** The following is an excerpt taken from Just Unplug and Go… How Traveling the world Saved One Man’s Soul” by Stan Crossland II
Yes, you, too, can fly off to distant islands, visit revered grounds, partake in ancient customs—and have thoughts like the following travel through your mind:
I just mooned at least forty Indonesian families, all their ancestors since the beginning of time, and about three hundred Hindu gods while standing in thousand-year-old sacred Indonesian water gardens. Crap, my next twelve lifetimes are screwed.
At another point this dandy of a soliloquy ran screaming to the forefront of my cranium…
OMG, my sarong is gone. WTF—where is my sarong? It is floating away. I am now standing naked in a national shrine, providing small children, mothers, and grand- mothers a lunar eclipse in the middle of the afternoon! That’s it, I am going to Indonesian jail for indecent exposure and desecration of a national treasure.
Yep, see the world. Expand your horizons. Step out of your comfort zone.
And inadvertently draw the ire of multiple Hindu gods whose wrath will be brought down on your family for generations to come.
Ah, I love travel. Makes you realize embarrassment has no boundaries, prejudices, borders, or passport requirements! An equal opportunity enabler; all you have to do is wear a sheer sarong with no underwear to a holy spring and then bow under freezing cold fountainheads, carved to look like demons, a total of almost eighty times whilst wading in frigid waters barefoot, with little rocks jabbing away at your feet like reflexology ninjas.
Add in about 150 locals there to receive purification, blessings, and relief—well, what you get is a perfect way for yours truly to have a cultural experience that is at times comical, spiritual, magical, and delightful.
Let me explain the situation that brought about all these thoughts and feelings.
One of my favorite afternoons in Bali was when our new friend Matt took the gang out to see some of the sights in and around Ubud. Matt and his girl had been living on the island for a few months now, so they had gotten to know the lay of the land.
After taking us to several very neat sights—driving up into the mountains to see massive volcanoes, touring an Indonesian coffee farm, walking through a traditional hillside rice paddy farm—we finished the day at a sacred temple.
There were six of us in the minivan. A great crew of fun and funny people!
The grounds were constructed out of stone. As with everywhere in Bali, incredible carved statues abounded all over the property, ranging from two feet tall to forty feet tall.
When we first walked onto the grounds we were greeted by an enormous statue of a Hindu god, easily standing forty feet high with fantastic detailed features. The statue was impressive, imposing, elaborate, and detailed. Huge trees provided a cool canopy cover for all the tourists and locals. The place had a decent-sized crowd, but not too overwhelming.
We paid our nominal entry fee and went inside.
We first entered a huge courtyard lined with giant stone pavers and enclosed by ten-foot-tall stonewalls. There were a few shrines interspersed amidst the open space, each with a statue depicting some Hindu god surrounded by offerings, flowers, and burning incense.
As with most temples in Southeast Asia, while strolling the grounds we were ensconced in the scents of serenity. Flowers of every color were strewn about the grounds, offerings of beauty that combine with the smell of sage, lavender, and such to create a steady, reassuring calm.
From this area we then walked through a stone archway to the sacred water gar- dens. Families were everywhere. People were in the gardens, sitting cross-legged on stone plateaus, praying; kids were running around giggling…
Before I go any further, I think it’s a good idea to give you some history about the place. Not only will it help you understand the temple’s importance in Indonesian history and how it is set up, but I hope you find the story interesting too.
Tirta Empul temple is a Hindu Balinese water temple located near the town of Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia. The holy springs are located at Tempak Siring Temple.
Balinese people have come to this temple for more than a thousand years to bathe in the holy water for healing and spiritual merit. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu, another Hindu god named for the supreme consciousness, Narayana.
The temple compound consists of a petirtaan, or bathing structure, famous for its holy spring water, where Balinese Hindus go for ritual purification and healing.
The temple pond has a spring regularly supplying fresh water; the Balinese Hin- dus consider the water to be amritha, or holy.
Tirta Empul means Holy Spring in Balinese.
Tirta Empul Temple was founded around a large water spring in 962 AD during the Warmadewa dynasty (10th–14th centuries). The name of the temple comes from the ground water source, named Tirta Empul. The spring is the source of the Pakerisan River.
The Jaba Tengah is the most famous part of Tirta Empul temple. This section contains the two purification pools, or gardens. The water in the gardens is believed to have magical powers, and local Balinese come here to purify them- selves under the twenty-three fountainheads, elaborately carved from stone, that line the edge from east to west and feed the pools.
The main pool area is a long, rectangular pool carved of stone, filled with koi, and fed by the sacred spring via thirteen fountains, spouts, or showerheads. The other pool area is separated by a stonewall into two spaces: one with two more spouts, and then a pool area that contains six spouts.
After solemn prayers at an altar-like shrine, worshippers first make an offering at a different shrine. The offering is a small basket hand-woven from palms holding gifts such as flowers, oils, incense, and herbs. Then they enter the crystal-clear, cold mountain water to bathe and pray.
The water from the first spout is not to be touched as it is reserved for the gods alone. Spout 13 is meant for purification purposes in funerary rites, therefore also left alone. With hands pressed together, you bow under the gushing water of the second spout, perform the requisite prostrations, and carry on to the twelfth.
When you arrive at each spout, you are to lower your head underneath the water three times while praying to God, your parents, and your ancestors. Next, you are to fill your cupped hands and swallow some holy water three times. Each time praying for healing, a loved one, relief, and so on! Finish each sequence at each spout with a profession of thanks, as evidenced by kneeling under the fountain- head one more time.
The spouts/showerheads are not merely for cleansing the physical body, but also the spiritual body. Bali’s language has a deeply entrenched spiritual aspect; they call this process of external and internal cleansing ngelukat.
Each spout of the thirteen spouts in the first pool has an association with a color, certain physical and/or spiritual body parts, emotional states of being, and the like. The two spouts in the middle pool have to do with curses and oaths. The six spouts in the last pool are for either serious diseases or future life dreams.
The myth behind the curative and purifying spring tells of a Balinese ruler, known as Mayadenawa, who defied the influence of Hinduism and denied his subjects religious prayers/practices. The legend goes that this eventually angered the gods, and in a war campaign, god Indra sought Mayadenawa’s subdual.
The hide-and-seek tactics of Mayadenawa fleeing Indra’s troops occurred at var- ious places all over the region, from the rivers Petanu to Pakerisan, and up to the north of Tampaksiring.
Hence, the names of the sites and natural features all reflect an episode from the tale, such as Tampaksiring—tampak meaning “feet,” and siring meaning “side- ways,” depicting an episode when the fleeing king left his footprints up the hill.
It was here that through his magical powers Mayadenawa created a poisoned spring from which Indra’s exhausted troops drank and succumbed. Indra noticed the dire condition of his men and thrust his staff into the ground where a holy purifying spring spurted out, curing the troops—even bringing some of them back to life.
This escapade became the legendary background to the holy spring of Tirta Empul, as well as the holy days of Galungan and Kuningan, celebrated by the Balinese Hindus.
Okay, now you understand where we are, what the history and the meaning of the place is, and why it is so sacrosanct.
With almost all temples in Asia, you must bring a sarong to cover certain body parts. As always, women must cover more areas than men, Matt had told us. We needed to bring our own or we could rent one there.
Not realizing exactly where we were going or what we would be doing, I assumed we would either need to wrap the sarong around our shoulders or wear it around our waists as we toured the site. I did not know we would be going into water.
Thus, due to the fact that it was a thousand degrees out, I grabbed a sarong I bought that was extremely lightweight and sheer, more suited for covering your mouth in dusty areas or as a scarf on breezy nights. Plus, I loved the colors.
It was not necessarily made for adequate screening of body parts in a public setting.
Also, I have a confession to make. I gave up wearing underwear. It was too annoying, took up too much space, and it was too hot in Asia to bother.
Well, turns out we were all going to throw our clothes in a locker and wade into Indonesian waters, both in a figurative and literal sense. We all changed, strapped on our sarongs, and gathered by the water’s edge. As we were trying to absorb the scene, a local man approached us and asked if we would like an explanation of what to do.
He proceeded to relate what I have already described as far as the required intentions with which we approach each fountainhead, the relevant prostrations we must perform, the recipients of our prayers, the types of prayers, and what-not.
It was great. He made us all feel welcome and excited to participate in a ceremonial process dating back centuries. Fully informed travelers now, each person gently slid down into the water.
First thought jumping forth:
Holy shiiiitttee… This water is cold. I mean frigid. And we have to stand in line behind every fountain while waiting for about fifteen people to do their part? You mean I have to dunk my head under these spouts flowing with frigid waters some seventy times? Sweet Jesus, is this a Navy SEAL initiation ceremony? We are going to be in this water for an hour!
Second thought emerging from the depths:
OMG, my sarong is merely a thin veil. Even wrapped around me twice, now that it is wet, the…veil…is…lifted! My sausage, despite all my hopes, is most probably not going to be looked upon as a deity by these fine people.
Third thought rampaging forward:
Well, it’s so damn cold in here, there most assuredly won’t be much to see!
With every step I took toward the fountain, my sarong wanted to float to the surface. Before I even got to the first fountain, I realized the next hour would be an anxiety-riddled ride as I tried to avoid being locked up for desecration of holy lands.
This meant, as best as possible, I had to keep the sarong pressed between my knees while I performed any prostrations or moved to the next fountainhead.
However, as mentioned above, the floor of the water garden was a bed of small rocks rounded to various degrees of smoothness. I guess the idea is while you are being purified, you may as well receive foot reflexology treatment. This makes the journey from one fountain to the back of the line in front of the next fountain a tricky proposition.
The first time you perform all the rituals at the fountainhead, you are trying to make sure you do it all right. You are acclimating to each frozen dunk under the fountain, then figuring out how much water to ingest, and finally initiating your last bow. Then you secure your sarong and carry on.
Recall, you basically have seven physical steps/actions to follow that coincide with a supposed mental and/or spiritual step. The water is freezing, there are nine people behind you waiting and you have to do this same process for another twenty- one fountainheads.
At the end I genuflected under the fountain, which released my sarong from captivity between my legs, and it aimlessly floated toward heaven. Quickly I secured it and shoved it back between my knees.
I moved to the second fountainhead. As I gingerly stepped across the rocky floor of the garden, I thought:
Whose brilliant idea was this? These rocks on the bottom feel as if the gods are trying to extract valuable intel from me. Every step unleashes an internal debate as to which is worse, the pain or the cold.
I think it was while in front of the third fountainhead, when bending to one knee for the last part of the process, a koi fish brushed my inner thigh. I said to myself, Brings a whole new meaning to the term “fresh fish”! Now where the fuck is my sarong?
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I started to accept the circumstances, manage my sarong as best as possible, and give myself over to the experience.
I embraced everything: the atmosphere, environment, and historical significance the sacred gardens offered, earnestly devoting my thoughts, emotions, and prayers to friends, family, and future.
I altered my focus to the beauty of the surrounding grounds, the joy I saw in so many of the locals, the spectrum of age groups in the waters, the reverence dis- played by the people in attendance—and in doing so the entire adventure became more profound.
When you take the time to thank your parents for all they have done, to thank your friends and family for all they have given, to offer up heartfelt positive wishes for their lives, to thank God/the Universe for all you have been given in this life, to ask for blessings to be bestowed upon the people you love along with your own life, to appreciate how special the moment you are living, you can’t help but be transformed.
By the time we were done, I felt vibrant. Alive. Humble. Buoyant. Joyful. Every- one in our crew was ecstatic. We smiled, hugged, and laughed at our good fortune for having participated in such a unique cultural endeavor.
We went back to the lockers, grabbed our clothes, and changed. As we were exit- ing the locker area, the man who explained the process to follow approached Matt and asked for a “contribution.”
“Ah, Asia, nothing comes without a string attached, even at a holy site!”
We all pitched in. It was the proper move, and he did make our experience terrific!
Some of the ladies wanted to hit up the shops, and others wanted to saunter the grounds for a bit. I went around to the backside of the temple for picture taking and happened upon a monk giving a talk to a large group of pupils. While neat to see, unfortunately, I could not understand a word.
After a half hour I began making my way back to the van. As I was walking out of the compound, a lovely elderly lady dressed in all white struck up a conversation. She was from the city Katu, visiting with a group of friends. Her English was decent. We chatted about where I was from, if I liked the shrine, and if I had enjoyed my time in Bali. It was nice small talk.
I saw Matt approaching us from the parking lot and said, “Hey, brotha!”
Now, you have to understand, Matt is about six feet, two inches tall. He has a full beard. A sizeable, stocky dude!
The lady turned to me and asked, “Is this your girlfriend?”
Matt and I looked at each other, paused for a second, and simultaneously burst out with laughter.
“If it is, he needs a shave and I need to see an eye doctor!”
Without missing a beat Matt retorted, “And I need to spend a lot of time with a psychologist!”
Now, whenever Matt sends me a message, he includes the tagline “Your girlfriend without benefits…”
Can’t make this stuff up.