Bali’s youngest high priestess has garnered an international following for her spiritual powers. A visit to her home reveals what the hype is all about.
Deep in the foothills of south-central Bali, a group of devotees has gathered in a pavilion-strewn compound ahead of midday prayers. The ladies, clad in sarongs and kebaya, balance delicate offerings and jugs of holy water on their heads, while the men wear white udeng headcloths that symbolize the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. One sees such edifying vignettes of Bali’s rich religious life often on this so-called Island of the Gods, of course. But what distinguishes this particular compound in the tiny village of Demulih is that it’s home to Ida Resi Alit, Bali’s youngest high priestess. I’ve driven two hours from Kuta to meet her, and to take part in one of her daily water cleansing rituals, or melukat.
Born I Komang Wediantari, 30-year-old Ida’s rise to the apex of the Balinese priesthood is remarkable not just because of her age, but also because of her background. High priests—pedanda—typically come from the island’s Brahmin caste and endure years of intense training. Ida, however, was raised by a family of farmers, and it wasn’t until she struggled to find work after her studies that her grandfather, a village priest, guided her toward the spiritual realm instead. He introduced her to melukat, and later to chakra meditation and yoga. The practices struck a deep chord in her, sparking off a spiritual awakening marked by frequent out-of-body experiences.
“The first time it happened was during one of the meditations I did with my grandfather. It felt like something was stirring in my stomach and it went up my throat, and then it came out of my mouth in the form of mantra chanting,” she says. “In the beginning I didn’t even understand what I was chanting about because it came out really fast. But over time it happened more frequently, and I began to understand the meaning of it.”
During one of these profound spiritual episodes, Ida had an epiphany to undergo mediksa, a rigorous process by which high priests are chosen. Her family brushed this off, believing the calling was fit only for middle-aged men. But Ida says her revelation was so strong that she went through a death-like state, from which she awoke to a higher consciousness, able to perform mantras and the sacred hand movements called mudra.
Finally she understood that she was being summoned as a conduit to the divine. In 2007, after a painstaking process of spiritual examination and physical tests, she was ordained as a high priestess and given a new name, Ida Panditha Mpu Budha Maharsi Alit Parama Daksa, or Ida Resi Alit for short. Since then, she has presided over many religious ceremonies throughout Bali while performing melukat rituals at her childhood-home-turned-religious-compound in Demulih, Griya Agung Budha Salahin.
It’s here that I sit cross-legged in a bale—the ubiquitous Balinese pavilion—with an American visitor named Sarah, who has flown halfway around the world for her second melukat. “Last time I was here I felt this intense euphoria coming out of me when she poured the water on me,” she tells me of her first visit. “It was so powerful—almost orgasmic.”
The crowd of attendees begins to swell around us as a calming presence washes through the courtyard. It is Ida herself, dressed in a white kebaya and bright yellow sarong. With no theatrics or aura of grandeur, she walks into our midst and instructs us to move to the pavilion next to the altar, where she kneels and begins her prayers. In a tone unlike any I have heard before, she begins chanting sacred mantras while tinkling a bell and performing hypnotic hand movements. It is strange and almost unsettling at first, but slowly the chanting begins to guide and envelop me like a cocoon, insulating me from all worldly distractions.
Then comes the melukat. Encouraged by Ida’s gentle invitation, I get up and stand by the altar. With my palms pressed together I confess that I’m nervous. Ida gives me a knowing smile and a slight giggle. “It’s going to be okay,” she says. “Close your eyes, pray according to your belief, and don’t forget to breathe in from the nose and exhale through your mouth.” She then begins pouring frangipani-infused water over my head, all the while intoning mantras. My body shivers even though the water is lukewarm. Then it goes numb. I can’t move my limbs until Ida pauses and tells me to stamp my feet and move my hands as though in the shower. “Wipe your face, wash your hair and your whole body,” she says gently. With shaking hands I follow her instructions, and I feel an emotional weight peel off with each stroke. When I begin to tremble again, Ida pauses and takes my hands. Her touch is instantly calming.
“Now, let all your emotions and feelings out. If you want to cry? Cry. If you want to scream? Scream.” I nod, and the holy water comes pouring down again. But this time I am overcome with immense sadness and guilt. I can’t hold back my tears. After what feels like hours of bawling my eyes out (it actually lasts just over five minutes), Ida holds my hands again until the calmness returns. My melukat is over.
Once we’ve changed back into dry clothes, my fellow visitors and I sit around a reflecting pool and try to process what we just experienced. Ida soon joins us for a meditation session, ushering us into a more tranquil state of mind with her melodic chanting and the soothing sound of a Tibetan singing bowl.
When the meditation is finished, Ida shares her dreams of establishing an ashram where she can teach yoga and pass on what she has learned from the divine. But she’s in no rush. “When the time comes, it will happen. In the meantime, all I want to do is to help people find their freedom.”
This article originally appeared in the June/July print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Testing the Waters”).