The Melasti of the Full Moon

Culture | Written By, Ayu Sekar |

It looked almost like an Indian Kumbh Mela with the whole of Bali’s southeast coast covered with people dressed in white. Right to the misty distance, penjors and processions could be seen proceeding along the wave drenched coastline. 

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Dressed in their ceremonial best, the Balinese came from villages near and far to pray and be cleansed by the powers of the sea. They brought their holy icons and offerings to be blessed. Almost the whole of the southern coast was alive with people.

It was a Melasti day before the Full moon or purnama and while every full moon sees processions to the sea, this day in April was a particularly powerful one. Balinese astrologers had calculated the auspicious date and this full moon was rare. As its trajectory brought it closer than usual to the earth’s orbit, the moon appeared larger and brighter than usual, thus attributed with special power. The magnetic pull was strong on the sea and spiritual energies ran high. Such a special moon is not due to happen again for more than 100 years.

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The Balinese were out in full force, each banjar, village and desa taking a different strip of the beach to prepare their shrines and pray – a case of together but separate. Some banjars brought their sacred barongs while others brought their intruiging Pratima religious icons and ritual paraphernalia, each setting up their space along the beach. Offerings were brought in baskets – hundreds of them and the holy men prayed, surrounded by a sea of palm leaves and flowers stretching as far as the eye could see.

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Melasti is in essence, a Balinese Hindu cleansing ceremony, involving a processions to the source of the water, whether it is a beach, a river, or holy spring or even a lake.

Those living close by – with a few kilometres may walk to the beach in long colourful processions, penjors waving in the breeze while the cymbals clash out a rhythm for the barongs and the holy relics are carried. Those further away, are convoyed in trucks – fast and efficient but a lot less visually spectacular.

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The people gather around until it is time to head to the beach for prayer and to distribute offerings. As the waves crashed around, processions were made to the empty parts of the beach to pray! Luckily, a good dousing with sea water is considered auspicious, no matter what discomfort is caused.

As the black sand beach disappeared into the morning mist, the happy energy of the Balinese echoed up and down the coast and possibly even to the heavens. Peace and Harmony had been restored and guaranteed for another term.

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Ayu Sekar

Bali Island School

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