In case you haven’t noticed lately, I have some breaking news for you – the sunrise rises everyday. I’m not kidding. And if you happen to be awake (and aware) early enough to see it make its majestic appearance, you will be amazed.
Not by the news of daily sunrises but the beauty of the morning light as it envelops everything, including the darkness of the night as it shows you a brand new world, starting afresh. Another day!
We woke up at 3.30 a.m. in order to drive to Punthuk Setumbu Hill, Borobudur, Indonesia, from our Airbnb in Yogyakarta. The car wove through rice paddies and corn fields until we reached the first step of a fairly steep climb that would take us to the point where tourists had gathered to witness the rising sun.
Orange and red.
A pulsating globe appeared shyly in the distance behind a wall of clouds. It reminded me of another sunrise a few years ago, at Mount Batur in Bali. A friend and I had set out enthusiastically at 2 a.m. in a small van, not anticipating the rigorous climb in the darkness before dawn. With great will power and determination, we made it, just in time to observe the red ball emerge from a foamy sea of clouds.
Why is it that I only remember sunrises in exotic locations? Doesn’t the same sun rise everyday right here in my neighborhood? Is it not deserving of this kind of adulation? Is it the location? Or is it me?
The daily grind
I need holidays to remind me of the beauty of life outside of my everyday routine. For some reason, being at home makes me feel like I should get on with the same old chores that never seem to end. In order to inhabit a different frame of mind, I need to be in a different location altogether.
There are days when I wake up early enough to catch the rising sun, but I use up those precious moments in mundane activities in order to get a head start on the day. Very rarely do I sit still long enough to notice the gentle rays lighting up the familiar view, the shades of pink in the sky, the gradually brightening of the horizon outside my window.
Yet, on holidays, when I should be sleeping in and catching up on physical rest, there is a sense of tranquil urgency, a push to explore, examine and experience the familiar in a new light. I don’t mind staying up late or awakening in pitch darkness in order to watch, behold and savor the moment. Perhaps it’s the distance from home that enables me to break free of the shackles of my own reaction, the dreaded routine that is a slave to efficiency.
To break free from the grind, I need to first get away.
Ramayana under the moonlight
The next evening we finished a walk around the remarkable creation of the Prambanan Temple, a tenth century masterpiece that was painstakingly put together from rubble after a volcanic eruption on the island of Java.
As per the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, this is the largest temple compound dedicated to Shiva in Indonesia. The temple complex is dedicated to the three great Hindu divinities (Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) and to the animals who serve them. The outer edge of the shrines are decorated with reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana. Our guide was very familiar with the Ramayana and took care to point out the details engraved in stone all along the outer walls of each shrine. The visit was physically strenuous as well, given the steep set of stone steps that we had to ascend to see the various deities enshrined in each location.
At the end of the evening, we walked across to a special amphitheater where the Ramayana ballet is performed after sunset. In the light of the night, the three gopurams were illuminated in the background and as the time for the show got closer, every seat filled up. Many groups of school and college kids streamed in and took their places.
On stage, there were two sets of traditional Indonesian musical instruments indicating that the performance would be accompanied by a live orchestra. I wondered if the two-hour show would hold our interest, given the fact that we know the story quite well and had just had a refresher through the carvings in the temple complex.
Once the show began, we were totally engrossed by the impressive costumes, the intricate steps and the amazing coordination of the performers. The background score which was primarily instrumental and accompanied by some songs fit the narration perfectly. The highlight of the ballet was the scene where Hanuman set fire to Ravan’s Lanka. With lit torches, the actors set fire to straw huts. The flames flickered in the night light which was brilliantly illuminated by the full moon in the distance.
In a world that is rife with religious tension, it felt surreal to watch an Indian epic being lovingly recreated in a place which once upon a time bore a strong connection to Hindu culture. And the beauty of the moon in the background reminded us of what we as humans truly share, the beauty of what nature creates everyday and the majesty of what humans attempt to create in order to leave a trace in an ever-changing world.