who arrive in Bali do not realize that Bali is
very different religiously, to the rest of Indonesia.
people have been Hindus for eight hundred years,
since the remnants of the Majapahit empire were forced from
Java by the spread of Islam. They follow a branch of Hinduism
that owes a lot to that of India, but is quite different. The
most obvious discrepancy is that the Balinese eat cows, but
there are numerous others.
in Bali is interwoven with everyday life. Time and
time again, Balinese friends cancel appointments because they
have to attend a ceremony, or take other family members to a ceremony.
And, ceremonies seem, from the foreigner's
viewpoint, to be never ending. As well as the obvious ceremonies
for births, deaths and marriages, and celebrating aspects of the
rice harvests, there is a day for blessing machinery, one for
blessing education, etc... A neighbour recently told me that he
has a ceremony every fifteen days!
Many of the
tourist attractions that busloads of travellers
attend have a religious origin. For instance, the Barong dance
tells a story of good versus evil, which, actually, is the
basic theme in most Balinese dances and legends. It is
performed as a part of many holy events.
visitors watch segments of the Ramayana Ballet, a
Hindu epic story about good and evil, and love, in many venues
around the island. Travellers with a little extra time should
consider a side trip to Prambanan temple in East Java.
Watching a performance of the Ramayana in the amphitheater
there, under a full moon, is truly a religious experience.
cremations in particular, are popular with visitors.
Personally, I avoid funerals of all religions, but...
Recently, in Ubud, I observed street sellers convincing
tourists of the need to buy a sarong to watch a cremation.
Sarongs are not necessary for watching a procession, but are
mandatory when entering the grounds of the temple where the
actual cremation occurs. Because most visitors visit a temple
at some stage, the purchase of a sarong early in a trip is a
occurrence in Bali is the traffic jam. Most traffic
jams are caused by a Hindu ceremony of some sort, because, as
has happened in villages, since before Hinduism took root, the
road is blocked off, even if it happens to be the main street
of Kuta, Sanur or Ubud! The Balinese understand priorities,
and expect non-Balinese to do likewise.
thing for visitors to understand, and remember,
is that cremations and other ceremonies are not tourist
attractions, but are genuine religious events. That the Balinese
allow outsiders to be part of them does not detract from their
many major dates in the Balinese calendar, which is
much shorter than the Western one. Late September, this
Western year, sees the arrival of Galungan, the celebration of
good fighting evil in Bali, and ends, ten days, later with
Kuningan. This period of the Balinese year sees a slow down in
some businesses, because the owners are involved in far more
important things. The morning of Kuningan sees most of Bali's
Hindu population visit the temple at Turtle Island, near
Sanur. It is a fantastic sight, if you can get near it.
in East Bali, is the "mother" temple of Bali.
The other three important temples are at Uluwatu, Kintamani
and Tanah Lot. All of them are fantastic to visit. There are
other important regional temples, then, in each village there
is a temple for life at the mountain end of village, and one
for death at the end nearest the sea. Then, there are family
temples, temples in particular sacred places, and shrines
everywhere, including most houses.
near Pemuteran, in north Bali, I took a wrong turn
into the hills, and found myself at the bottom of some steps
leading up, out of sight. The 710 steps (I counted them on the
way down) lead to a small temple half-way up a mountain.
Despite being exhausted, I was exhilarated by the views across
the hinterland and out to sea. The Balinese who carted the materials
for building the temple, and the steps, up that path
experience, for me, was a trip to Tirta Empal,
the holy bathing pools in Tampaksiring. A Balinese friend said
she was going there to be "purified". I asked if I had
something wrong first, to accompany her, but she assured me
that all ordinary mortals can do with some occasional
purification. We were accompanied by a woman from Tabanan, who,
while not a priest, is recognized as an expert in helping people
carry out the ritual.
In the moonlight,
we bathed under the water jets, and then
followed the old woman in carrying out the purification
rites. In the silence, punctuated only by the running water,
with the smell of incense lingering, I could sense a
"presence". It was magical.
daily evidence of the importance of Hinduism to
the Balinese is shown by the innumerable offerings everywhere.
As well as the three main manifestations of God, Siwa, Wisnu and
Brahma, there are other incarnations. Dewi Sri, the goddess of
the rice harvest, is a major Balinese deity, and is still paid
homage in Muslim Java. Ancestors, former kings, and guardians
of sacred places are other deities. Almost every house, business,
road intersection, government building, etc., has offerings to
the gods and spirits of Bali placed in a shrine everyday. The
small banana leaf baskets, containing flower petals, rice, and
other gifts for the gods (even Oreos!) demonstrate the way that
the Balinese daily live their religion.