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Pura Puseh

For reasons best known to myself, I finally picked a blue sarong* with gold-coloured elephants. The price of my indecisiveness was roughly two and a half hours in a noisy and crowded local market searching for that “perfect one.” And no, I learned nothing from this. Well, I did later learn that my proudly negotiated price was still ten times higher than the usual rate, and that the sarong might play a magic trick and make elephants disappear in the washing machine, should I decide to use one.

Still, excited about my purchase, which would allow me to enter a local temple, I wrapped it around my waist and tiptoed like an injured penguin to the patio of my accommodation. It was close to 7 am — early morning for me and almost midday for the Balinese family I stayed with. As soon as I appeared on the staircase, grandma, who was sitting in the corner of the open kitchen chopping a pineapple on a stump, waved me over. “She want fix sarong” — the daughter explained, laughing. You may not think much of a 90-year-old woman, but she did not lack strength. She redid my sarong and secured the sash so tightly that I wouldn’t even think about having food while wearing it. On a positive note, her way of wrapping allowed some leg space so that I could step with confidence.

Ready to depart, I called a nearby scooter-taxi to take me to Pura Puseh. I was confident that ‘Puseh’ was the actual name of the temple since I knew that ‘pura’ meant temple. Turned out it stood for “village temple,” and there were plenty to choose from in the town of Ubud. We proceeded to play a round of charades with me trying to explain that I was going to the biggest Full Moon Ceremony, and it was held in Pura Puseh. I bet it looked fun since a number of spectators started gathering around while I made a big imaginary circle with my hands to depict a full moon. Luckily, it resonated with one of the spectators who then explained it to the driver. “Aahhh Pura Puseh in Peliatan”, confirmed the driver. I trusted that was the intended destination, swiftly put an oversized helmet on, and hopped on the back seat of the motorbike.
As a general note, Pura Puseh is typically located somewhere in the centre of the village; however, in a town, there is at least one in every neighbourhood. What’s interesting (and I am aware that I am taking you further and further from my main point, but bear with me) is that the number three is of great significance in Bali, mostly linked to the concept of Trimurti — the divine Hindu trinity: Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. Essentially, every village has three types of temples for each god of the Trimurti: Pura Desa — dedicated to Brahma and also to local spirits (yes, migration is apparently a thing in the world of spirits), Pura Puseh — for god Vishnu as well as the actual founders of the village (as in human founders), and Pura Dalem, also known as “the temple of the dead,” dedicated to god Shiva. Now, you may think that’s great delegation, one for each, but the three main gods are also symbolised in each individual temple. Whether in the form of color representation: white for Shiva, red for Brahma, and black for Vishnu (you may see Balinese carrying three-color bracelets called Benang Tridatu), Meru tower (the highest one representing Shiva), or other symbols. It is also worth noting that Bali is estimated to have somewhere around 50,000 temples, so each village would usually have more beyond the main three, and of course every family compound would have its own temple, mainly for daily prayers and intimate family gatherings.
Anyway, I arrived at Pura Puseh in Peliatan at 7:30 am sharp, since the ceremony was meant to start around that time. Not only was I the only foreigner there, but I was also the only one not dressed in white and yellow (it somehow didn’t occur to me to inquire about the dress code beforehand). Despite the unusual appearance that led me to stand out from the crowd, I was received as part of the community. When eyes met, a warm smile would shine on people’s faces, but except for that, they weren’t bothered at all by this intruder (me).
There was such a relaxed atmosphere where everyone knew what they had to do — a group of men playing gamelan instruments and others taking turns to perform traditional dances in the middle area of the temple. It started with the men’s Baris dance, followed by the women’s Pendet Dance, and then girls with an elegant Sanghyang Dance. I found it surprising that no one clapped after performances, there was no stress, no tension. The whole series of events were just so coherent and happening in the most natural way.
Also, I couldn’t help but notice the perfect make-up these little girls were wearing, and most importantly of all — eyebrows! Beyond perfect! My eyebrows, in the meantime, were embracing the new trend of “let’s bring diversity, the more different the better,” with sweat running down my face there was no point in even attempting to equalise them with an eyebrow pencil.
It was incredibly heartwarming to be part of the ceremony, witness amazing talents, and feel the sense of community. As the event seemed to be winding down or transitioning to the next stage, I realised it was time to depart before my golden elephants completely melted away.

*in the context of Bali, sarong is a traditional piece of clothing that is worn for daily ceremonies and temple visits. It’s a large piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and secured in various ways depending on the occasion and the wearer’s preference. Sarongs are an essential part of the Balinese dress code when entering sacred spaces like temples and everyone (including visitors, tourists) must follow it when visiting such places.

To be continued…