Walking through a peaceful Balinese temple surrounded by a rainforest the last thing you would expect to hear is the sound of someone loudly sobbing. But, as you get closer to the flowing water the sound is unmistakable — a woman is screaming as if she could be in pain.
Despite how things may first seem, thousands of Aussies and other international travellers continue to flock to Bali for the same experience, with so many saying it is the "one thing you need to do" while there. "Such an amazing experience," one woman called Chaz said after sharing a video of herself online crying while taking part in the ceremony.
The traditional Balinese Purification ritual has blown up on social media over the last couple of years as wellness tourism continues to grow in the post-pandemic world.
Videos of tourists like Chaz, wearing traditional sarongs, surrounded by water and flowers as they scream, cry or hold themselves is not an uncommon sight, prompting many to wonder what this emotional ceremony actually is and why so many have chosen to take part in it.
The Balinese purification ceremony, known as "Melukat", is part of the Hindu religion and is performed to cleanse the body, both spiritually and physically by washing or bathing in holy water. It is just one element of Tirtayatra — a Balinese Hindu pilgrimage.
"Any religion can join [the] purification ceremony," Helena, manager at Tri Desna Spiritual Centre in Ubud, Indonesia shared with Yahoo News Australia. "This is our tradition here in Bali, and I remember since I [was] little we always perform purification ceremony at least once a year and sometimes more."
A Balinese healer, known as a Balian, will lead the sacred ritual and guide those participating through their water cleansing. After being washed in the holy water, an offering is left as thanks, usually made of coconut leaves and filled with colourful flowers and other items.
Each place does it slightly differently and may include additional steps before and after Melukat. At Tri Desna, Ibu Desak Akeno is the healer and performs a reading before the ceremony as well as a blessing at the end.
Why do some people cry during the purification ceremony?
Helena says they receive "a lot of questions" about how people react to the purification ceremony. "It all differs," she shares. "Some people tend to feel drowsy, some people will cry and some will laugh and smile — it all depends on you and how you feel."
Ibu Desak is there to try to help people "let go" of their emotions, which means that while some people let out cries as they release their pent-up emotions, some may not — it is all individual.
Has the ceremony been gaining popularity?
As tourism in Bali has grown over the years alongside social media usage, so has the knowledge of their spiritual ceremonies.
Helena explains there have been many Australians coming to join the ceremony in recent years. "It was always there, but since there is technology like Instagram or other social media it’s just become more popular," she shares. "There [are] more tourists now performing this experience than before."
Travel companies also offer a huge range of "wellness" trips and retreats which include traditional healing ceremonies, meditation, and other traditional Balinese medicine.
This coincides with the growth in wellness trends seen across the globe, particularly since Covid-19. The Global Wellness Institute states the wellness economy has grown a whopping 27% since 2020 and projects that wellness tourism, in particular, will grow by 16.6% annually, reaching $1.4 trillion in 2027.
"The drive to create greater awareness and acceptance of mental health and its nuances has meant more focused programs to support this growing need," they stated in 2023 while looking at 2022 wellness trends and the rise in wellness tourism.
Where can the purification ceremony be performed?
Tri Desna performs private purification ceremonies for $152 and is based in Sayan, Ubud but there are many places that host this ceremony in Indonesia. Other locations include the Pura Tirta Empul near the town of Tampaksiring, Bali which is one of the more famous locations to do Melukat or the Taman Mumbul Temple in Badung Regency, Bali.
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