With these words of Gibran I start my journey, a mystical time of learning about myself and others, learning about finding yourself in service and experiencing the beauty of Bali perhaps through its beaches and shores, temples and forests , music and scents but most importantly through the hospitality of its children, the kindness of their eyes an the peace in their hearts.
I arrived to Jakarta, Indonesia in order to attend an international conference on democratic governance. I hesitated a lot before booking a domestic flight from Jakarta to Bali. For Bali’s reputation is surely that of a paradise yet not knowing anybody on paradise still makes paradise a strange land . Nevertheless my curiosity to experience the diversity of cultural colours and its kaleidoscope made me work even harder to get my soul to Bali. The beauty about being a volunteer with an international organization is that, whether you realize it or not, you end up having family members and homes around the world. As a volunteer with an organization that encourages global grass-root intercultural and interfaith dialogue, one of the most prominent and active members in Bali is B.R. Indra Udayana. Mr. Udayana welcomed us all to his homeland Bali and he graciously welcomed me with all hospitality and generosity.
Booking a domestic ticket to Bali was a funny experience. The places on the airline I preferred have already been reserved leaving me with no option but to book a seat in a last-minute flight. Nevertheless, with endless heart-rate acceleration I boarded the plane bound to Bali hoping all goes well.
When the plane landed, looking through the window, it was serenely beautiful to see rain drops hugging the glass as to say welcome to Paradise. The flight was superb though one hour late. When I passed through the Airport’s Exit, Mr.Indra and a number of his Ashram members were waiting patiently. They politely and kindly welcomed me with all kindness and friendliness.
Though raining and dark, one can still see the royalty of Bali. Statues, beautiful streets, greeny everywhere. Truly a place whose sons hail from either royals, intellectuals or architects as the legend goes…
Ashram Gandhi Puri
I stayed in one of the branches of Ashram Gandhi Puri. No words, no tales and no poems can serve ample enough to describe the beauty of the ashram. The word ashram generally refers to an often secluded residence of a religious community and its guru.
Ashram Gandhi Puri is an ongoing experiment in non-violent living. The Ashram Gandhi Puri is one that is dedicated through its several branches in Bali to promote the Gandhian ideals of Non-violence, Peace, Universal Fraternity and Humanitarian Service.
The community who lives in the Ashram focuses on the human resources development for social workers in Bali.
Started in 2001, it continues to be a community where the principles of Mahamat Gandhi are put into practice on a daily basis. About 30 full-time members reside at the Ashram, most come from villages throughout Bali. The members aim to develop their skills and work for common good. In order to remain at the ashram members must abide by certain rules. Some include:
The notion of working for one’s own food in the Ashram principles is described by Gandhi’s motto:
“He who does not labour and yet eats, eats stolen food”
Volunteers and guests also exhibit values of honesty and willingness to contribute in a number of ways from teaching English to working in the garden, aiding in construction helping in the kitchen or joining temple ceremonies.
Figure 2 Children and Volunteers at the Ashram Gandhi Puri Experience at the Ashram
The ashram I stayed in was located in the peaceful area of Klungkung surrounded by greenery and lush mountains. It was well-equipped with a kitchen and library in addition to a football field where the children and teenagers practiced yoga and sports every afternoon as well as a prayer area where services where offered every evening.
My room was beautifully adorned with Balinese carvings, paintings and sculptures.
When I learnt that the whole ashram was built solely by ashram volunteers I was truly impressed.
At the time I lived there, there were about 25 other fulltime members ranging in age from 6-17 and coming from all parts on Indonesia, particularly the eastern province of Bali. What united all these children is a home and family in the Ashram. I was showered with warm breezes of their greetings, hospitality, politeness and genuine interest in not only offering their home, food, friendship and culture to me but also in learning about my own culture, religion and background. Before I realized it and in a few days I was already a family member.
Communication was sometimes funny as not all of the children spoke English so we used an English-Bahasa dictionary to learn from each other. When I needed to say something to the children, I would look up the English word in the dictionary and point to the corresponding Bahasa word and try to pronounce it. I must have had a funny accent because the children would often innocently laugh at my trials which perhaps amused them. This was a great way for me to learn some Bahasa while the children could also improve their English! “Help?” Ketut, a beautiful and polite 11 year old girl at the ashram asks when I enquire if there is anything I can do ..”Oh..you no help, you eat” she gently smiles and politely offers all Balinese hospitality. Yet, how can one not help when the Ashram magically invites one to its life. Preparing meals, Washing, helping in the kitchen, teaching English and joining in temple ceremonies as mentioned before are only a few ways to participate in the Balinese community life in Ashram Gandhi Puri.
The children were never tired of patiently answering my many questions about Bali, its culture and religion while also showing interest in my family, country and religion. Some of them also eloquently sang islamic hymns and songs which provided an amazing example of how travel encourages intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
After dinner, every night at 7:30 pm, the children start preparing for evening prayers within the Ashram temple. I often enjoyed joining them with chants of peaceful mantras and echoes of serene Sanskrit verses.
Om asato ma sad gamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
Mrityor ma amritam gamaya
Om shanti, shanti ,shanti
“ Om lead me from untruth to truth
Lead me from darkness to light
Lead me from mortality to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace”
04:30 Get up
05:00 Morning prayer and Gandhian thought session
08:30 Work duties, School / College class
12:00 Noon prayer / meditation
13:00 Free time / study
18:30 Evening prayer
23:00 Lights off
Figure 5 Ashram Gandhi Puri
Due to its tropical climate, clothing in Bali is often lightweight. The girls of the Ashram wore beautiful cotton blouses and sarong (a large piece of colourful material wrapped around the body like a skirt).
The boys and men also wore a kamen (sarong), which is wrapped in a different manner.
It is wrapped around their waist and then has a special fold in the front. Men also wear an udeng, which is a unique kind of head dress that comes in various colours and designs.
There are many customs that determine how traditional clothing should be worn in Bali and ceremonies are the best time to witness an array of beautifully designed traditional sarongs.The Balinese are thus well known for their delightful and colourful dress.
Bali- The Island
Bali is a natural bliss with many volcanoes, beautiful beaches and magnificent nature. It is a place where daily life, religion, art and landscape melt coherently. Perhaps the most famous region in Bali is Ubud. It is the major artisitic, touristic and cultural center of Bali .Some say that the town gets its name from the Balinese word Ubad meaning medicine as the town is a significant source of medicinal plants and herbs.
As Indra’s guest, many of his friends offered complimentary meals of delicious Balinese cuisine in their restaurants in Ubud as a form of hospitality. On one of my visits to a Balinese family who are friends of Indra living in Ubud, our conversations about Bali, its culture and history was decorated with beautiful Balinese music in the background. To help me reminisce on the sounds of serenity, I was gifted a CD by the local family.
Ubud is surrounded by most attractions Bali -- picturesque fields, small villages, art and craft merchants, ancient temples and palaces with a central location. There are many interesting and exciting things to do in Ubud .Shopping in Ubud was always a great experience. There were many stalls with wood carvings, batik shirts, sarongs, and all types of other mementos. My main souvenirs were statues of barong and ganesh, batik fans, flowers, paintings and fruits.
One afternoon, after some shopping in Ubud market, Agus (one of the older residents and supervisors in the Ashram) suggested we visit the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud.
When I went to purchase the ticket, the ticket office attendant told me to be “careful” with my bag . I didn’t get what it meant in the beginning but as soon as I entered I saw a woman laughing nervously and running to exit the park. Talking together, she tells me she is from Australia and her fiancé just left and she’s running for her life before the “monkey attack”. At this moment, 4 monkeys tug at my bag snatching it away and I understood what the ticket attendant was referring to. The Sacred Monkey Forest is truly a beautiful place for people mesmerized by nature and a sense of adventure!
Days in Bali and Ashram Gandhi Puri
Another day on my way home to the Ashram, we passed across a funeral procession in the street. I asked Indra about the ceremony (Funeral) and was told that Balinese people take special care in honouring their elders, their past and their deceased. It was easy to sensibly feel this atmosphere through the long and detailed funeral procession.
In addition, two very prominent characters of Hindu religion and culture that caught my attention are Barong and Ganesh. Their statues beautifully adorned many temples, streets and certainly the garden of my home in Ashram Gandhi Puri. As the children in the Ashram offered their services every morning and evening, the whole ashram was filled with an aroma of peace, love and service.
Although he is recognized by many other attributes, Ganesha's elephant head is his most distinguished feature. Ganesha is widely honored as the Remover of Obstacles and is regarded to be the Lord of learning, education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. He is thus the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. Another notable fact about Ganesha is his Vehicle, the mouse (Mooshika). According to one story, Lord Shiva once set a challenge to see which of his sons could circle the universe the fastest. The fast Kumari, god of war, set off to race around the universe as all; but Ganesh consulted his mouse, who told him to circle his parents and then tell them they were the universe.
Thus one prayer at Ashram Ghandi Puri that the children chant begins: "Om Sri Ganehsaya Namah!" "Hail to the Lord Ganesha”
Names in Bali
The naming process on the island of Bali is very exciting and unique. A child born in Bali will receive a name that is determined by their birth order. These names include:
• first-born: Wayan, Gede or Putu
• second-born: Made, Nengah or Kadek
• third-born: Nyoman or Koman
• fourth-born: Ketut
The fifth child born to a family will restart the naming sequence, therefore they will also be called Wayan, Gede or Putu. All names are used for both boys and girls and many of the children in the Ashram Ghandi Puri carried the names above!
During my visit to Bali , infront of my room in the Ashram and on a daily basis, the children placed a small basket filled with rice and flowers. These are small offering baskets called ‘canang sari ' that Balinese offer to their Gods to bring success , health and wealth. It is a duty and an honour at the
same time, and in Balinese perception a natural thing to maintain a good relationship between people and spirits.
The preparation of offerings is one of the many tasks undertaken by Balinese people and as such the amazing children of Ashram Gandhi Puri were no exception. The glowing warmth of their generosity and the beautiful scent of the flowers from Ashram Gandhi.
Puri still linger today!