As I drove from the north into the village of Batur, which lies on the rim of the great crater from the depths of which the mountain Gunung Batur soars like a mighty cone into the skies, there were police officers running helter-skelter, park guards blowing their whistles agitatedly, souvenir sellers calling out to customers, Bakso sellers offering their meatballs or tempting customers with the special aroma of their soup – and, everywhere, there were people dressed in festive costumes either carrying big bouquets of flowers, balancing trays of incense, or straining their limbs to clamber onto the rear platforms of trucks or to get out of the backseats of cars with darkened windows. Serendipitiously, I found a parking spot right in the middle of this festive chaos. I got out and got myself a sarong which every temple visitor must wear, and entered the complex.
Inside the walls ruled a silence that is typical of a landscape that has just been swept by a storm – to me it seemed as though the water was still dripping from the stones and trees. The altars were filled with offerings, mostly flowers and handcrafted ornaments made of palm-leaf, little wicker baskets, fruits, and eggs. The floor, too, was cluttered: with artistic stars made of raffia, fans fashioned out of banana-leaves, blooms and incense sticks. Everything seemed to be laid out with care, placed atop each other with thoughtfulness – but the pigeons and ravens seemed not to care a whit, they flitted around and scrambled the order of the offerings and scattered them all over the place. The echo of their cries reverberated between the walls of the various temples. A couple of priests sat on small stools, reading newspapers and drawing on their cigarettes in bored fashion. Now and then, mist would descend from the crater floor and drift over the complex, momentarily causing the pagoda spires with their black, raftered roofs to disappear into the grey of the sky. Eventually, a few children came in and began to gather up the offerings strewn across the floor. The festival was over, the gods had left the place.
Faith means also to be at the right place at the right time – and thus to see things in the way they are meant to be seen. And to appear as one should: freshly washed, finely clothed, refreshed, beautiful.
I stepped out of the temple precinct a while later to find my car standing all alone in the street – surrounded by flower petals, coconut fibres, and remnants of other temple offerings that the wind had blown through the air.
First Publication: 26-12-2013