Skip to main content

Lost and found altar


While gallivanting around the artists' village of Ubud, I learned that on April 14, the Balinese celebrate the birthday of Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge, who consorts with Brahma, the male aspect of the Creator. Saraswati has four slender arms and hands holding four gifts to her followers: an open flower upturned to face the sun symbolizing devotion, a traditional musical instrument symbolizing creativity, a string of prayer beads symbolizing meditation; and a lontar (a book in Balinese script, written entirely on palm leaves) symbolizing wisdom. She stands on a lotus, signifying the openness that is necessary for true learning and creativity. On her birthday, students bring their books and notebooks to the temples to be blessed. At home, people lay special offerings before their computers and bookshelves.

I hungrily and hastily cut her out of a local magazine, and I place her on my hidden altar, alongside Ganesh, Athena, Quan Yin, the Buddha, and St. Joan of Arc. Today I place fragrant flowers before them, floating in bowls of clear, cool water. I light candles and incense and bring them fruits and rice. My altar is no place in particular. It fits in the back pocket of the well-worn blue jeans of my mind, and there I carry it with me all the time. Sometimes I picture it in a hidden mountain cave with wet, glistening walls. Sometimes I picture it on a shelf in a small, white-washed house filled with yellow sunshine and reflected ripples from the sea. Most of the time I forget about it and I neglect my gods and my saints and the altar gets battered in the laundry whenever my filthy mind-jeans need washing. ('Washing', in Baguio parlance, is that final bottle of beer before everybody heads for their chosen beds at the end of a night of heavy, mixed drinking.)

So this is what Bali can do to me. It reminds me that I have gods, and that gods are everywhere, even in the heart of a scarred exotic theme park such as this island has become. Surely, Bali remains a mystical homeland for some of its people. I pray that this aspect of Bali remain hidden from the ruinous touch of the hungry ghosts of unknowing tourists such as myself.

Comments

10 years ago almost exactly to the day, i spent a summer with my dad in bali. it is still my favorite place in the world. reading your post reminded me of how wondrous it is, and how much i long to go back. -- lille
padma said…
Hi Lille! Selamat POGI! As your dad used to say. Oh no it was the other way around. In your dad's national language HE was greeted Selamat Pogi, and he replied Selamat Pangit! I just love that story about him.
the mad hatter said…
heya padma,
I loved, loved Bali too-- and I loved this entry about altars, gods and saints. just sharing.
peace,
Mads
padma said…
Hey Mads, Thank you! More sunshine to you!

Popular posts from this blog

Lola of Maipon

It's all too easy to fall asleep under the blanket of everyday life and to smother dreams with the mundane things I surround myself with. But once in a while, along comes a sparkling vision that jolts me out of my daily sleep and reminds me of the existence of convictions and worlds so different from my own. "Our beloved LOLA of Guinubatan, Maipon, Albay is the last true messenger of God. So, let us follow her holy teachings so that we will gain TRUE SALVATION without sufferings and without death." In another story I, the intrepid heroine, the adventurer seduced by mysteries, the pilgrim in search of truth, would follow them back to Guinubatan from Session Road, thirsting to see and hear their Lola for myself. However, it's all too easy -- much safer! -- to fall back asleep under the blanket of everyday life, and to smother dreams with the mundane things I surround myself with. Then along comes 9 a.m., and really, it's time to down the dregs of coffee at the bott

Cordillera Folktales and Story-telling

It was cold and wet outside on the day of the launching of The Golden Arrow of Mt. Makilkilang and other Cordillera Folktales . But inside Mt. Cloud Bookshop we were warmed by stories read and performed by the Aanak di Kabiligan community theater group. Storytelling on a stormy afternoon. Paco Paco. A Benguet story from the book, published by the Cordillera Green Network. Aanak di Kabiligan means children of the mountains. The theater group was born out of the Cordillera Green Network's eleven years of conducting workshops in which children transform their grandparents' stories into theater productions. Here they perform the title story of the Golden Arrow of Mt. Makilkilang and Other Cordillera Folktales.

Birds of Baguio and Benguet

The Little Boss and I went to see the Birds of Baguio and Benguet Photo Exhibit at the Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary . I carried her so she could see them up close and she pointed to each and every photo demanding, "What's that? What about that? What about this one?" I dutifully read out the name of every single bird featured in the exhibit: Scale-feathered Malkoha, Luzon Sunbird, Citrine Canary Flycatcher, and so on.We discussed the colors of their feathers and the shapes of their beaks. Some of the birds were already familiar to her. The crow and the shrike are frequent visitors in our garden. Shrike in the hands of the Artist-in-Residence, with the Little Boss' first hesitant touch. Taken October 2013. Once a young shrike in flight crashed into our picture window and lay on the ground, stunned. The Little Boss and the Artist-in-Residence held it lovingly in their hands and as soon as it pushed against their palms they gently released it. That was The Littl