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Bali is a tiny island that blooms in its essence with a myriad of beliefs and practices rooted deeply in its ancient culture. Odalan is the name given to one of the several festivities in Bali that celebrate these beliefs, and in the highlight of mythology and religion of Bali, partaking in or witnessing an odalan ceremony is sure to give you an insight into the richness of Balinese culture.
Bali is home to villages and tribes that are so ancient they date back to the ancient times. These tribes had beliefs and stories of pagan origin, but with the advent of Hinduism, Buddhism and aspects of Chinese, Japanese and Dutch cultures, Bali has grown to develop its own unique set of religious practices that Balinese people tend to be very fervent about. Even so, Hinduism is the predominant religion in Bali and a lot of Balinese festivals are related to Hindu beliefs. The ancient pagan beliefs on the island blend into these Hindu practices, and one fine example of this is the Odalan festivities that are often going on around Bali.
Most religious and cultural rites in Bali revolve around the concept of creating a balance and harmony between positive and negative energies of the local place. Balinese people consider this critical to a successful life and overall prosperity of the island. They believe not in eliminating negative enrgies, as they consider them a natural and inhgerent part of the overall system, but in the need for this very balance and harmony for sustenance and prosperity. Odalan is no different and it is boradly aimed at appeasing the gods, celebrating their generosity and showing gratitude adn generosity in return for it.
Balinese people have always been very adamant about the power of the ancient spirits of the land. They believe that in order to ensure the well-being of themselves and of their home island, it is crucial to appease these spirits and maintain harmony of these spiritual energies that determine life in Bali. In order to appease these spirits, Balinese people present offerings of food, sacred items, etc., regularly and have a lot of temples built throughout Bali in honor of these gods. The first Hindu settlement in Bali established itself in the year 1284 when the Javanese colonized Bali, marking the birth of Hinduism and such ceremonies as odalan in Bali.
Each and every temple in Bali was originally established in honor of a specific spirit local to the village. However, all of these spirits are manifestations of the same Balinese gods. In fact, there are well over 4,500 temples built on the island of Bali. Throughout the island of Bali, these temples are host to a range of ceremonies that are resonant with the time and mood of the occasion.
Odalan ceremonies are carried on during Purnima (full moon periods) as it is believed that full moon is the time when the inherent spiritual energies of the land and temples are at their peak, serving as an invitation to the gods to descend to the lands.
During these periods of full moon, you will be able to witness Odalan ceremonies marking the anniversaries of the founding of these temples, as per the 210-day long Balinese lunar-based calendar. Since there are thousands of temples located across Bali, with at least three temples in each village, no matter when you visit, there is an Odalan ceremony going on almost always somewhere in Bali.
An odalan ceremony usually lasts one to three days. However, depending on the significance and size of the temple, one odalan ceremony can last upto a month even. Small odalan ceremonies occur on an yearly basis, while larger ones take place every 5, 10, 30 or even 100 years. One of the next major odalan ceremonies in Bali is going to take place on December 22, 2020, at Pura Dalem Teges Kangin, and is set up as a prospective time for tourists currently planning to visit Bali. The Ubud region of Bali is scheduled to host the most number of odalan ceremonies in the month of December, 2020.
Odalan is celebrated at the site of the temple associated with the odalan, and all activities and events are carried on inside and around the temple premises. Every temple in Bali has roots in the spirits associated with the local village, which is the reason for on-site celebration of odalan for each of the temples in Bali.
Some temples in Bali like the Pura Besakih on the southern slopes of the volcano named Mt. Agung in eastern Bali have their odalan ceremonies celebrated throughout Bali, people from everywhere around Bali flock to this temple during its odalan ceremony, which is celebrated every 100 years. This is because Pura Besakih is regarded as the mother temple amongst all the temple in Bali and the permanent abode of the gods. Holding the spot as the largest temple complex in Bali, its origin dates back around 1,000 years and is said to be where deities, spirits and gods descend from to the land of Bali during the odalan. Other temples in Bali that host grand festivities for their odalan are Pura Luhur Lempuyang, Pura Taman Ayun and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan.
Since gods themselves are deemed to have descended onto the lands from the heavens on the occasion of an odalan, idols and symbols related to these gods are cleaned or made by hand at homes and brought out to be set up at the temple prior to the odalan. Often these idols are taken to nearby springs and bathed in the freshwaters and then dressed for the occasion. This is to help ensure the gods will be able to manifest, when they descend to earth at the temple thanks to the resonating energies created by the full moon, music, rituals, dances, prayers, etc., collectively. Additionally, the temple walls are decorated using flags, golden-colored cloths, umbrellas, umbul (pennants, i.e., flags attached to poles) and bamboo ornamented with coconut leaves.
Long processions known as Mapeed are definitely a sight worth witnessing, and participants are clad in traditional attires which are either golden or white in color. People in these processions balance wooden baskets carrying offerings of food (especially fruits and the Bali-vital rice cakes) and flowers for the gods while walking together towards a nearby spring or beach from the temple and back.
The head priest initiates the ceremony by inviting the god associated with the temple to come down and get seated at the temple. In case of larger odalans, gods associated with nearby temples are also invited to get seated at the temple for the occasion.
Once the gods are deemed to be seated, every healthy and capable resident of the village offers prayers at the temple. For larger odalans people from nearby places in Bali and international tourists will also visit. The mood during these prayers is bursting with a resonating sense of devotion, not only at the temple itself but amongst the local people in general as well. These initial prayers make up the religious aspect of the ceremony.
Immediately following these prayers people participate in feasts together and it is customary to offer donations of money to the temple. It is to be noted that a lot of fakesters will solicit donation amounts around the temple complex area during an odalan. However, if you want to donate, make sure to donate only to the temple directly and at the temple itself.
The religious ceremony is followed by social events for the rest of the day or the coming days. These celebratory events and activities are called Dewa Yadnya, which is the Balinese equivalent of Dewa Yajna in Sanskrit and literally translates to “ceremonies for the god”. Social activities performed during this include traditional music, traditional dances, puppetry and theater performances and gamelan sessions. Gamelan is a Balinese ceremony accompanied by a flamboyant and lively performance on traditional percussion instruments. All in all, during an odalan you will find yourself in the immersive environment of spectacular sights to be seen and enchanting sounds to be heard around the temple and surrounding beaches.
Odalan ends with a brief closing ceremony, which usually involves the participants gathering together before leaving to sweep the temple complex and clean up the place as odalan festivity ends. Even though every temple has its own unique set of activities that define the odalan associated with it, the sense of devotion, gratitude to and appreciation for the gods and the sense of community belonging and participation is always a common underlying theme at every odalan celebration. After the ceremony, the fruits and other edible items of offering are consumed by the people as they are deemed to have been blessed by the gods that arrived for the occasion.
If you are interested in witnessing the immense richness of odalan in Bali and are wondering how to reach Bali, rest assured the journey is more or less very convenient. This is due to the growing popularity of Bali as an international tourist spot. The Denpasar Airport in Bali, locally known as the Ngurah Rai International Airport flies in flights from all major international destinations, including all major Indian cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. The flight from Delhi to Denpasar, Bali takes about 14 hours on average.
Denpasar Airport is situated at a distance of 13 km from Denpasar city, the capital of Bali, so modes of transportation like taxis and public buses or trams are easily available from here, to take you to your place of accommodation in Bali.
Alternative ways for how to reach Bali: You can choose to fly to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, and then choose to board a connecting flight or a ferry to the Bali island of Indonesia. It is possible to reach Jakarta by road but you are going to need visas for all the countries you will be passing through, and this will be really inconvenient unless a long road trip is specifically what you are looking for.
No matter what area or hotel you choose out of all the places to stay in Bali during your trip, you will easily find an odalan ceremony happening somewhere around in your area at the time. Therefore, you will not need to consider and look into odalan occasions and their schedules per se unless there is a specific odalan ceremony you wish to witness and take part in. Odalan at major temples are often tourist attractions. However, these big-scale odalan festivities do not occur every year, but every few decades depending on the scale of the ceremony and the significance of the temple it is happening at.
Bali is host to a number of cheap accommodations for international tourists. This is in part to facilitate tourism, as Bali regards tourism not as a means of income but as a means of showcasing its culture and what it is about to the world. Some examples of good places to stay in Bali are:
Bali is truly a getaway island, because once on the island of Bali you are going to find yourself surrounded by a rich amalgam of a culture that makes up the feel of Bali. There are numerous activites aimed at celebrating the culture of Bali, as Balinese people consider this highly important. Odalan ceremonies are one such occasions, but due to the common nature of odalan, kknowing about it before visitng Bali is important as no matter when you visit or where you visit, chances are you are going to find yourself in the middle of an odalan and thoroughly enjoying the immersive experience, during your trip to Bali. Your trip to Bali is indeed going to be one of the special times and experiences of your life.