The longest night of the year, or the 14thpanglong of the seventh (Kapitu-or agha) month of the Balinese Sakacalender, which fell this year on the 19th of January, is fully consecrated to Shiva. It is therefore called the Night of Shiva, or SiwaRatri, which is a night of meditation aimed at cleansing the impurities accumulated during the year. People who participate don’t sleep the whole night. They pray, meditate and discuss holy texts in the temple of the dead (PuraDalem) or the temple of origin (PuraPuseh). Barely known twenty years ago, SiwaRatri is now one of the most popular holy days of modern Bali. This rite is inseparable from the story of the hunter Lubdaka, which is the principal object of the reading sessions. Here is the story, which should be read in a symbolic way.
Once upon a time, among the aborigines of Nasadas, there lived a vile man by the name of Lubdaka. He was vile and low,he was a hunter and flesh eating man, he thus violated the teachings of Dharma, the religion of truth, every single day. He was living in a hut on the fringe of the great primary forest with his wife and children, and everyday, with his bow and arrow, he would slip between the huge trees and hunt one of the wild forest game available: deer, birds, wild buffaloes or boars and others. He knew the dangers of the forest wilderness, though, and, as soon as the day was cooling and the sun lowering, he would immediately head back home for a rest and his wife’s embrace.
It so happened that on the morning of sasikapitu, the day of the dead moon of the seventh month, when the night is at its longest in the year, and thus darkness is too, Lubdaka as usual grabbed his bow and arrows and once more took his hunting path to the forest. Slowly cutting his way among the wet undergrowth, crossing streams and rivers, he came upon empty hamlets and ruined temples. But, as if nature were at rest, hiding for a day its life and power, there was no game to be seen. No wild boars, no deers, no birds and no men indeed. Tired, feeling helpless, and thinking of his crying wife and hungry children back home in their wooden hut, Lubdaka pushed forward, unheeding of the yellowing of the sun in the West, announcing its setting. He wanted game. So he walked and walked continuously, watching for the signs of life to kill, always ready to pounce.
But there was nothing to be found. Treading forward, tired, he suddenly came upon a small lake, extending before his eyes the trees cleared. On the other side of the lake, the sun was hanging its head and reddening. As it reddened further into the sunset, the still nature came back to life, together with all the shrieks and shrills of the living forest. There was even a growl: a tiger, either after its prey or looking for water. Lubdaka suddenly realized he had gone too far and had to spend the night, on the most frightening night of the year, by the shore of the lake. He had to look for some sort of shelter.
There was a lush and large bila tree overhanging the lake. It would be perfect, he thought. So he climbed up and sat just over the water, his ears keenly listening for any signs of danger among the growls, grunts and gnarls at the foot of the tree: the tiger. He stayed there. There was no way he could sleep. He could fall, and the hunter would be the prey. So he remained sitting on his branch, waiting for each dark hour to succeed another dark hour. Casually, as if to while away the passing of the time, he picked up leaves from the bila branch where he sat, and threw them one by one in the lake whose water he could hear rippling below him. Unwittingly, the leaves fell on a stone, and thus, little by little, Lubdaka’s “offerings of fear” stacked up into the shape of a lingga –the symbol of the Supreme God Shiva. Lubdaka, thus, spent his whole night as if worshipping God. In the morning, after the sun had risen, and the dangers vanished from the forest, he went back home, empty-handed, but relieved, and he carried on with his life.
Time passed, and then came Lubdaka’s time of death. As he was a vile hunter, his soul, as a result of his deeds of evil, came to wander in the ‘nowheres of space’, waiting to be caught and taken to the hell of Yama, where he was to boil for eons in the cauldron of death. But Shiva somehow caught sight of it and, moved by the memory of the bila “offerings of fear”, he sent his godly troops to the damned man’s rescue. Yama, the lord of hell, although he would not at first comply, as Lubdaka was a sinner indeed and a man of vile condition, had to yield to the great god’s wishes, who took the poor wretch to heaven, the heaven of Shiva.
The story illustrates that, whatever one’s status, be it that of a low born aborigine, and whatever one’s line of work, there is a way open to deliverance, if one persevere in one’s duties towards God. Lubdaka’s offering, albeit inadvertent, has cleansed the sins of his past and opened for him the way to heaven.