As a tourist destination, Bali is an island of superlatives. Whether you’ve been to Bali or not, it seems to show up on most wish lists for a first visit or a return.
Of course, Bali is included in the book 1000 Places To See Before You Die, and the authors say of the idyllic island:
“Serendipity will lead you to the haunting rhythms of a practicing village gamelan orchestra, past a procession of lithe women carrying impossibly high baskets of fruit offerings on their heads to the local temple, to preparations for a celebration that turns out to be a cremation.”
The island is world-renowned for its transcendent beauty, but the people and their fascinating culture also draws visitors from around the globe.
Bali is a tiny dot of Hinduism in Indonesia’s far-flung Muslim archipelago. The version of Hinduism practiced in Bali is unique, and it plays an important, integral part in daily life. In addition to the normal pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses, beliefs have been incorporated from Buddhism and Animism (every living thing has a soul), as well as ancestor worship.
The Balinese faithful believe that on any given day, the world around their house or business is awash in spirits, both good and evil. And they’re devoted to daily rituals and ceremonies that ensure these diverse gods and spirits are either pleased or appeased. These daily rites add an exotic mystique that permeates the place and captures most visitors’ hearts.
Spirits and ancestors are revered, and a sacred place is made for them inside the family’s compound in an altar and shrine.
These steps mark a clear path to the household altar…
…where Canang Sari, offerings of flowers, food, and incense, are placed daily.
Intricate, flower-festooned shrines stand prominently in front of businesses, no matter how busy the road. They’re the Balinese equivalent of Thai Spirit Houses, and serve the same function: a home for the protective spirits that watches over things.
A deep respect for nature and the spirit world inspires craftsmen to build the shrines from all natural elements – bamboo, palm fronds, banana leaves, and flowers.
Lining the streets in front of home and businesses alike are penjors; ornate bamboo poles which are constructed by the men in the house. The height of the penjors ensures that their fronds wave in the gentle breeze as a reminder, as well as a celebration, for the victory of Dharma over Adharma – basically, good over evil.
The level of religious devotion in Bali and its pivotal role in daily life allows visitors a peek into a complex society. The ceremonies and the sheer number of ritual displays around town makes even a casual walk a study in culture, as well as a reminder that some people give religion more than lip service.
Our friend Tricia Mitchell at Travels With Tricia spent a wonderful time in Bali and captured the essence of one of our favorite rituals in her post An Offering Basket Procession. You will be charmed by her stunning photos.
James and Terri
P.S. If you want to learn a bit more about the fascinating world of Balinese Hinduism, as well as other aspects of life in Bali, this website is a good place to start.
1. Graham Crumb http://imagicity.com via Wikimedia Commons
2. Guillaume via Wikimedia Commons
3. VasenkaPhotography via Wikimedia Commons