HARI BAIK: Cycles of Time – Book Intro

There is a special flow of time in Bali. It is at peace with itself, containing everything in a moment, embracing all quietly and evenly.

What is so unusual about it?

The main difference is in perceiving time as “cyclical” not “linear”, reflecting day and night, moon quarters, rain and sunshine. It is about connecting past, present and future, but foremost about living.

And how can the lifetimes of a person and community, their myth and truth be defined? I’ve been learning trough my Balinese experience that the answers are in the flow of two key elements: cycle and ritual. All can exist simultaneously in several dimensions.

There is appropriate time for all events and activities in Bali, often precisely determined for a local community by thePawukon calendar: good time for planting rice, for praying to assure good harvest and for a marriage ceremony.

Pawukon counts thirty weeks of seven days, but “the week of seven days” (Wuku) is one of many cycles of thePawukon. The complete system consists of ten cycles, of which the most important are: “one-day cycle” (ekawara), “three-day cycle” (triwara), “five-day cycle” (pancawara), “seven-day cycle” (saptawara) and “ten-day cycle” (dasawara).

One of the most interesting aspects of the calendar is the inherent contradiction within a complicated structure, the fact that days and combinations (crossing days of the cycles) do not recur at even intervals, so the timing set for ceremonies has to be adjusted as needed.

The metaphor for these elements can be seen in a hand-woven Balinese ikat: threads of cotton are painted into a design, dried in the sun and consequently, one by one woven into a textile. The pattern, even if repeated thousands of times will never be the same, the process does not allow for it. Paradoxically its structure is never void of clarity. The quality of a strong and delicate ikat, its timeless design and ancient charm are a result of the process.

The same association can come to mind while hearing the gamelan, its tones most often appearing as if from nowhere and weaving music into a distance of the surrounding landscape. It seems not to have a beginning or an end; its echoes can be traced in the darkness of each night.

The gamelan and the color thread of the ikat wrap with their presence both body and soul. Together they create a layout for planting the rice fields, for an evening prayer and daily offerings to the gods.

There is no clear distinction between making music, placing an offering, tending to the fields, a morning bath, performing a dance, having a meal, making a textile or an evening prayer… All these activities are interdependent. Time has its special flow in Bali. It creates a fabric for a ritual.

Taking photographs on the island is a different experience compared with work I have done in other places. It turns into a ritual, becomes a thread, a search not only for a perfect image, but also the daily question of who am I. It challenges me to go past the elaborate surface appearances to the hidden structure of the Balinese world.

The process of creating black and white images in this land of intense color feels like a cleansing ritual, a balancing act between the forces of good and evil as symbolized in the ancient poleng: a bold, black and white textile woven into a checkered design. Poleng is believed to contain totemic qualities and is frequently used throughout the island to wrap huge banyan trees, old, ritualistic stones and other objects, to neutralize their potential ambivalent powers.

Time here teaches me to trust that my work photographing rice fields and villages is being woven into an existing, infinite fabric of cycles and rituals, and through that process is connecting with others – then, now and into the future.

JT 2003