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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.

Overview of tourist hotspots in Myanmar (Burma)

There are four main tourist hotspots in Myanmar: Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Mandalay, Bagan and Inle. They are located as a diamond shape if you look at a map of Myanmar with Yangon in the south, Mandalay in the north, Bagan in the west and Inle in the east.

myanmar-tourist-hotspots
Relative locations of the tourist hotspots in Myanmar

Along with these there are a few others depending on your route and your preferences. Really, though, if you want to boil it all down, Yangon and especially Mandalay function more as transport hubs and Bagan/Inle are the only real tourist spots. Since Myanmar is not that easy to enter overland, most people are flying to either Mandalay or Yangon.

However, as I have made it a point to not fly unless absolutely necessary, I took the overland route which took me through Hpa-An. A stop I would highly recommend even if you are only in Myanmar for a week. The capital, Naypyitaw (since 2006 – it used to be Yangon), is also definitely worth visiting if you want to get off the beaten track.

Yangon (and Mandalay) – Two large cities

Both cities function as transport hubs even though Yangon is the more common one. Yangon is interesting in the way that it allows no motorbikes in the city center, not even for locals which gives a different feel than the rest of south east asia. It also has a number of interesting temples and locations. It’s a decent and nice town to hang around in for a day or two.

One thing you shouldn’t miss is the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon which is very impressive! Bear in mind though that you need proper clothes (pants, cover your shoulders etc.), will need to pay an entrance fee and will have to deal with many many tourists. This is one of the most touristy spots in all of Myanmar but still worth it.

schwedagon pagode in yangon, myanmar
The Schwedagon Pagoda seen from afar. To see it inside, go have a look yourself, I won’t give it away

Mandalay really has nothing interesting going for it. It’s good if you want a quiet hotel (not hostel) and/or can find a cheap flight ticket here. Other than that it just functions as a bus/train/plane hub to nearby places of more interest. The only thing worth seeing in the city is a very picturesque teak bridge called U Bein Bridge. I personally recommend skipping Mandalay and focus on something more unique and special, namely ALL the rest of Myanmar.

Bagan – Temples galore

Note: I’ve heard from multiple sources (other travellers) that you can no longer climb the temples at night, ie. for sunrise and sunsets. This is a very large part of what makes Bagan unique. This is, however, still Myanmar and I’m sure you can just do it anyway – even if you do get “caught” then a small bribe or simply saying you’re sorry should be enough. Has anyone been there since this change that can confirm/update on this ? Please comment!

In short, this is a massive archaeological site boasting an astonishing 2700 (approximately) temples. During it’s prime it was closer to 13000. This doesn’t mean that the area is huge, in fact you can drive from one end to the other on an e-bike in about 30-60 minutes. Without having the exact numbers I’d estimate it to be an area of around 20 * 10 km.

The area is surrounded by 3 cities: New Bagan, Old Bagan and Nyang-U. The night-busses arrive in Nyang-U but most of the backpackers go to New Bagan – a taxi ride of about 7000 kyats although they will ask for 15000 from you. in Nyang-U there are cheaper (and worse quality accomodation) and in Old Bagan is where the more upscale accomodation is. I staid in New Bagan which is quite touristy and expensive but has a good vibe. Lots of backpackers in that area.

When you get there, rent an e-bike (motorbikes are not rented to foreigners in Bagan) and scoot around the temples. This is basically the whole thing. Go with a group of friends and see the temples or drive around alone and get lost in the land of temples. Find yourself an empty roof and just sit there and contemplate about things in life.

bagan-relax
Finding a nice temple to be alone can be a very relaxing experience

There are very few bars in New Bagan and the temple area is the whole thing. But it’s worth it. This area is obscenely picturesque and when you see the sunrise/sunset you will fall in love. At sun-rise about 25 hot air balloons fly every morning, making for some of the most beautiful sunrises you will ever see.

bagan-beauty
The beauty of Bagan. Atleast some of it – so many amazing pictures have been taken in this area

Inle Lake

Most of the flashpackers you see out there will do one or two days at Inle Lake. It’s a small city called Nyaungshwe near the lake where everyone stays and it’s from here the tours/trekking starts.

The lake is beautiful and there is a reason why everyone goes here but it has become murky and brown even though just a generation ago you could drink from the lake. Motorized boats sailing around tourists add to this but mostly it is due to fishermen and other locals using the same motorized boats and fertilizers used in the floating gardens.

You can get a day-tour boat trip from any hostel you stay in taking you to the sights of the lake – the floating gardens, the four tribes living on the lake and the fishermen amongst other things. It makes for a great day and is worth doing. Remember sun-screen!

fishermen-inlelake-myanmar
Fishermen on Inle Lake

Another day can be spent on a bicycle ride around the monastery’s and caves in the area. For an evening activity visit one of the two vineyards in the area – one is close and has an amazing sunset view but unfortunately lacks good wine – the other has good wine but is further away and requires a tuk-tuk ride or an avid bicycler.

If you spend more days in the area, you can go on two or three day hiking tours in the mountains or alternatively hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake instead of taking the bus directly to Inle. Trekking is always a fun activity and the mountains are beautiful – if you are going in the dry season some of the waterfalls along the Kalaw – Inle Lake route will be dried out so maybe a tour along the lake starting and ending in Nyaungshwe is better.