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The Island of Ten Thousand Temples

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The tiny legendary island of Bali lies between the huge mass of Java (home to Jakarta) to the west and the up-and-coming tourist destination of Lombok to the east, in the middle of the Indonesian Archipelago, and surrounded by the Indian Ocean. Most of us are well aware by now that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world.

But many do not know that tiny Bali is host to a predominately Hindu population.

When I first visited Bali, of course I took the required sightseeing tours: the awesome terraced ricefields, the traditional marketplaces, stunning sunsets, breathtaking mountain views and more than a few of the most sacred temples. Along the way, I learned that every village hosts a minimum of two public temples and every kampung (family complex) must have its own temple. The most important one is the Puri Desa or village temple, where all the residents gather for special ceremonies, like cremations and the temple’s anniversary (Odelan). Second is the banjar (subneighborhood) temple. Within each village, every group of 100 families unite to form a banjar and to build and maintain their own temple, where they gather for all major and minor ceremonies, which are quite numerous. And last but not least, the family temple inside the kampung, where bits and pieces, as well as the memories and spirits of the ancestors dwell. Every child born into a family has, among other items, a piece of their umbilical cord installed in the family temple. At age six months, a lock of hair and nail clippings are added to the child’s temple niche. Ultimately, a piece of bone is taken from the cremation remains to complete the collection.

Throughout their lives, each man-child is required to return to his family temple at least two times each year to celebrate the temple’s odelan (anniversary). When girl children marry, they must honor the husband’s family temple. Odelan is celebrated for every temple, so here on the “Island of 10,000 Temples” there is always an odelan somewhere.

It is said that for the Balinese, Hinduism is their life. In the Ubud area (Bali’s cultural heart) temple activities and ceremonies dominate and seem to give purpose to most. Each special celebration (and they are countless) begins days, sometimes weeks, in advance with preparations and anticipation, crescendoeing to the primary ceremony day, then waning in a series of closing ceremonial days. Only to begin again shortly after for the next big event.

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