Bali ~ Island of the Gods A Brief Journey into Balinese Hinduism, Part 1

Bali ~ Island of the Gods                                  A Brief Journey into Balinese Hinduism, Part 1

Before we tumble Down the Rabbit Hole directly to the Balinese Ngaben (cremation) Ceremony, I want to give a little history of how I ended up being invited to this ceremony and a little history of Bali and Hinduism.





IMG_20180830_095100.jpgBali, Island of the Gods, is one of 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago.  A small island 95 miles east to west and 70 miles north to south, it is located 8°south of the equator and is inhabited by approximately 4 million people. Unlike the majority of Indonesian Islands which are Muslim, Bali is 85% Hindu.  So how did I end up visiting this island paradise?  We must travel back to Paris 2014……..


As you may or may not know, I spent a period of 2014/15 living in Paris, France.  I fell in love with Montmartre and in Montmartre at the foot of Sacre Coeur had my “go to” café.  I became a regular and the staff got to know me and my “usual’s”.  Since I normally stopped by at least once a day for “un café” or “verre de vin rosé”, I often chatted with a waitress named Julie.  She talked to me about her desire to move to Bali. I left Paris to return to the States in February of 2015 and we said we would keep in touch via FB. I happened to return to Paris for a 2-week holiday in July of 2015 and of course one of my first stops was Café Chappe.  Lo and behold, Julie was there.  She had indeed gone to Bali, but had returned to Paris because of her youngest son, they planned to go back to Bali at the end of the summer and suggested I should visit her there.  In August of that same year, my adventures in the Middle Kingdom began.  I moved to China to teach English. Julie and I kept in touch over the next few years and finally in February of this year, 2018, I planned a trip to Bali.  Travel to Bali is quite convenient and relatively inexpensive from the Middle Kingdom. Julie was living in Seminyak which is a seaside community and was teaching yoga.  The first part of my holiday I planned to stay in Ubud, which is more north and inland, as there were several things I wanted to experience in that area.  The end of my holiday I would go to Canggu and finally meet up with my friend from Paris.  That my friends is how I ended up going to Bali for the first time.  The second part of the story is how I was invited to the Ngaben Ceremony.

Drinking rose’ with Julie.  Sometimes you need to take a dip in the restaurant’s decorative pool……in your clothes.

In February, I had a homestay about a 20-30-minute walk from Central Ubud.  During my homestay, I had a room with a private bathroom in a family compound.  I say compound, because in Bali families usually live together.  Together meaning there are several free-standing homes often with a central kitchen in what is called a compound.  There is also always a family temple shared by all the households.  These compounds make up a tight-knit community.  The communities, in turn, make up a village.  Kenari House, my homestay was in the community or Banjar, Teges Yangloni the village of Peliatan.  My hosts, Ketut and Koming and their two young daughters immediately made me feel like part of the family.  Ketut, trained as a chef, would let me join him in the kitchen when he prepared my meals, explaining Balinese cooking and teaching me how to use traditional herbs and spices.  Finding them so open, I always seemed to have a dozen questions about Bali and Hinduism whenever I was with them.

My Kenari House homestay family

Bali is an assault on your senses, vivid colors, temple music, fragrant flowers, and incense await you at every turn.  One of the first things you notice in Bali are small baskets with various flowers placed everywhere. They are on statues, bridges, steps, and in doorways.  I asked Koming about these colorful baskets with incense.  She told me they are canang sari or daily offerings.  Canang is a small woven basket from palm leaves and sari means essence.  Broken down further can = beauty (like you feel the view) nang = purpose and sari = source.  Typically, a family places about 15 offerings per day, more on special ceremony days.  The canang sari is handmade daily and it is considered self-sacrifice with the time it takes to make the offerings.












The offering must have certain elements representing the Trimurti or 3 major Hindu gods; white lime for Shiva, red betel nut for Vishnu and green gambier plant for Brahma.  On top of these are placed petals. White petals facing East for Iswara, red petals facing South for Brahma, yellow petals facing West for Mahadeva and blue or green facing North for Vishnu. The offerings also can contain food items, rice, crackers small cakes, etc. Along with an incense stick, these offerings are placed with a prayer ritual to deliver the sari (essence) of the canang to heaven.  A flower dipped in holy water is sprinkled over the canang along with a spoken prayer as in a symbolic merging of earth, fire, wind, and water.  The smoke from the incense carries the essence of the offering to the gods.  These offerings are to maintain balance and peace on earth amidst good and evil and between heaven and hell.  Within this ritual is an understanding that both positive and negative energies exist in the world.  It is up to us to seek balance and harmony in our personal lives, in our community, and in the world. What appeared to be a simple basket of flowers was my first taste of Balinese Hindu rituals.












As my time at Kenari House was nearing the end, I wasn’t quite ready to leave.  I extended my stay by one day before heading south to Canggu.  Staying this extra day turned into my first experience with a Balinese Ceremony.  There was a wedding in the community.  Koming invited me to attend with her family.  What a privilege to have this opportunity.  Koming loaned me a Kamen (sarong/skirt) so I would be appropriately dressed.  It seemed the entire community was there, and they welcomed me with open arms.  I didn’t get to learn much about the wedding ceremony as I was leaving that afternoon.  As I was saying my goodbyes to Ketut and Koming, she told me since I enjoyed the wedding so much, I should return in August.  She explained that Ketut’s mother had died in 2016 and every 3 years the community held a Ngaben or Cremation Ceremony.  She would be part of the ceremony this August.  Would I like to come back for the ceremony?  I told her I would be honored to return and would do my best to make it happen.

The Bride and Groom

Indeed, I made my way back to Bali and the Ngaben Ceremony.  I always thought my experience camping at EBC (Everest Base Camp) and watching the sun set and rise on the mighty mountain couldn’t be topped.  My experience with this beautiful Balinese ritual, the emotion of first hand exhuming a corpse, washing it and preparing it for cremation, witnessing the burning, understanding each step of the ceremony, and returning the ashes to the sea was truly overwhelming and something I will never forget.  I was included like family every step of the way.  I only hope I can put the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions into words as I next write about the Ngaben.

A couple of preview pictures from the Ngaben Ceremony












Until my next post……The Ngaben Ceremony reminds the living to always create good karma in life. It shows us that Balinese Hinduism is not necessarily about getting to heaven but how to become one with Brahman or God.


Mind Over Matter…..Did I Heal Myself or Was It the Balian?

Mind Over Matter…..Did I Heal Myself or Was It the Balian?

“Dad, I’m cold”, I said as I watched him shovel snow in shorts, a t-shirt, and a wool vest.  “It’s mind over matter”, he told me.  Mind over matter, a phrase if I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times from my father, along with “the mind is a powerful thing”.  Even as he lay dying of bone cancer, he tried to control his pain with his mind.  Does it work?  Eventually, he gave into the morphine drip.  I remember as a girl in Junior High on the gymnastics team struggling with a move on the uneven bars.  Mind over matter, mind over matter……I lay in bed visualizing myself doing the move.  Over and over, I pictured it.  Does it work?  Sure enough, the next day at practice, I nailed it.  Two totally different scenarios, but it is a phrase that still often lingers in the back of my thoughts.

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What you may ask does this have to do with my visit to Cok Rai, Balian, Master Healer?  Or you may be saying, she did this because of Eat, Pray, Love…….yes, I saw the movie, more than once…..yes, I loved it… influence whatsoever on my going to Bali or visiting the Balian.  My motivation for visiting Bali, I met a woman in Paris who worked at a café…..she moved to Bali…..she invited me to visit…..I did, in February.  I met a wonderful Balinese family at my homestay…..we became friends…..they invited me to return in August for the cremation ceremony for his mother…..I did this month.  The Ngaben (cremation) Ceremony took place over 6 days of which I attended 4 and I will address in a future blog.  Long days, one rising at 2:30 am for exhuming a body. Those days took their toll.  I was tired, mentally and physically.  Physically, my body ached, mostly my knees and ankle and low back.  I was mentally exhausted trying to wrap my head around and understand the meaning/significance/procedure of many ceremonies/rituals. Not even knowing the word Balian or truthfully anything about them, on the afternoon of the 3rd day I asked Ketut if there was a healer in the village.  “Yes, I know one, he is old now, but Putu can take you on Sunday morning. It is best to go early”, he told me. On Sunday at 9:00 am, without any research, an open mind and Putu, I headed down the rabbit hole…….

Balian ~ Balians are traditional healers who work with divine energy to treat physical and mental illnesses, remove spells and channel energy from ancestors. Some Balian have learned their art from studying the ancient scriptures called lontar and apprenticing with a master. Others have received wahyu or divine inspiration and heal from the heart.


Putu picked me up at 9:00 Sunday morning.  We traveled to another community/village about 20 minutes from my homestay, Kenari House.  I knew nothing about the “healer” I was about to see.  I never asked his name or what manner he received his “power”.  I seriously knew next to nothing about Balinese healers.  I didn’t even know the word Balian until I returned home and started some research on the subject.  We arrived at his compound.  Putu spoke to someone and turned to me and said we are lucky, he is here and he will see you.  His compound was a serene quiet place.



We were instructed to wait in an area that was his treatment space. Putu and I were the only people there.  I later found out that Cok Rai is basically retired.  Afterward, I realized what a privilege it was to see him. As I sat on the floor, I focused on the sights, sounds and smells that surrounded me.  My thoughts…..what would I say to him?……how should I greet him?… thing I knew he was in front of me.
















A slight man with long grey hair and a white mustache and goatee.  He had a soft comforting voice.  He sat in a wooden chair and instructed me to sit with my back against his legs. He placed a finger in each ear and applied pressure.  He also touched several pressure points on my head, temples, and base of my skull. He mumbled something about low back and then instructed me to lie down on the rattan mat which had a small bump for just under the base of my head.  He retrieved what appeared to be nothing more than a t-shaped stick.  Before doing anything with the stick, he just moved his hands over my arms and body, not quite touching them.  He said you have much energy, much electricity.  It may feel like a shock when I treat you.  I found this quite interesting because, in 2009, we were on a cruise of SE Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam).  I don’t remember where we were, but I saw an acupuncturist.  They also told me my body gave off much electricity.  They told me they could feel it without even touching my body.  Next, the healer, using my left foot, pushed and poked first at my little toe and eventually all of my toes.  If I made a noise or implied I felt pain, he would say what part of the body it corresponded.  I am not sure which toes were which.  I do know at one point he pressed, and I let him know it hurt, he said: “stomach, you have had stomach problems”.  I told him, yes when I was in the states I had some issues with food that caused me troubles.   He then took the stick and followed what I believe are the corresponding channels or meridians for my stomach.  He then again poked the same toe and I felt no pain.  He said your stomach is healed.  I didn’t know it needed healing, but, ok.  Again, poked a toe, a little pain.  He said “female” and then moved his stick over my “female organs”.  He said, “can’t heal, don’t work, menopause”.  He then added, “but you still have passion, don’t lose it, it makes you happy.  You are happy now, don’t let the happiness go away”.  A few more pokes at my toes and a few more waves of his “magic wand” over my body until there was no pain in my toes.  He then had me sit up legs flat in front of me.  He asked what else he could do. I told him I had injured my right ankle in February and my left knee had been bothering me.  The prior 5 days with a lot of walking and standing, my left the knee and ankle were both quite sore, especially climbing steps.  He got up, went to a table on which was an urn.  He put his hands in the urn came back and rubbed oil and some type of leaf/herb which resembled tobacco leaves on both legs from the knees down to the toes.  One at a time he bent each knee and pounded my heel and then foot several times on the floor.  He then had me do the same without his assistance.  He then touched the big toes of each foot together, ran his hands from toes to knees and back down. On the down, he made like he was sending something out of my body.  I assume it was symbolic of sending the pain out.  He then instructed me to stand, which I did with minimal effort and no pain in the knee or ankle as I stood from a semi-squatting position.  He demonstrated deep knee bends while holding onto a post and then instructed me to do them. After several, he had me do without holding the post. He smiled at me and asked, “how does it feel”?  Surprisingly, I replied, “great”.  And it really did.  I thanked him for his time, gave him the “donation” of about $20 American.  Putu then took me back to Kenari House.  The climb to the 3rd floor was pain-free.  I later walked into Ubud. I had my tattoo touched up. I met some parrotheads from Paris for lunch. I walked around some more and went to Gin 1717 for a couple of cocktails and finally walked back home.  Over the next couple of days, I walked several times back and forth to Ubud. On my last day in Bali, I walked about 12K including a trek uphill on the Campuhan Ridge Walk to some lovely rice fields.  Amazingly, I had NO pain in my knees or ankle.  I was exhausted and decided an hour-long foot massage would be perfect.

It has now been 6 days since my experience with Cok Rai. I am pleased to say I am still totally pain-free.  I have since googled my Balian.  It seems he is one of the most famous healers in the Ubud area. The following link is to a short article on Balians.

Did I heal myself or was it the Balian?  I can’t answer that question.  I am glad I went to visit Cok Rai and experienced a true Balinese Healer.  If the opportunity should present itself, I would do again.

Your strongest muscle and worst enemy is your mind.  Train it well.~unknown~spirit-over-mind-mind-over-matter-its-that-simple-quote-1.jpg