Odalan: When The God’s Descend
On this wonderful island of the gods, occupied by thousands of temples, one of the most gorgeous celebrations is Odalan. Each temple celebrates its birthday every 210 days with extra large bookings during the full moons of April and October.
Each temple is dressed to the hilt. Gold and white are the preferential colours and decorations for the Penjors (long flags), offerings which range from impressive to downright extraordinary are arranged. Sacred images of deities are taken to holy springs and bathed, performances are practised, gamelan orchestras are brought in to play music and everything is prepared in readiness for the descent of the gods. A good or grand Odalan will have entertainments every day and night. While these entertainments are ostensibly to entertain the gods the people attending are also entertained. It is a great time for socialising, to catch up with friends and relatives who live away from their home district and for young people to find a mate or at least a romantic liaison.
Everyone arrives at the celebrations freshly bathed, perfumed and dressed in their newly pressed best, to give thanks to the newly descended gods and to pray, energizing the temple compound and the community.
Balinese Hinduism is influenced by three major factors – the original Indian beliefs are modified by animism (the belief that every living thing has a soul) and ancestor worship, as older family members are held in great veneration.
A smaller Odalan will last for three days while an important one, which may happen every few years, can go on for a week, or sometimes, even a month. These huge celebrations are very expensive and require great numbers of contributions from the community – both time and money are needed.
When the Odalan temple ceremony comes to Pura Ulun Danau, in Kintamani, (as in these pictures), the whole island celebrates. Because it is one of Bali’s most important temples, people come from all over to bring offerings and take blessings. Many groups come and march in processions to the main temple and the whole area is a riot of colours and sounds.
Troops and troops of people appear, processions are arranged in the main street, crowds watch and the marchers wear slightly tranced looks upon their faces. By evening the celebrations are done for the day. As the cold of the evening descends, the day is finished but sometimes the last event of the day could be a ceremonial dance of Baris Gede, sometimes performed in the cool mist. It is one of the most exotic locales on the island.
If you get a chance to go to a big temple celebration, it is highly recommended and it gives visitors a chance to see what this magical island is all about. Some of the best dance performances take place at the temple ceremonies where they perform for the gods rather than a paid audience. Performers are transformed into celestial beings with an almost inhuman godly aura. Some temples have performances lasting all night and it is mandatory for every member of the banjar to attend, hence the absence of local staff and employees for these important days.
It is this character of the island that makes Bali such a special place, so be sure to visit, respectfully if you can.