Below video & photographic documentary shows Dutch Bali adepts Hans Smeekes & Fifi who went on a tour to Goa Giri Putri in February 2009. Videos, texts and photographs by Hans Smeekes.
After arriving on Nusa Penida our first aim is the famous cave. Our driver Seta, born on the island, is our driver and perfect guide. The road follows the coast. We pass beaches with rows of parked white fisherman's boats, with the characteristic poles at both sides, so they look like spiders. Men and women are until the their waist in the sea, looking for seaweed. We pass orange trees. Seta puts our attention to those trees. And to the friendly brown cows. ‘They look like deer,’ says Fifi, because of their cosy appearance.
Seta is really doing his best to explain everything, that is really an effort for him, because he doesn’t speak English so well. But with “hands and feet” and some helping and understanding from our side it is working out quite well. So in this way he is pointing out to the trees along the road, of which the leaves are being used as food for the cows. The car makes squeaking noises on the bumpy road. Here and there some small houses, where friendly people are waving and laughing at us, accompanied by many “hellos”. We are going in the east direction. According the small map the cave should be near the village Suana. Now and then Seta stops when he sees an old friend. It looks like he knows everyone on the island. In a joking way I say: ‘ You are very popular.’ He laughs.
But we feel it as a good introduction for the unknown island for us. To be guided by someone who knows. From one bay to the other I all the time think that we are arriving at the cave, but it never is, in the meantime many other temples having passed, in a beautiful scenery: the white limestone in contrast with the turquoise sea and blue sky. Suddenly we are there. We are confronted with the fact we have to go up many steps. ‘This I really didn’t know,’ I am excusing to Fifi, because climbing steps is not her thing.
It is a tough thing to do, specially because the lower steps are of a size which is not normal. Strange, I would say, because Balinese people are also not so big. But they are used to it, I think. And are sometimes just like monkeys. Fifi is very brave and arriving on the top of the high cliff she is rewarded by a tremendous view. At the other side of the water: Bali. The contours of the majestic Gunung Agung are clearly visible. Passing the split gate we enter a temple. We are welcomed by the “mangku”. I have the impression that Seta and he know each other very well. They behave like friends.
Immediately we start with the ritual of the offering. Apparently this has to be done first. Seta points out to sit on the floor next to him, besides a beautifully shaped frangipani-tree with the altar in front of us. Left from me only rock, wondering if we are here really close to the cave, because I cannot discover it. Seta shows us what we have to do. We copy precisely what he is doing and we really feel like good Hindus when we are sitting with both hands folded in the air holding up the small flowers.
After that the “mangku” blesses us with the holy water. He enjoys to make me almost completely wet. While I am trying to protect my cameras with both hands. When the ceremony is finished, Seta notices me watching around, my eyes looking for the cave. He nods in the direction of a small black hole in the rock. It is the entrance of the cave. And then I also see the name on the shrine next to it: Linggih Hyang Giri Putri. He invites us to go inside. Fifi is not going, that’s too much for her. I follow Seta through the small hole. Behind us the young man, he just was talking with. Also a friend I think.
I have to make me very small to get me trough the hole. It is that I trust Seta, otherwise I also might not have done it. Because it is quite scaring. It is like you go back in the womb of your mother again. And you don’t know what to expect. During several meters we have go on hands and feet. Then coming out in a big hall. Maybe 20 or 30 meters wide, maybe on some places more. It is difficult to see, because of the darkness. And the length, I can only say it is long. Maybe hundreds of meters. I go very carefully, because the floor is slippery and goes up and dow. Because of the scarcely lighted environment it is already difficult to see around, but the humidity of the place makes it extra. In no time the glasses of my spectacles are wet, so I can hardly see the floor under me. Because I am a passionate film maker and photographer I continue with that just on my feeling. Hoping that at least I can catch something of the mystical atmosphere.
Seta and his friend, walking in front of me, are continuously keeping an eye upon me. And stop now and then to stay close. Here and there we pass shrines with statues, scarcely lighted. Seta mention the names: the Linggih Ida Hyang Tri Purusa and the Linggih Ida Hyang Basuki. Basuki is on of the two nagas, always circling around the turtle Bedawang Nala, bearer or the cosmos and to be seen in each temple on Bali holding the padmasana. I think here honoured because of the history with the king of Nusa Penida. The king Dalem Dukut got defeated by the weapon with the tooth of Basuki. It is part of the famous legendary story of Nusa Penida.
From far the always pleasant sound of the bell of a priest is reaching my ears. Reaching the spot I see some people in white clothes sitting on the floor. A “mangku”, of course also in completely white, is leading the service. In front of them some statues in mysterious light. Here Ida Hyang Giri Pati is worshipped. On the other side a statue. Main colour: Sky blue. For a moment I must think of statue of the Holy Mary. It appears to be Ida Hyang Dewi Gangga.
Some meters from that “Maria” statue an iron staircase. It seems to lead to the temple upstairs. I ask Seta if I am allowed to go here. Because you never know. I always want to respect the Bali habits. He asks his friend. It is possible if I undo myself from my sandals. That is for me an extra handicap because in fact I am handicapped on my right foot, as result of breaking it some years ago. And I have to overcome my fear of heights. But my curiosity wins. But it is not easy, because the ladder is moving climbing it up and I have only one hand free, because in the other I hold my video camera, while the photo camera is wobbling on my breast.
The steps are feeling raw under my soft feet. It feels like a pilgrimage, you have to conquer some difficulties to reach the holy place. When I arrive on the top I step over from a raw surface to a cold slippery surface. I have difficulties to stand up and hold me straight and going. Under me I see the people still praying with the priest. I pass a shrine and I discover a corridor, which apparently leads to something. Holding myself to the bending rock wall to keep me straight and going I arrive at a place with some shrines. With the well known black meru roofs. It is the Linggih Ida Hyang Giri Putri. The most important of all the gods here in the cave. I did not know that, but I feel great having followed my inner feeling.
On the moment I arrive downstairs again I see all the people go up to their feet and go in the direction of the scary iron staircase. And indeed they all go up. Including some small children in the arms of one of the parents. In my sandals again Seta asks me if I want to go more far. ‘There is more? ‘ is my surprising reaction. So we continue in the direction of the backside of the immense cave. Soon there is a light coming up, that becomes bigger and bigger. It is the light of the sun. We are reaching daylight. Coming through the opening on the backside. Closed by an iron fence. On the right the last series of shrines. I immediately distinguish the statue of Kwan Jin. I say to Seta: ‘Chinese.’
With asking eyes he looks at his friend. He confirms it by saying; ‘ Kwan Jin.’ Remarkable because in fact Kwan Jin is from the Buddhist tradition. She represents the bodhisattva of compassion. Here her name is written as Dewi Kwan Im! But that is really Bali. Buddhism and Bali Hinduism (the bali people never speak of Hinduism, they call their religion the Shiwa Buddha religion) are being considered as two branches on the same tree. On the other shrines I read the the names of Ida Hyang Siwa Amertha, Sri Sedana, Ratu Manik, Mas Melanting and Ratu Sahbandar. I long for to be in the daylight and Seta opens the fence. For a moment it is too much. Every Bali visitor knows the light is already so light. We are standing in fact on a kind of balcony. View over the valley below. It looks very dry. People are searching for stones in what once was a river. And the I come up on the idea that it should be well to go back. I was forgetting time completely and Fifi is waiting.
When I worked myself out of the hole again, my first question was: ‘Have I been away for a long time?’