The Bat Temple

I find bats intriguing rather than scary or freaky, and due to an incident in Central America years ago, I’ve had the rabies vaccinations, so unless it’s vampire bats, I’m good to go. This day was one of the most fun for me personally, of all the days we toured around Bali because it involved local people and bats: animal kingdom, and the kingdom of Hindu gods all together. But I’ll tell it in two parts.

We stopped at Pura Goa Lowah, or The Bat Temple on the rainiest of our touring days. Pura Goa Lowah is one of the nine Directional Temples of Balinese Hinduism. I recounted another of the Directional Temples, Pura Lempuyang, the White Temple a couple posts ago. This one was more lively in many ways. Instead of being away from everything up in the remote mountains, the Bat Temple is right on the main coastal highway between the largest city and the quaint village where we stayed. So it was more active, more popular and, as a result, more saturated with vendors.

Before we reached the entry stall, we were accosted by some sweet ladies who insisted on giving us necklaces. It would have been much like receiving a lei after stepping off a plane in Hawaii, but we knew it wasn’t that simple. It was a hook. Those sweet Bali mamas approached me and complimented my family over and over. One of them had a baby in tow. “Beautiful blond boys,” and “so happy you here in Bali” and all that. The one who introduced herself to me as Maday, was the most persistent of the group. She followed me from the parking lot to the entry station and managed to get beads over my 12-year old’s neck and my husband’s neck. I know this drill so I pushed her off a sixth and seventh time. “This is no string attached, I not ask you nothing, please take,” she pleaded. So now I am offending her if I don’t, right, but I know this is going to bite me in the end. She seemed happy once it was over my neck and finally gave us space to progress to the entrance and hire a guide. I turned around and noticed that Michelle and her family had also been hassled and are all wearing a set of the same necklaces. They’re rolling their eyes and gripping their belongings closely. It’s a little stressful if you aren’t used to the Asia-style hard sell.

Looking at the photo below, the three ladies got all of us that might have been big enough to make a purchasing decision. (My little guy was spared.)

On the way out they pulled out all the stops, guilting us for taking these necklaces and not buying any of their wares. “Why you not buy, it look so pretty on you. Take to your home with you for good luck.” I tried hard not to look at anything because then I knew I was sunk. “It’s for the baby!” she cooed. Meaning, ‘buy this so I can feed my child’. And that was a line that the eight of us lilted at each other for the rest of the trip. “It’s for the baby!”

After she told me all the prices of all her items, I explained that I had 9000 rupiah on me (about 75 cents). “No, you have 200,000, this one is 400,000, but I give you for half. You buy it so pretty I make it for you.” Then the kicker, “I give you this necklace for free (grabbing the thing around my neck) and I make it, now you buy this here.” I threatened to give it back to her and she pretended not to understand. We were back out to the parking lot several minutes after I emptied my wallet in front of her, so she could see I had no more than 9000. Of course I handed it to her. She gave me a bracelet in exchange and thanked me warmly before disappearing.

Now back inside the Bat temple:

We shook it off and followed our guide. He lead us to the main door and offered to take a photo of us in front of it. It was still raining almost in sheets.

 

 

 

Looks like something out of Indiana Jones, eh? It’s said the site was selected because the bats bring people’s worship closer to nature, urging respect for the natural world. It was built in the 11th Century from lava rock of the active volcanoes on the island.  Many of the offerings include fruit and flowers which (of course) encourages the bats to stay. (The offerings are for the gods, not for the bats.) There is large altar just outside the entrance to the cave, and another smaller one just inside. I asked if anything else lives in the cave. Pythons. They eat the bats. Our guide says he’s been in there, but not for long because the snakes get pretty big and there are lots of them. Which dredged up more visions of Indiana Jones.

But that’s not all. We were lucky visitors that day. There was a cremation ceremony about to begin, in the rain and everything.

Parasol bearer – the guy who leads processions in and out of the temple.

 

Attendees in formal dress

Our guide explained that cremation ceremonies are very expensive and a single family cannot afford it alone, so an entire village will gather once a month and hold a group ceremony, sharing the cost of the priest and and other services. Then each family brings an offering representing the deceased and presents is to the priest. One of the ceremonies I had read about and wanted to see in Bali was a cremation procession through town. I am intrigued with these aspects of culture, since they are so different from my own. I had heard that they wrap the deceased in white cloth (white is the death color) and place it on a large pyre then set it aflame and carry it as the whole village follows it through town. What a thing to witness, right?

The actual cremations had already happened for these deceased, probably sometime in the last month, but this was the final step and the vital one that sends the relative forward successfully into the next life.

Ladies dressed in lace and bright colors held tall offerings on their heads, each representing the deceased from their own family. One by one, they presented to the altar where the priest accepted and released the deceased on to the next life. Low rumbles of prayer floated through the wet air. A small group began singing dirges and laments. Women bearing bright, fresh offerings stood in a pack just inside the temple door, awaiting the priest’s bell. Sounds were low but people talked among themselves….

Ladies and offering baskets

 

Approaching the alter with her family’s offering in honor of the deceased relative.

Between the umbrellas and the bright clothes and the rain ponchos, it was a visual cacophony. I was completely absorbed! I love this sort of ceremony. I had forgotten how hard it was raining and my camera took a bit of moisture, but it was worth it to capture some of what was going on. These images would have been my dream images, if it had been dry and bright. One day, when I go back… but then it won’t be raining on a cremation ceremony, which seems too perfect in itself.

Priest about to receive offerings

 

Sweet onlooker

 

I guess it’s universal

 

Perhaps a widow, waiting for the priest to acknowledge her
 
I was going to write out more description of the sounds and activities, but then I remembered I have some video and it encapsulated the feeling pretty well. The video opens with the altars, cave entrance and people worshiping at the mouth of the cave. Listen for the bats. 
 

 
 

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