maharaja" for his class, and he got to parade around the school carrying a diva lamp. A diva lamp is a shallow clay bowl filled with oil with a cloth wick in it. The clay bowl represents your physical body, the oil is your spirit, and the flame is your intellect.

Here is Craig next to another Indian Diwali tradition - rangoli. Rangoli are drawings made during Diwali out of colored rice. This rangoli has a diva lamp set on top of a pink lotus blossom surrounded by peacocks.

While Craig was carrying around his diva lamp, Jennifer was busy helping draw henna tattoos on other's hands. Part of Divali is to paint your arms and hands with elaborate patterns made out of henna. Henna tattoos last just a few days. Here are some children at Craig's school with their freshly painted henna tattoos.

Here is Jennifer with the rest of her henna-tattoo artists. Everyone got to show off their fancy traditional Indian costumes!

In the afternoon, Craig changed into an orange punjab suit and helped celebrate Deepavali in traditional Indian style - with a bollywood dance! When your mom is the PTC president you get volunteered for stuff you might not normally do.

Craig really had fun performing.

Part of the cultural performance was a fashion show. Some of Jennifer's friends and their daughters did a short runway walk to show some of the fancy Indian costumes.

Craig and his friends had a great time. Here's Craig with one of his friends, Willa.

Happy Deepavali!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Joseph Lister and the Eye of the Tiger

So, what does Joseph Lister and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" have in common? Well, ask Craig and he can tell you!

This term, Craig is learning about health and wellness at school. He has learned that we need to exercise and eat healthy. To help show off what he's learned, his class did a "sharing assembly" a few weeks ago at school. All of the children in Craig's class performed for the other Key Stage 1 students (about 100 other children). His class dressed in their exercise gear, which included headbands made by the class mum (Jennifer), and an exercise shirt. Jennifer asked Craig what exercise shirt he wanted to wear, and he picked his old Laveen Soccer t-shirt. Click the arrow in the picture below to see Craig do a workout routine to "Eye of the Tiger". Watch for the "tiger face" he does!

Craig has also learned the importance of being clean and killing germs. He learned about Joseph Lister, a British doctor who was a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Joseph Lister promoted the idea of using carbolic acid to sterilze wounds, surgical instruments, and bandages to help prevent the spread of infectious germs. While planning for the performance, Craig's teacher asked him if he would like to be part of the "bug busters", to which he replied "I want to be Joseph Lister". How can anyone resist when a six year old child requests a role so firmly? Well, his demands were met! Here is Craig in his top hat and cape performing as Joseph Lister. Click the arrow to watch the video.

To close each sharing assembly, the children all sing the school song, "We Are the Children of St. Christopher's". Pay close attention and you'll hear proof that Craig attends a British school. If you are an astute scholar of LDS hymns you may recognize the tune by George F. Root. Click the arrow to watch the video.

We sure are proud of our little boy!!