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We sat beneath the blissful breeze of ceiling fans, in the open-air pavilion of a charming Ubud restaurant called Red Rice, munching crunchy shrimp chips dipped in pungent pepper pastes. Our guide, Sudi, was explaining the significance of tonight's full moon festivities while our eyes watered appreciatively, producing spice-induced visions at our candle-lit gourmet feast.

After a sweet cool-down of coconut ice cream, Sudi dressed us in traditional batik sarong, white jackets and head bands. Adding a fresh-picked, fragrant plumeria blossom behind our ears, he completed our transformation and we were ready to journey forth into an evening of magic and mystery.

The Balinese, ever attentive to maintain harmony between man, nature, and the gods, follow a 210-day calendar of ritual observance. This night was purnama, the full moon, and villagers dressed in traditional finery to parade colorful, artistic offerings to their temples.

While every community temple is the site of devotions during the full moon, once during each calendar cycle, the ondalan (anniversary date of a temple) is celebrated. Offerings on this night are especially significant and may include the presentation of sacred trance dances or wayan kulit (shadow puppetry).

Our van pulled up alongside a towering gateway, split down the center as if sundered by one of the fierce, knife-wielding demi-gods who guarded the entrance. We climbed a bank of stairs to the temple's inner sanctum, awestruck as the glowing moon ascended above the courtyard, bathing surreal carved spires and towering altars in slowly shifting shadows.

Sudi conducted us to the main shrine, dedicated to the universal being who stood, balanced on one leg, with flames bursting from each joint of his golden body. We followed Sudi's lead and knelt down to light sticks of incense and offer simple flower blossoms in quiet contemplation. A wizened priest, his flowing white hair wound up into a towering turban, approached with a vessel of silvery holy water and anointed us with blessings at this auspicious conjunction of the rhythms of life.

As we raised our heads, the rising moon illuminated the oval face of an enormous bronze drum raised into the sky on a tower embellished with exquisitely crafted offerings. Sudi explained the otherworldly origins of this ancient holy object, the largest single-piece cast bronze drum in the world, more than a millennium old.

Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Pejeng, a strange moon dropped from the skies. It settled into the branches of a tree above a gang of thieves who were about to rob the palace. The glare from the shimmering orb threatened to expose their evil deeds, so they began to urinate on the moon to douse its light.

Big mistake. The moon exploded, killing the thieves, and an alien relic, this strange hourglass-shaped drum, dropped to the ground with a thundering boom. Since that day, it has been displayed on the grounds of this temple, and referred to ever after as The Moon of Pejeng.

As we wandered the grounds of the temple, we encountered groups of village men who were busy preparing sacred offerings such as a rocket-shaped pagoda decorated entirely with a mosaic of pork satay, strips of white fat, and firey red chiles. There were pavilions stacked with fanciful sculptures made from colored dough and rice paste. Banners of meticulously carved palm fronds and blossom-adorned weavings fluttered under strings of bare light bulbs. Sudi explained the significance of the colored cloths draped down the down each altar, celebrating the pantheon of Hindu deities.

As we finished our tour, the moon had climbed directly above us so that all shadows vanished for one perfect moment and everything was bathed in the startling clarity of perfection.

It was a remarkable evening and an unforgettable glimpse into a culture which still attends to the cycles of the universe and honors the magical origins of its past.


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