Ubud, Bali – An ancient sanctuary in a modern day life

Ubud, Bali – a place that has successfully integrated its ancient rituals into the hustle bustle of the modern day life. Traditional ceremonies such as births, weddings and cremations still remain the same as they have for the last decade, and it is fascinating to be able to witness the devotion with which the Balinese regard their heritage. 

Ubud is the cultural and artistic heart of Bali and despite the vast amount of tourists, restaurants and souvenir shops, still remains a culturally fascinating place and should not be missed when visiting the island.

Not just the three main events, birth, wedding and cremation, are celebrated. The sixth month of pregnancy, birth, loss off of the umbilical cord, the twelfth, forty-second, and one-hundred-fifth days after birth, the two-hundred-tenth day after birth, the first time a child ‘touches’ the earth (feet on the ground), the first adult tooth, the loss of the last baby tooth, the first menstrual cycle and tooth-filing are all acknowledged and given the time of day. This skin-crawling tradition is the ritual of filing the fang-like upper canine teeth on teenagers and is believed to tame their wild nature.

In Ubud you will find traditional houses, each with their own shrine. Every morning people get up at 5am to start preparing for the busy day ahead. A daily recurring ritual is to weave little baskets made out of banana leaf which are filled with anything from rice, flowers, cookies, money, cigarettes, incense or simply little sweets and treats as an offering for the gods to ask for good merit. As the town wakes and temperatures rise, people unknowingly step on the offerings, animals eat the food offered and finally the baskets are cleaned up and burnt.

Depending on the purpose of the offering these baskets will vary in size and can be found in all sorts of places such as a parked motorbike as an offering for safety, in front of a shops doorstep for prosperous business and in the family temple for good health, love, happiness and succes.
Tradition is a big part of life, and death. Here too the Balinese have a very specific set of rituals that will need to be performed in order for the deceased person to move on to the afterlife and they offer guidance. For weeks the locals come together for their version of community service – They prepare offerings, cook meals and built grand paper-mache sarcophagus in the shape of an animal such as a buffalo or a temple structure. The family will treat the deceased as if sleeping because they believe that this loss is only temporary until reincarnated again. This until the soul finds final rest and is free from the reincarnation cycle.

On the day of cremation the sarcophagus is taken to the cremation site followed by the family, friends and neighbours of the deceased. The procession is accompanied by loud music and is never walked in a straight like, so as to trick demons and keep them at bay. When arrived at the site, a shaman preforms a set of rituals, family say their goodbyes, photos are taken and finally the sarcophagus is set alight. This so as to free the soul and allow reincarnation. The Balinese preform their rituals to harmonise good and evil spirits and therefore make offerings to both gods and demons.

The sense of community here is something I have not seen (and experienced) anywhere else in the world. Even as a visitor you are taken in, treated as family and allowed to witness their ancient and fascinating ways.

Ubud is not only a religious place, it is also a place of extraordinary natural wonder. Wander through the luscious rice terraces, cycle around the stunning area, climb Mt Batur, soak in the hot springs, get up and close with monkeys in the monkey forrest, walk through the lovely town, get to know the amazing locals, sample the delicious local cuisine (read The Hungrier Guide to Bali HERE and fins Bali’s best eats!) and visit one of the many great health-food restaurants.

I could spend days on end in this lovely little town and immerse myself in the fascinating culture.


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