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Long-term living on Bali – Hindu full moon ceremony

Continued from part 2…

This is a series about various observations and reflections I’ve had while staying in Ubud, Bali for a month.

How we got to go to the full moon ceremony aka Bulan Purnama

We (Amy and I) noticed that the hostess and the rest of the staff regularly went to the nearby Pura Puseh temple in Ubud and since the staff has been so overly friendly and forthcoming towards us with everything else we thought we’d ask them if they could take us. We thought about going to the temple ourselves to see but I’m glad we didn’t because it would have been like sending two elephants into a porcelain house – we’d stick out like two sore disrespectful thumbs.

“At this point we didn’t know what kind of experience to expect and honestly I just thought it would be a standard Sunday ceremony.”

They suggested we go a few Sundays later (yes, you guessed it – they said yes) and without thinking further about it we smiled, said thanks and started to look forward. At this point we didn’t know what kind of experience to expect and honestly I just thought it would be a standard Sunday ceremony. We would later find out that this was actually a bi-annual event called Bulan Purnama, a full moon ceremony that lasted for four days!

Full moon ceremony, bulan purnama balinese clothes
The staff that was friendly enough to take us to full moon ceremony. It’s Amy on the left.

Full moon ceremony preparations

After visiting countless temples around South East Asia you’ve become used to certain requirements to clothes (long pants, cover your shoulders etc.) but for this ceremony the requirements to clothes were even more strict. Two bags of clothes were kindly handed over to us from the staff prior to the ceremony. One bag for me and one bag for Amy.

Amy’s bag contained:

  • Sarong – A sort of skirt to wear as the lower part of the dress
  • Corset – In earlier days the women went topless.
  • White shirt – In our group we all wore the same style shirt and I think it represents caste/family/relationship.
  • Selandang – A colourful piece of cloth tied around the white shirt as a belt.
classic balinese clothes full moon ceremony
Traditional Balinese attire. The sarong, the selandang, the corset and the white shirt.

My bag contained:

  • Large colourful sarong – Used as inner sarong and only the front part could be seen
  • Small white sarong – Used as outer sarong to create a two-layer effect
  • White shirt
  • Selandang – same as for the women
  • Udeng – A special type of white hat worn by all men.
wearing traditional balinese attire full moon ceremony bali
Wearing the traditional Balinese attire

 

With these clothes, we felt significantly more prepared. It was also at this point we realized the grandeur of the ceremony. They didn’t do this every weekend. Since the women had all set up their hair and the men were wearing hats literally no one was wearing helmets. It seemed the whole region was heading for the temple.

“With these clothes, we felt significantly more prepared. It was also at this point we realized the grandeur of the ceremony.”

Arriving at Pura Puseh (the temple)

As we approached the temple of Pura Puseh in the middle of Ubud we saw hundreds of locals dressed in local attire and a nearby field had been turned into a parking lot to accomodate all the motorbikes rolling up.

If you’ve been in a similar situation you’ll know that it can be very overwhelming to be so suddenly and deeply submerged into foreign culture. You don’t know where to go and what to do – and more importantly: you don’t know what not to do.

full moon ceremony in bali ubud
The full moon ceremony (Bulan Purnama) is in full effect!

To give an example, you are supposed to go by a small fountain next to the entrance and sprinkle yourself with holy water before you enter the temple. It’s easy to miss a detail like that so you’ve got to pay close attention to avoid showing disrespect.

“Anyone who’s been in similar situations knows that it can be very overwhelming to be so suddenly and deeply submerged into foreign culture

The Full moon ceremony commences

The ceremony starts in the morning but doesn’t end till around 10pm because of the many waves of people having to go through the full ceremony. It takes about 1 hour for a ceremony but two parallel ceremonies happen simultaneously – one in the outer temple and one in the inner.

Add to this, the fact that the full moon ceremony (Bulan Purnama) runs for four days straight! That’s a lot of people!

We performed two rituals – first in the outer temple and second in the inner temple. Before each ritual a flower bowl with incense sticks was prepared for every person.

“Add to this, the fact that the full moon ceremony (Bulan Purnama) runs for four days straight! That’s a lot of people!”

Outer temple ritual

The outer temple ritual consisted of 5 steps as follows:

  • Step1: Hold your hands over the incense to “catch” the incense smoke and afterwards pray with your (empty) hands in front of your face. I didn’t get the full details but I’m assuming the “catching” of smoke is a way of cleansing.
  • Step2: Repeat the same procedure but this time you’re holding a yellow flower while you pray. The yellow flower is then put behind your ear.
  • Step3: Repeat the same procedure but this time with a small bucket of flowers
  • Step4: Repeat the same procedure but this time with two flowers, a red and a yellow. Once again, you put them behind your ears afterwards.
  • Step5: This is the same as step1.
full moon ceremony bali praying flowers
This is step3 of the ceremony where I’m praying with my hands in front of my face while holding a small bucket of flowers

My guess is that step 1 and 5 is cleansing before and after the ritual while step 2, 3, and 4 each represents praying to one of the three primary gods in Hinduism:

  • Brahma, who creates the universe
  • Vishnu, who preserves the universe
  • Shiva, who destroys the universe

To make sure everyone follows the same pace, a man with a small bell sets the pace. Each step is performed as long as the bell is ringing.

“Step 1 and 5 is cleansing before and after the ritual while step 2, 3, and 4 each represents praying to one of the three primary gods in Hinduism:

After the ritual, everyone proceeded to the inner temple, bringing with them flowers and offerings.

balinese full moon ceremony women carrying offerings
Offerings are carried around the crowded temple by the women. Mostly they are carried on their head and often without the use of hands

Inner Temple Ritual

Inside was a completely new set-up of Gamelan musicians. To give you an idea of the sheer size of this ceremony, the outer ceremony had about 20 Gamelan musicians while the inner ceremony had closer to 50 musicians.

gamelan musicians inner temple full moon ceremony pular punarna
A subset of the Gamelan musicians performing in the inner temple. The lady smiling at us is our hostess, Wayan.

The first part of the second ritual is the same as the entire first ritual. However, after this is done there is an addendum.

“To give you an idea of the sheer size of this ceremony, the outer ceremony had about 20 Gamelan musicians while the inner ceremony had closer to 50.”

All the offerings are carried to the offer site and while the offering ritual is being performed ladies walk around with holy water (it had a very smoky smell and taste to it) and a second ritual is performed by each person individually:

Step 1-3 is done 3 times

  • Step1: They give you holy water in your hands and you wash your face. This is done 3 times.
  • Step2: They give you holy water in your hands and you drink. This is done 3 times.
  • Step3: They give you holy water in your hands and you put it over your head. This is done 3 times.
  • Step4: Rice is put on your neck and your forehead. It sticks to your body as you are wet from the washing.

Finally, after this step, the ceremony is over and everyone proceeds to the exit. Next group comes in and the ritual is repeated for the next group

 

kids at bali full moon ceremony ubud
Two adorable kids at the full moon ceremony.

After the full moon ceremony

Although most people have the whole weekend and monday off there are still things to do and a large chunk of the ceremony goers head straight home. The majority though, sticks around and participates in the general festivities across the road from the temple where everyone is dancing and singing.

Around 12pm everything ends, the streets can finally rest and only the silence sticks around; until the next the day when the cycle repeats.