Petulu, Bali, Indonesia ~ village of the sacred herons (and returning souls)

Petulu is a quaint wood carving and painters’ village, just outside of Ubud.

Petulu’s profile changed after a massacre in 1965 when Indonesia was rocked by the Indonesian government policy of radical “purging” of communists (inspired and financially supported by the U.S. government, which was in the throws of its failed anti-communist fight in Vietnam).  In Bali alone, 80,000 people were killed over a two week period.

The villagers of Petulu held a ceremony as a remembrance of the massacred villagers and to protect the survivors.  Shortly after, majestic white herons appeared.  By the tens of thousands.

They had never been seen in Petulu before the cleansing ceremony to rid the village of this negative energy.  To the Balinese, whose lives are intrinsically linked to the cycle of life and death and reincarnation, this was no coincidence.  Ever since the massacre, this colony of tens of thousands of white herons have taken residence in Petulu and never left. (Strange considering that there is no body of water in the area, which is where one usually finds herons.)


Every morning, the birds fan out to forage for food all over the island of Bali.  At dusk, they return en masse, to Petulu.  These sacred birds, as lost souls of the departed, now share the village with humans, keeping mostly to the single road that leads straight to the temple where the ceremony took place.  Villagers now believe that the herons are there to guard the village.

In addition to white little egrets, there are also unusual herons which are white with dark yellow chests and heads known as “cattle egrets.”

While we are in the “Village of White Herons” we witness the ritual of Bhuta Yajna ~  a “cleansing of evil spirits” ceremony.

Young boys lead the villagers, holding “poleng” flags. “Poleng” refers to the black and white checkered design of the fabric. It is a revered pattern which is an integral part of Balinese ceremonies – Black and white, as in the interplay between good and evil.  The Balinese culture values above all BALANCE and the recognition that nothing, no one is either all black or all white, nor grey – like the flag, a mosaic of influences.
An elaborate effigy is part of the ceremonial procession through the village.
The women and girls all have brightly colored ceremonial clothes.
Saying hi to a young villager.
An amazingly magical sight ~so many herons flying into the village and resting on trees and rooftops.
A woman and child leave their family compound with a large container of offerings for the ceremony.
According to the Hindu philosophy that permeates Bali’s culture:
“Our bodies are known to end, but the embodied self is enduring, indestructible, and immeasurable.
Death is certain for anyone born, and birth is certain for the dead; since the cycle is inevitable, you have no cause to grieve.”
What are YOUR thoughts on reincarnation?

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