Both Sides of the Shadow Screen
Gamelan Anak Swarasanti:
the summer of 1997, I, my wife Astrid and our two teenage children, Dan
and Julia spent three weeks in Bali, exploring the sites, culture, music,
and people. With us were our two friends, Justine and Steve.
Astrid, Justine, Steve and I had all played in the UCSC Balinese gamelan orchestra Gamelan Swarasanti for some years, and we went on to start an advanced community gamelan Gamelan Anak Swarasanti ("Child of Swarasanti"), so going to Bali was a sort of homecoming. It was a culture we had become entranced by, and whose customs and people had become familiar to us from afar. We already knew several Balinese musicians who had come to the US to teach our group.
We were also fortunate enough to have a special friend and guide in Bali - Linda Burman-Hall. Linda teaches the Balinese gamelan class at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), and had taught us just about everything we know about Balinese music and culture. Linda visits Bali every summer, and even has a house in Ubud, the artistic center of Bali. She also speaks Bahasa Indonesia - the main language of Indonesia, and was invaluable as an interpreter, guide, introducer and expert on Balinese culture.
From our tentative first steps upon our arrival in this beautiful land, this journal follows our travels as we explored the temples and villages of Bali. Through our friend Linda, and other Balinese friends we already knew, like our teachers I Nyoman Sedana, I Nyoman Sumandhi and I Nyoman Wenten, well-known master musicians and dancers in Bali that we had studied with back at home and were now meeting again in their natural element, we were given access to places that tourists rarely go.
Our existing background in Balinese music and culture, as well as our intimate contacts with insiders in Bali, made the trip all the more meaningful to us. Temple ceremonies where we found ourselves the only westerners present took on a special meaning that touched all of us, even our teenage children, who came away with a deep love and respect for the people and culture of Bali and who will someday return on their own.
In a place where you find flower and incense offerings outside your doorstep every morning, where holy water and rice are offered to the gods just below your balcony each day, where the sounds of the mystical gamelan can be heard almost any day of the week sending its aural offerings to the heavens, you begin to understand what they mean when they say that in Bali "Every breath is a prayer".
The beauty of the Balinese people and their religion which permeates every moment of their lives touched us deeply. And we found that the Balinese weren't exclusive about sharing it - we were welcomed gladly into numerous ceremonies and rituals by being in the right place at the right time (and perhaps having a few of the right connections), and by showing the appropriate respect for their customs we were made to feel almost part of their extended family.
The trip turned out to be ever more than we could have hoped for - a glimpse inside a magical realm where the powers that move behind the shadow screen are just as real as the lives of the people that live out their everyday lives as rice-farmers, shopkeepers and tourist guides.
It wasn't all temples and ceremonies, though. We found time to explore the beauty of the Balinese countryside, the terraced rice fields, the swaying palm trees, go whitewater rafting, do some snorkelling exploring the exotic sealife that lives just offshore, sunned ourselves on the long sandy beaches, and went shopping. By the time we came home, we were loaded with craft items, musical instruments, shadow puppets, batiks, carvings and all kinds of things we'd bought in the markets of Ubud and beyond.
But it's the people we'll remember. Our kind and generous host Oka Wati, our dear friend and driver Dewa who took us all over Bali and finally gave us a glimpse into his own life, the girls who made the daily offerings at the family temple and outside our room, the musicians and artists - simple rice-farmers by day, but amazingly talented gamelan players and dancers by night - and the simple grace of the people, who seem to bless you every day just by being there.
This journal follows our path through Bali, and will take you to places any visitor can easily see in a short visit there, as well as to ceremonies and locations that are well off the tourist routes, but that with some persistence and the right connections, you can also find. I hope you enjoy the trip.
All content copyright (c) 2001-2002, Astrid, Martin and Julia Randall