The fire ceremony

Mar 05, 2020

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Three priests arrived and sat on their small benches. They disposed their paraphernalia – oil lamps, offerings, and bells in a small, brass round table. Suardika came with collars made of flowers and distributed them to the crowd. Afterwards the high-priest (Ida Mpu) came with his wife and occupied a higher armchair. He was wearing an orange mantle over his white clothes, and a small, black, walking stick. While the others had their heads covered with a white head dress, and the lay local men wore white udengs, he was the only one with an agelung, a circle of hair on top of the head.

The Mpu was distributing some palm leaf ribbons for the attendants’ heads. People started cueing and he tied the ribbons up and blessed them.

By that time, Jesús was feeling too hot and stung by mosquitoes and was wishing for the whole thing to terminate fast – it didn’t.

He attempted a few shots, cautiously not to stand above the high-priest. Then, the chanting and prayers started. First, the pemangkus (Balinese Hindu Priests) seemed to be blessing the place and the fire itself. Afterwards, all the crowd chanted as well, led by one pemangku at the time, often encompassed by the ringing of a little bell. Every now and then, the chanting stopped and people threw a bit of rice or flowers to the pit, making the fire brighter. Jesús wondered how they knew the “lyrics”… Anyway, he tried to memorise some sounds, so he’d be able to be ready and shoot when they did the throwing thing.

The Mpu did nothing but following the crowd on singing. He was a big, tall man, probably in his fifties, who seemed happy with life and himself. Jesús tried to understand his role on the whole ceremony, as he scratched his legs and arms. Why didn’t he bring repellent?!

After maybe more than an hour, the chanting changed tone – the ceremony was finally finishing. The Mpu slowly lifted himself from the chair and blessed the crowd with a small speech, translated by Suardika. At first he welcomed all guests present, wished the ceremony to be effective, on releasing tensions and problems, and then came up with an illustration:

– The way to tame an elephant is to make the elephant forget he’s an elephant. Isolating him from the mother, his peers, and then, focusing his attention on the fear (and reward) from the mahout, rather than on his own strength. An elephant conscious of his own strength is impossible to tame. Don’t be the tamed elephant. Otherwise you may spend the rest of your life in chains, carrying wood logs.

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