Balinese Cultural Tourism

Blog Post by: Danielle Saroyan

Balinese culture is unique and impossible to fully capture in the few days we were in Bali, Indonesia. Balinese society is strongly influenced by Indian Chinese, and Hindu culture. This spiritual combination can be seen in the photo compilation below, is a snapshot of the cultural society that we were able to experience between March 12-14. The photos include a traditional Balinese home, religious diversity, art and design, rice irrigation fields, biodiversity on the island, and ceremonial dance.

Traditional Balinese Home

Our group had the opportunity to visit a traditional Balinese home, with grand entryways and multiple outdoor rooms spread out in one family compound. Buildings cannot be taller than a coconut tree, so rooms were spread out rather than built high. A traditional Balinese home consists of a collection of structures within an enclosed area, including bedrooms, guest rooms, a family shrine, living areas, and a kitchen space. The spaces, design, and purpose of each building directly relates to a spiritual meaning in a feng shui manner. For example, Balinese people follow Tri Hita Karana – the concept of harmony and balance of three elements: human, nature, and gods.

Bali House (1)

This particular traditional Balinese home is located in Ubud. The woman in the photo is sitting at the main bedroom situated in the middle of the complex, weaving together small containers to hold prayer offerings.

Religious Harmony

Indonesia is known for its Muslim majority, but that is not the case in Bali. About 85% of the people are Balinese Hindus; 12% are Muslim; and about 3% are Christian. Balinese Hinduism is a combination of local Bali beliefs, Indian Hinduism, and Buddhism. This religion consists of gods and demigods who are worshipped together with Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, indigenous agricultural deities, and sacred places. Bali has an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines, and is therefore known as the “Island of Thousand Puras” (“Islands of the Gods”). Balinese Hinduism focuses on the belief that gods and goddesses are present in all things and every element of nature possesses its own power, which reflects the power of the gods. For instance, a rock, tree, or woven cloth is a potential home for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil.

Hindu Temple copy 3 (1)

Pictured here is a Hindu Temple located in Ubud. right beside a Christian Church, an Islamic Mosque, and a Catholic Church. This row of spiritual buildings demonstrates the harmony and accord between the various religions in Bali.

Art and Design

Bali is well known for artists who create handicrafts and fashion, including batik and ikat clothing, wooden carvings, stone carvings, painted art, and silverware. Individual villages are also known for each creating a single product, such as wind chimes or wooden furniture, which is exclusively from that area.

Art copy (1)

This is an example of Indonesian batik design. Batik is a hand-dyed cotton and silk garment with everyday patterns. As of 2009, UNESCO dedicated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The designs and colors express Indonesian creativity and spirituality. Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets, Chinese phoenixes, Japanese cherry blossoms, and Indian or Persian peacocks influence the wide variety of patterns and designs.

Rice and Paddy Fields 

Agriculture is considered the most common occupation in Bali, specifically with rice cultivation. Subak is the name of the water management or irrigation system for paddy fields in Bali, developed in the 9th century. The system consists of 5 terraced rice fields and water temples with its own rituals. The water temple rituals promote a harmonious relationship between people and their environment. Rice is seen as the gift of god, and the subak system is part of the temple culture in Bali. As of June 2012, subak was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rice (1) 

Monkeys Everywhere

There are two species of monkey in Bali: crab-eating macaque and Javan Langur.

  • The Crab-eating Macaque is known locally as “kera” and quite common around human settlements and temples. They are commonly found in three “monkey forest” temples, and sometimes kept as pets by locals.
  • The Javan langur, known locally as “lutung,” is rarer of the two. They are born an orange color, and as they grow into an adult their color darkens.
IMG_0799 (1)

Ubud Monkey Forest and Holy Spirit Temple. We observed and interacted with the kera monkeys, feeding them bananas.

Kecak Dance at Sunset

Balinese Hinduism is deeply interwoven with art and ritual. Balinese performing arts often portray stories from Hindu epics with heavy Balinese influences. Famous Balinese dances include pendet, legong, baris, topeng, barong, gong keybar, and kecak.

Kecek (1)

Kecak Dance performed at Uluwatu with a male chorus based on the Indian epic drama, Ramayana. The Kecak Dance, known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, is a music drama performed at sunset.

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