A visit to Bali must include taking in a temple ceremony.
Religious ceremonies take place anywhere at any time in Bali. You will find various forms of rituals in many places, be they at temples or on beaches.
One of the most regularly observed rituals is the Hindu ceremony of Odalan. Generally speaking Odalan is a festival to observe a temple’s anniversary. Most of the people observe Odalan for religious reasons rather than an occasion for merriment.
With 4,539 temples around the island, as recorded by the Religious Affairs Ministry in 2011, multiple Odalan rituals happen every day – you do the math.
Recently, I got the chance to attend an Odalan held by the family of Ida Bagus Rai Sujana. It was a small ceremony since the temple, located at their housing complex on Jl. Danau Beratan, is privately owned by Rai Sujana’s extended family.
Despite that fact, the Odalan turned out to be quite a lavish ceremony.
The process of Odalan in a private temple usually lasts all day. The essentials of the ritual are a Hindu priest, gamelan players, offerings, dancers and meals for the congregation members.
Relatives gather early to prepare the ceremony. While waiting for the priest, they set up their offerings at the altar; each family brings their own offerings. A couple of men take turns in reciting prayers on a microphone.
Given the special occasion,
offerings made for Odalan are more sumptuous than those served on a daily basis. Offerings for Odalan could contain money – usually Rp 1,000 (10 US cents) to Rp 2,000 – and other things like grilled chicken or a roast pig.
As the sun rises, the large amount of offerings brought by the relatives turn the small temple into a sea of offerings, leaving barely enough space for all the people to sit down and pray.
At around 3 p.m., the priest arrives to lead the ritual. With the common occurrence of multiple Odalans in one day, booking a priest is necessary. You cannot always expect the priest to come early as he must go to several locations.
Fortunately, Rai Sujana’s uncle is a priest himself, so this matter was easier to handle.
During Odalan, the priest sanctifies a few ornaments which later are carried into every corner to give blessing. After that, he leads a mass prayer for the congregation.
After the mass prayer, the congregation will take a break and have a feast before continuing the festival. This break usually occurs in the late afternoon, while the Odalan will last until late at night.
“Odalan is usually held once or twice every year, depending on the capability of the family,” said Ida Pedanda Gede Giri Oka, the priest that led Rai Sujana family’s Odalan.
Many temples use the Saka calendar (Balinese calendar), which consists of 210 days a year. This means Odalan takes place twice in a Gregorian calendar year.
“The essence of Odalan is actually not about celebrating the anniversary of the temple. It is a time to show our appreciation of the almighty. The tradition of doing it during the temple’s anniversary is a cultural habit,” explained Pedanda Gede Giri Oka.
Rai Sujana said that Odalan was just one of numerous rituals to show appreciation and gratitude to the almighty and the spirits.
“People might wonder why Balinese spend so much time on our rituals – including the serving of daily offerings – but it is simply our way of showing appreciation to the almighty and the surrounding spirits,” he said.
“As opposed to many other cultures, we do not regard the spirits as something to be afraid of. We embrace and respect them,” he added.
The Odalan at Rai Sujana’s temple might be small and private, but if you are eager to witness a similar ritual, choose a bigger temple. Pura Besakih, the mother temple in the island, has a weeklong festival to observe its Odalan.