Melukat in Bali, Truly Coming Back to Nature

Submitted by mumunmumun on 18 April 2020   •  Destination   •  Bali

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“It doesn’t matter if anybody reads it, it’s a documentation of my journey,” a friend said across the table one day about blogging these days. I’m instantly reminded of why I like blogging a lot; it’s my online travel journal that happens to be public. I’ve had a strong urge to blog, as I said to Vira, but have lacking the will and not sure where to start. After meeting this friend, I was triggered and decided my experience in melukat in Bali needed to be noted, at least, for myself. It was such a memorable experience, mostly because I was consciously aware of walking in the steps of another belief system.

Melukat in Bali
A high Hindu Balinese priest blessing in a melukat ceremony

 

What is melukat?

Melukat is a Balinese tradition simply put as cleansing oneself. It’s a quite popular ceremony. Possibly the most popular pictures of melukat are those bathing in a water source at Tirta Empul. It’s believed to clean oneself of sins, bad aura, and dark forces, one of the reasons being it has to be done at the few sacred water sources in Bali. It is also a ritual where one can pray for a certain purpose. I personally had no specific reason other than curiosity. Being a Muslim, I have had little exposure of religion related to nature. I have also wondered how the Balinese maintained their pristine environment other than believing in karma.

Melukat is known to be open for all who seek to clean themselves and my friends are accustomed to it. My experience was guided by Asa and Shinta, who’ve spen almost all of their lives in Bali. They specifically had a favorite spot for melukat and were willing to take me there. Genah Melukat Sebatu, hidden within the lush green forest of Tegalalang. I was nervous because I didn’t speak or know any Balinese Hindu chants. However, Asa and Shinta assured me, praying with any language will do, as long as your heart is in the right place.

Melukat in Bali
First shrine to pray in

Here’s how I experienced melukat

The ritual requires canangs, spesific coins, wearing kamen (sarongs) and other attributes that can be purchased at the gate of the waterfall. Because Balinese people believe in karma, as do I, we got everything needed. What’s most important, I think, is to be whole-heartedly because I don’t want to disrespect any spirits or entities. I knew, for a day, I was to believe in something else. And for a day, there was no content making, very little documentation, because honestly who has the time to hold a phone if you have everything you need to grant your wishes in your hands.

Coins for the 'melukat' ritual
Coins for the ‘melukat’ ritual

I was captivated since the first prayer; asking permission to the Gods. It was one of the most serene feelings I’ve felt. I sat in front of the rock shrine, legs folded underneath me. Closing my eyes, I smelled burned incense that we brought in. All around, I heard the sound of gushing water, birds singing, and leaves fluttering because of the wind. With it, I asked the Gods that I would be allowed to continue with the ritual. It felt weird in the beginning, not knowing what entity I’m ask exactly, but with all the senses working I’m assured that earthlings weren’t then only living presence. Surrendering and talking to nature was such a peaceful experience. Once I opened my eyes and looked up to the leaves above, I felt very welcomed. I might as well have made this up in my head but the feeling was no less real.

There was another shrine where I prayed and casted the purpose that I wanted. I don’t really remember what it was, honestly, but I think it was something like I wish for the experience to be a pleasant one. I don’t wanna be a brat at my first melukat, right?

By the time we got to the sacred mini waterfall, there was a local ritual leader, pedande, that was leading a family through the ceremony. We paid attention to what he did. Asa assured me that it was the way to do it and so we followed. We dipped into the shallow pool on the base of a waterfall. The water pool was about a meter high and we could see our toes underwater. We then followed his ritual exactly, three dips here, three dips there, and eventually just washing everything off. Before going home, we prayed once more at the last shrine, had rice stuck on our forehead and holy water splashed on us.

A local family doing melukat in Bali
A local family doing melukat in Bali

Afterwards, I felt happy and peaceful. I can’t really say why, it just did. Perhaps melukat, in its bare minimum version, has taught me that coming close to nature brings a sense of serenity. And it felt as if nature was OK with me. Again, this could all be in my head, but isn’t that what prayers do?

 

Melukat might be different in different places

A few months later, I had the privilege to do another melukat experience but this time taking Thai guests on a work thing. The experience was a full-on ritual with a ritual leader at Taman Tirtagangga in Karangasem. It’s a retreat home for the local king, within it a sacred water source. For me, I felt less connected to nature in this ceremony probably because I was on the job and there were people vacating in the park not far from the water source. However, the leader and his helpers were no less serious in the ritual, I’m guessing because they really can’t joke about anything to do with rituals, and I was very honored. Water was only splashed on us, not entirely bathed us but I felt cleansed nonetheless.

Participating in melukat in Bali
Participating in melukat in Bali

 

My take on melukat

The experience made me think much about the rituals of my own religion, which I feel, lack the connection with nature. I can’t help the feeling that it’s something that I needed to feel on a regular basis. I’ve ventured into nature but never this aware of connecting and thanking everything around me, and definitely never came out drenched. I’ve experienced tadabur (equivalent ceremony in Islam), but it didn’t work for me. However, I might have been too young to understand. I should probably try it again, but in the meantime, I’m very willing to repeat melukat in Bali.

Can you try melukat in Bali?

Commercially, this experience is available with tour agents and trip organizers. You can read more here. So, if you’re not sure how to experience it, there are people that can help you. I do have to remind you though, local people really do this as a ritual in their lives. Blocking their path or slowing them down just to make photos, as I have seen, is a disrespectful gesture. Please take pictures either after all the rituals, outside of the holy spots, or if you have somebody that can take it candidly.

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