Ever wondered how a Balinese High Priest spends each day? We meet Pak Nyoman from Fivelements Retreat in Ubud to find out.
Words by Rebecca Foreman
I met Pak Nyoman, otherwise known as Pandita, at Fivelements Retreat in Ubud. News of Coronavirus was spreading like wildfire and yet he still agreed to meet amidst the chaos unfolding around us. While I questioned him about his life as a Balinese High Priest, he could have been performing any number of spiritual rituals within his community, like he has countless times for thousands of people from all over the world.
Luckily for me, on this particular day, we sat cross-legged, seated on silken cushions next to a solitary Shrine, and he invited me to meditate alongside him (blessed!). After repeating 21 gentle ‘Oms’ in unison, we drank tea, ate cookies and talked about his life journey.
Selamat siang, Pak Nyoman! Please introduce yourself to our Honeycombers readers.
My name is Pak Nyoman and I am a Balinese High Priest. Pandita is the name given to me by my Holy Teacher. (I research the meaning of this name and am not surprised to learn it means ‘wise scholar’ in Sanskrit.) I was born in Singaraja in Lovina. I work at Fivelements Retreat in Ubud and look after the spiritual needs of the guests and also the village where I live.
How and why did you become a High Priest?
I worked in a telecoms corporation in Denpasar before becoming a Balinese High Priest, and had never thought about changing my life’s path. But this is my karma – it was given to me in a sign. In 2003, I left my corporate job and I studied to be a Priest. This takes time and it took me ten years. I have been working at Fivelements Retreat since 2013.
What function do you perform in your community?
I am important in my family and in my village as we have many ceremonies, like Agni Hotra (a healing ceremony), Ngaben (the death ceremony), pawiwahan (weddings), tiga bulanan (a ceremony for three month-old children), baotonan (birthday ceremonies every six months) the famous Melasti ceremony, and many more. I have a big temple in my village and a big family, so I am expected to do what is needed by the people, whatever is required, which I will do alongside other Priests in the village. But I am mainly called on by tourists for the Agni Hotra ceremony.
What is Agni Hotra?
It is a Hindu fire ceremony that stems from long ago, from Vedic Hindu texts, and from The King of Bali (King Udayana – God of Fire) – he is the High Priest for all the Gods. ‘Agni’ means fire and ‘Hotra’ means worship or offering. We use Agni Hotra all the time in Bali, to clean the negative energy, and to allow healing to take place. We can heal the past, the future, everything – even the area where the ceremony takes place.
How does Agni Hotra clear negative energy?
During the ceremony, we chant mantras, these are sacred texts. Then with offerings (nuts, seeds, ghee and flowers), we throw them into the fire to set our intentions. During the ceremony, everyone receives a bracelet (benang tridatu) – made of the symbolic colours red, white and black to represent three Gods – to be worn as protection from negative energy. This bracelet is worn until it loses itself and comes off. We also use a coconut during the ceremony – seen as a symbol for our egos – which we encourage you to crush as a means of offering your bad ego into the fire. Then, more offerings are thrown in for the God of Fire, to help you clean and clear your problems, and to encourage change. To finalise the ceremony, we offer a blessing of jewellery.
What do you want people to experience and learn from Agni Hotra?
That there is a way for everyone to come and heal together.
Why do people come from outside Bali to experience this particular ceremony?
For many reasons, but mainly to heal something. I have had people who come here because they want to have a baby and after they come to the ceremony, they get pregnant. They get what they want or they get what they need. This is karma. Many people from all over the world come to see me. I have people that come to see me twice a week because they say their business is doing very well because of it, and all this from reciting the mantras, from my offering for them. I invite all the Gods to pray together.
Can you get a sense of a person’s health or energy?
I get a feeling for high or low energy. I can sense if people like yoga or meditation and then I can feel high energy from them and sense their peace. It is very good because I can feel it too. You can feel the energy around us here at Fivelements Retreat – it’s very good. Very high, because we do a ceremony twice a day here.
Why do you think so many people like to visit Bali?
Because it is so different from many other countries. The volcanoes, the daily prayers, the ceremonies, the nature. Every High Priest in Bali has to pray in the morning in his house, for the people, for the area and country, and for the world. I think this is also why the energy in Bali is so high.
What wellness activities do you practice?
Sometimes yoga but mainly meditation every day. I like meditation very much.
Talk me through a typical day.
I wake at 4am and meditate, then after I have a shower – either hot or cold depending on the weather. For breakfast, I drink hot water and eat a piece of sweet cake. After that, I get on my Vespa and go to work at Fivelements Retreat to perform Agni Hotra. We do this twice every day in the morning and at sunset. Sometimes I am needed in my village to perform a traditional ceremony. At night I go home and have dinner with my family, but on Saturdays and Sundays, I am off. Saturday I like to play sport.
What does a Balinese High Priest do for fun?
Relax… just relax.
Meat-eater or vegetarian?
I am a vegetarian.
Spiritually, do Balinese people live by a particular code?
To do a good job – this is our main priority.
What is the Coronavirus teaching us as a human race?
It’s teaching us to pray, to be quiet. Even a simple Om said 21 times, everyday for one month, will make a change. If you try it for only one month, you will feel higher energy around you.
Who does a Balinese High Priest turn to if they have a personal problem?
(Laughs) No one, never. I am always praying.
Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, Fivelements Retreat is not hosting its monthly Agni Hotra ceremony, however, you can book Pandita to perform this ancient healing ceremony in your own home. The price depends on the number of people.
Words by Rebecca Foreman
Currently living the island life in Bali with her family, Rebecca fills her days with travelling, writing and reviewing, often with the kids in tow. Follow her bountiful island adventures on her Instagram page.