Bali is not just a tropical paradise, it is also a cultural adventure for you to take on. There are many tropical beaches in the world, but only Bali offers them with its spiritual, traditional values you will not find elsewhere. Balinese Hinduism is distinctive for its addition to the island’s own traditional values.
For Balinese people, this aspect of their life is extremely important. And knowing that you, a visitor to their island, acknowledge it, and they will give you nothing but respect in return. Plus, it will give your vacation spiritual experiences you’ll never have elsewhere. So, get ready to make some changes to your itinerary for this tropical island of gods.
1. Canang: offerings on every corner
Even from the very first time you step your foot in Bali, you would notice small, square containers made from coconut leaves containing colorful flowers and pieces of snacks on every street, building, and entrance. Those are offerings are made by Balinese people for the gods as a form of their gratitude.
The offering is called canang or canang sari. It is a part of Balinese Hinduism ritual for daily prayers, usually in the early morning or dusk. Inside the small square containers made of coconut leaves, they put flowers, a pinch of rice (or substituted by snacks made of rice), traditional herbs, and small portions of food they have in the house.
To put canang on its designated spot, there is a short individual ritual to be done. It starts with lighting incense. You can tell when a Balinese is going to perform this ritual as they will wear praying attire, which includes a traditional shirt or blouse and a fabric wrapped around as a sarong with a scarf tied around the waist. However, most of the times, they would only wear the scarf.
In case you step on these offerings accidentally, it is okay as long as you don’t disturb the ritual.
2. Do not enter the temple's restricted area
Visiting temples is one of the most common things on everyone’s itinerary in Bali. It is the center of Balinese culture. From its ritual to its architectural design, being inside a Balinese temple is something you should not miss. However, you need to keep in mind that a temple is a sacred place. Despite the fact that it has become one of Bali’s ultimate tourism destinations, it still serves its purpose as a religious shrine. Therefore, there are some rules you need to follow and some values you need to respect.
Entering a temple area, it is better to wear proper clothing covering your shoulders and knees. Save your bikinis and sleeveless shirts for the beach. Some temples, such as Pura Taman Ayun and Pura Uluwatu, provide scarfs and fabric for visitors to rent for free. Don’t skip this part after you pay the entrance fee. It is not a must to wear them, but it is a good way to show your respect. And ladies, please arrange your visit so it won’t coincide with your time of the month because you will not be allowed to enter.
Some parts of the temple may be restricted to any visitor at any time. The entrance to this area is gated with a clear sign which says “Dilarang Masuk” or “Do Not Enter.” This area is usually accessible to the priests only. And even though it is unlikely to be guarded or locked, please do not enter.
3. Tridatu: a blessing bracelet after a ceremony with the priest
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Everyone can visit a Balinese temple most of the time. Probably everyone who has been in Bali, has done it also. But you can only have an authentic experience if you follow the ritual itself. Not everyone can pray at the temple. However, on several occasions, some temples allow tourists to join them.
Besides experience, you will also get a blessing bracelet. There are many kinds of blessing bracelets, but the most common is the tridatu bracelet. It consists of three colors of threads: red, white, and black. The priest himself will tie these threads on your right wrist towards the end of the ritual.
The three colors represent the three gods Balinese pray to: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. They also represent the symbol of three phases of our fate: birth, life, and death. By wearing this bracelet, you are expected to remember the gods and to be introspective in every step of the way. These bracelets can only be made by the priest on special days. Balinese people will keep it on their wrist until it falls off on its own.
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4. Nyepi: 24 hours of complete silence and darkness
Once in every year around March, Bali turns into a quiet, dark place for 24 hours. Lights, fires, noises, and outdoor activities are prohibited from 6:00 am to 6:00 am on the next day. Everyone in Bali, not just the Balinese, must stay inside. In spite of the prohibition, lights and noises are still allowed as long as you keep them inside.
This special day is called Nyepi or Silent Day. It is believed to be the day when gods purge the island. Hence the rest of the island remains quiet to respect this sanctification.
The only people walking around with flashlights in their hands are traditional security officers called pecalang. They keep the area safe. They also act as police officers to warn or catch anyone who is not following the Silent Day rules. Electricity is still available but there are no TV or radio broadcastings available. In case of medical emergency, you may go outside as permitted and escorted by pecalang.
You may think spending Nyepi in Bali is a bit daunting, but I find it very peaceful. It is the perfect day to binge watch my favorite TV shows online, do a movie marathon, read good books, or simply gaze at the stars.
5. Ngaben: cremation ceremony out in the open
Cremation is a part of Balinese culture of Hinduism. From time to time, you may encounter this sacred ceremony while you are visiting this island. I stumbled upon one myself, not knowing it was a cremation. Don’t make the same mistake I did, guys.
This ritual is called Ngaben. Its purpose is to return the human ashes to nature. As the body is kept inside a coffin, it is carried from its house to a cremation area near a temple through a cortege. Unlike most ceremonies where people wear bright praying attires, black is a must to wear during Ngaben. Hence you will be able to tell if you stumble upon one.
However, not all Ngaben rituals involve a human’s body. When they cannot find the body or when the person died far from home and has to be buried somewhere else, the ritual proceeds by burning offerings to represent the human’s life.
Bali, the land of ritual and mystical culture
These five facts about Balinese culture, with a mix of its tradition and religion, are just the tip of the iceberg. There is more to it you can explore. Dig deeper into Balinese mystical culture and tell a different story of this tropical paradise.
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