As I dunk my head under the icy cold sacred water, I cup my hands and splash it in my face three times before going under again.
Following the locals around me, I close my eyes and say a quick mantra before splashing the spring water over me one final time from each of the spouts found within the temple’s ancient pool.
“I wash away all that does not serve me.”
I’m standing waist deep in an very old stone pool of holy water behind a young Balinese family cueing single file in the pool. We are all waiting for our turns amongst a large crowd of people to bathe under the next of the 15 sacred fountains. The air tastes sweet with rich incense filling the sky around the temple as plumes of exotically perfumed smoke seem to engulf the pool from above.Thevibrantly coloured decorations and offerings throughout the temple slowly become only barely visible through the haze.
Tirta Empul Pools
Photo credits: Heath Werret
This was my first visit to Bali’s Water Spring Temple known as ‘Tirta Empul’ to join thousands of Balinese as they arrived during full moon to participate in a cleansing ritual under the holy spring water believed by locals to have mystical purifying powers. The unique Hindu-Buddhist culture of Bali has been carrying out these cleansing ceremonies as a part of their rich culture for over one thousand years at sacred sites like this temple which was built in 962 A.D.
Ganges River, India
Photo credits: Flickr – Maria Showfer
Most religions and cultures around the world have forms of cleansing rituals and many commonly involve water. Christians commonly use water to baptise, Hindu’s regularly bathe in the holy Ganges River, and it is a regular Islamic custom to practice ablutions to cleanse the body prior to worship. What is it about water and the importance of these cleansing rituals that make them so sacred and valued to these cultures?
I decided to ask Ketut Mustika a local Balinese driver on the island about what the importance of water was to his culture.
“Water is life-blood,” he answered simply.
Melasti Ceremony on Bali’s beaches.
Photo credits: Widnyana Sudibya – Flickr
Ketut also spoke of the Melasti Ceremony which occurs at beaches or near water prior to celebrations of Balinese new year known as ‘Nyepi’ held in March, where locals gather in a day of silence in reverence to the spirit world.
Shervin Boloorian is a musician, healer and sound and colour therapist who lives in Ubud, Bali and has experience with these local customs.
“Being in Bali, we are surrounded by little waterways, rivers and the ocean.
It feels alive here with so many of the elements represented, water being one of the key ones,” he said.
Shervin said he believed the island was a place to reconnect with harmony and more people were finding their spiritual practices intensified in a place and culture such as Bali’s.
“Ive been part of the rituals at Tirta Empul, which is a very beautiful temple. The water is very cold but it’s a magical place.”
Ketut said cleansing and ceremonies like Melasti were extremely important to Balinese people. He explained how during the Melasti ritual, villagers would carry their local temple’s sacred artefacts down to the beach with the whole community.
“A monk will take salt water from the ocean to be blessed by a high priest before using a frangipani to splash holy water purify the objects and villagers,” said Ketut.
Shervin said it was almost impossible to avoid any kind of holy ceremonial activity in Bali without the inclusion of water.
“No matter what their faiths, people tell me they are very moved.”
I had arrived earlier that morning to beat most of the crowds to Tirta Empul and now finally, it was my turn. The cold water from the fountain running over my head feels immensely pleasurable, bringing instant gratification from the muggy jungle climate. Wiping my wet face with my hand, I throw my hair back, smiling at the people in the cue behind me. I felt lighter, awake and cheerful but wondered whether my mind was just making the sensation up. Unsure whether any of my psychic baggage had actually been lifted, I decided to speak to an expert who could shed some light on my experience.
Patrick Jones is a clinical psychologist with a degree in theology who operates as a well-being expert at a local Perth ashram. The psychologist said if a person participated in a cognitive event of surrender like that experienced at Tirta Empul, then the experience could result or assist in the release of mental, emotional and physical blockages held in the body. Patrick discussed how people could use psychological projection onto a neutral object such as water to externalise negative thoughts and feelings.
“This can result in purging of the negative feelings felt internally.”
He also mentioned the beneficial impact of the Placebo effect which has been proven to result in a reduction of symptoms. Patrick said people in Perth and other western cultures did not have established processes to actively clear energy but also explained many outdoor activities or things like exercise and laughter could also achieve a purifying effect psychologically.
Being a part of that cleansing ritual at Tirta Empul would always be a memorable experience for me. It could have been my mind projecting negative debris into the water or just a simple placebo effect. Perhaps water or salt really did possess some mystical purifying ability. When I thought about how I had felt during the ritual and the value people I spoke with had placed on their experiences, I couldn’t help but wonder if it really mattered.
Maybe I will see you down at the beach next full moon for a swim.