Temples by the Sea – the Goddess and the Shadow

  Bali, (Indonesia)

We are staying in a resort by the sea.  We look to the evening sunset over a lazily snoring ocean that occasionally rolls over in its sleep.   Everywhere else we see rice fields and trees and flowers.   A stone’s throw away is Tanah Lot, a temple to the sea goddess.


My room has a fetching little bath almost in the middle.  An instant reminder that we do not properly prioritise baths.  In this bath you can settle down, admire the flowering frangipanis, and watch more energetic guests playing golf.


The trip over was a breeze, met at the airport, visa stuff all done while I was taken to collect bags, whisked into a little van and driven to the hotel which is about an hour’s drive from Denpasar.


The guide, whose name is Bootoo, kept up a cheery conversation the whole way.  From him I learned some interesting things –  for instance – Balinese town planning laws require that no building can be more than 5 stories high, this is so that the breeze coming off the sea is not restricted and is able to waft and flow through the streets in built up areas keeping them cool.   They are not allowed to cut trees down.  This is because the trees soak up the copious amounts of rain, and also the water that flows from an inland mountain.   This is why Bali never floods.   Java and Sumatra, he says, now have terrible floods because they cut down all the trees and sold the timber.   Now there is nothing there to suck up all the water.   They got the money from the timber but ‘lost the balance’.
He told me that in Bali they do a ceremony once a year to bring ‘the energy of the mountain’ to the town areas.   This is because, he says, mountain energy runs vertically, and encourages people to higher thoughts and emotions.   He made a gesture with his hand indicating the energy rising upwards beyond the crown of his head.   He says the energy of built up areas runs horizontally and includes gossiping, anger and disintegration of social harmony.   Therefore it is important to regularly counteract horizontal energy with mountain energy.  I like that explanation.   He got me a little frangipani necklace and thanked me repeatedly for bringing him good luck.   This was because my plane arrived half an hour early and we missed the peak hour traffic, hence the luck.  He says that wherever we come from we are all brother and sister, and are of one spirit.
Our tour is run by an American lady called Robbyne.   We will be learning about ancient Balinese ways, which predate the more modern religions, and we will be travelling around sacred Balinese sites.
On the bed waiting for me is an exciting looking package wrapped up in brown paper and string.  Inside are beautiful sarongs, of different colours, a yellow fringed scarf and a little white top with embroidery on it.  The group will be meeting tomorrow to find out what all these things are for.  How exciting.  We get presents!  There is also a little diagram showing how to wear the sarong.
Tomorrow we go to the sea goddess temple.  I had an outfit already picked out, of which I was sure the sea goddess would approve, but I am wondering whether we have to wear one of our special sarongs instead …………….

(next day)

last night we went to the sea goddess temple (yes, we had to wear the sarongs)The temple faces the sunset, on the western side of the island, and is situated in the sea with the waves crashing around – you can only walk there at low tide.

It is called Tanah Lot and is a famous tourist attraction.


We were asked to meditate on the waves, and their symbolism to life.  How in life we can get crashed around by the waves, and pulled about by the tides, and other times we are lucky and get to float along serenely.   The waves are powerful cleansers, and the salt is a purification.   Everything over time can be cleansed and renewed by immersion into the sea.  At this particular temple, as the sun sets over the water, you can engage in ceremony to wash away a part of your old self, or your old ‘life’, that no longer serves you and let the sun set on that part, never to return.  This is your choice.  And we each had to choose what part of us we were going to let the sun set on.


Then this morning we got up early and went to Uluwatu, the temple of the shadow. To me this symbolises the passing through the night, after the sun set.  At Uluwatu you face your shadow.  The temple lies on an obsidian line in the earth below.  Obsidian is said to be the stone that assists you to see and integrate your own shadow.  The idea is that if you are no longer scared sideways by your own shadow then you become a stronger person, and have more control of your actions and more ‘mindfulness’.  Your shadow is the part of yourself that you don’t like or which you feel should be ‘better’ in some way.   It is also the part of you that is sooo much better than any belief you have about yourself that you disown it, and say “I could never be that awesome ….”  It is an interesting exercise to think about what is lurking about in your shadow.


The shadow temple is also by the sea, in another part of the island, (the very southern tip apparently), but high up on a cliff face, so the sea is far far far below.  It is an impressive site.  There are lots of monkeys there.  Very cheeky monkeys.  They steal things (they stole a man’s glasses off his face as he was walking up the stairs and another lady’s shoe from her foot while she was wearing it.)  They also stole temple offerings under the nose of the priest.  Amusingly he has a sling shot there ready to go them if they try and take the temple offerings (which include fruit).  The monkeys don’t care because as far as they are concerned it is their temple and their fruit.


Tomorrow morning we travel to another part of the island known as Lovinia. This part of the island is known for sunrise, and new birth, or rebirth.  We will be seeing dolphins, described by some as the ‘sea angels’.


So, at the temples, we learned a few more things about Balinese ways.


You start off with a stick of incense which is cleansing.   You are supposed to pass both of your hands through the incense smoke to make them clean for the prayer.  Then, when you place the palms of your hands together in the gesture of prayer – you are signifying the merger of your divine self with your physical self.   It is also a symbol of emptiness and is used in temple ritual to signify the beginning of the prayer.  The priest chants things, and rings a little bell, while the temple attendants sing.  The ringing of the bell at intervals seems to signify the different stages of the ceremony.  The next stage is to pick up a white flower and hold it to the sun with your hands again in the prayer gesture.   This is to ask the sun to be witness to what you say and to ask for light to be thrown on your situation for greater understanding.  On the next bell ring you put down the white flower and hold up a red flower in the same way – this is the part where you say whatever you have come to the temple for.   At the next bell ring you put that down and hold up a little posy of flowers in the prayer gesture, and this is the part where you say a prayer for all persons in the world.  After the final bell rings you put your hands up in prayer gesture again, but no flowers this time, this is the emptiness again and is used to show the end of the prayer, or the completion of the cycle.   Afterwards the priest comes around and does a little ritual with water and little grass sticks that have all been blessed, the water is in a bowl and the grass reeds bound together to make a little ‘chopstick bundle’ which he uses to flick the water out of the bowl.  The first flicks are on your head, then the next (3 times) into your cupped hands and each time you symbolise drinking the water, the next (3) times again into your cupped hands are for you to ‘wash your face’ to symbolise washing away of illusions, and then the last few flicks are on the head again, and then he puts wet rice grains (uncooked) on your forehead and throat.   I am not sure what the rice means.  But, pondering it, any cook knows that uncooked wet rice is very absorbant – so maybe the purpose of it is to absorb out all your ‘badness’ in thought (forehead) and word (throat).  I need to get some more of that wet rice!!!


Anyway it is all very simple, and they whizz through it very quickly.  But it is very interesting.   We were sitting on little mats laid out in the temple and my foot kept going to sleep. But apart from shifting around to keep blood circulation going it was very restful.


So – next stop – dolphins.  I am really looking forward to it.

2 and 3 December, 2012 – Bali, Indonesia

(a compilation of two emails)

the Tanah Lot temple in the sea

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