From Samsara to Serenity: Experiencing the Soul of Karangasem
upskill Udayana's Excursion Postgraduate of Tropical Coastal Ecology and Community-Based Management Winter Semester 2023
Our 11th December 2023 excursion to Karangasem in East Bali was not simply a field trip; it was a sensory explosion, a mind-bending journey through the beating heart of Balinese culture just the perfect way to close our second postgraduate winter semester of Tropical Coastal Ecology and Community-Based Management.
Our upskill team and students arrived at the Samsara Living Museum at 9:40 AM, after a 2 hour drive. We were welcomed and provided sarongs and Udeng as it is a requirement to be able to enter the Museum. Our excursion began with the first exhibition in the museum showcases women pounding grains of rice with a tool called “Alu”, which is the pestle. The concept of the pounding is to form a rhythm in the pounding that results in beautiful melodious sounds. There is a much deeper meaning to the rhythm; it is a symbol of unity or togetherness in the relationship of God and humans, humans to humans, and others, which is a philosophy of Balinese life called “Tri Hita Karana”. Our students were enthusiastic and immediately eager to participate in the pounding of grain of rice, forming beautiful beats and melodies. This activity was a great beginning to the tour as it represents one of the many ancient traditions that is still carried upon to some villages in Bali, especially in Karangasem.
After the cheerful introduction of the Ngoncang Tradition, were were offered some snacks called “Lak Lak” which resembles little pancakes topped with grated coconuts and melted palm sugar, and drinks called “arak”, an alcoholic liquor that is distilled from the sap of coconut palm or from the rice, produced in the Samsara Living Museum. The Arak is not only offered for drinks, it often is served for offerings in religious ritual ceremonies. We all enjoyed the refreshments and the fresh, delicious Lak Lak which are cooked in the traditional wood fire.
While indulging ourselves in delicious snacks and drinks, we were introduced to the history and concept of the Living Museum. Karangasem has the lowest economic impact in all of Bali. It is the quietest area of Bali as most of the population, especially the younger generations have migrated to the city. What is left in the village are the traditional Balinese people. In Samsara, they employ all local staff, to improve the economic impact, as well as to preserve the Balinese culture, especially sharing knowledge about the Balinese stages of life. At the current moment, they discuss the comparison between the touristy aspects of Bali as well as the original way of life of Balinese in Karangasem.
The next exhibition showcased different visuals and some physical tools and offerings associated with the particular ceremonies from pregnancy, childbirth, life to death and reincarnation and rebirth. Samsara is the stages of life or existence of cycle in Balinese lifes that are characterized by various ceremonies and traditional rituals. They were introduced to the many stages of ceremonies of their point of life including “”Magedong-gedongan”, a ceremony performed when the baby is still in the womb, to “Atma Wedana”, an outcome of ceremonial events that are held after a Cremation procession is held.
We had the chance to experience a glimpse of Balinese traditional living as well as delving further into the cycle of ritual life from pregnancy until death, then the possibility of merging with the Central God, called the “Ida Sang Hyang Widhi”, rebirth and reincarnation. They have gained a better understanding of the original way of Balinese life, as opposed to the exposure from South Bali. We spent a long time in the museum, as everyone gained many hands-on experiences and knowledge about the never ending Balinese life cycle. It is not just a beautiful destination or for photo ops, but we are glad to indulge in the knowledge gained and comprehend every little aspect that is offered or showcased in the museum. Our students seemed to be very interactive and interested in all aspects of the tradition. It further opened their perception of life and that we are more than just a “baby that was just born”, Florian's remarks. We are celebrated, cherished and purified from pregnancy until death, to maintain balance and harmony.
Prof. Asta’s Compound Home & Taman Ujung Visit
At around noon, we head over to a traditional Balinese compound home that is settled by our head of study program, Prof. Asta and the husband’s family. We were shown different houses that belong to several family members as well as the large Home Temple where prayers are held, the ancestors and many Entities are worshiped. The Compound Home comprises various houses that belong to multiple households. The home was special to all the students as it represents the traditional way of Balinese life situated by the greeneries of East Bali. Many of the students’ remarks included the home away from the pollution, serenity and peace. It is unlike any other homes in the West, especially in Germany and Austria, where our students came from.
After visiting Prof. Asta’s home, we proceeded to Taman Ujung, which was only about a 10 minutes drive. Taman Ujung, a former palace of the late King of Karangasem, I Gusti Bagus Jelantik, who was inaugurated in 1921. The Palace was used for resting places, as well as for events or entertaining important guests. We walked through the magnificent palace filled with bridges and pathways, above the large ponds. We had the pleasure to view a beautiful view of the blue sea of the Ujung Beach, as well as the green hill called Bisbis Hill. At this moment, everyone enjoyed their free time acknowledging their last excursion. We shared stories and laughter here among Prof. Asta and the team as well as the students. One of our postgraduate students, Florian, mentioned that this was one of his favorite excursions. They mentioned that it is truly remarkable how they are able to experience Bali in different ways than they were used to, especially coming from the hustle bustle of South Bali.
Conclusively, this excursion was not merely a tick on a syllabus; it was a crucial bridge between theoretical knowledge and lived experience. It equipped our students with the critical tools to analyze and understand community-based tourism destinations not just as economic entities, but as vibrant ecosystems pulsating with cultural narratives, traditional knowledge, and the indomitable spirit of communities who call it home. It is in such meaningful experiences that true learning flourishes, fostering not just academic understanding, but genuine empathy, respect, and a commitment to responsible, sustainable engagement with the diverse communities that populate our planet.