Is it me or there is something in the air in Bali? It’s definitely not another beach destination and the trick for me personally is in it’s culture and rituals. I love every part of it: i love the architecture, i love offerings to the spirits and I love spirits themself. In some magical way i really feel them while beeing in Bali.
Balinese culture for me is the main gem of this island. Many people come here for the beaches, but they go back and sometimes stay for a while because of the culture.
So what is Balinese culture?
Here are some interesting random facts about Bali:
- Balinese people are a separate ethnic group.
- Hinduisim as the predominant religion in Bali, though Indonesia in general is a Muslim country. Actually they practice and follow a mix of three religions that became merged as one in the 12th century.
- Bali got it’s own caste system. There are 4 major casts in Bali: peasants, merchants, warriors and holy man/priests.
- Balinese people believe that life have two parts: the seen world (sekala) and the unseen (niskala). If someone falls ill, both of these worlds must be healed.
- There at leats 6000 temples and shrines in Bali, but, seriously, noone can count them all as there are literally everywhere.
- Volcano Agung is considered to be the most holy place in Bali. All temples are turned into it’s party and all Balineese people try to sleep the head towards it.
- Woman are not allowed to enter a temples while menstruating. The reason is to protect the temple from the blood. Also it is considered rude to enter the temple while beeing visible pragnant.
- Traditionally displaying of female breasts is not regarded as immodest.
- Dance and music is one of the most famous part of Balinese culture.
- Galungan is a special Balineese holiday. It’s the day when the spirits of relatives came back home. It is celebrated approximately every 210 days and lasts for 10 days.
- Nyepi is a Balinese “Day of Silence” that is commemorated every New Years day. Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection and no activity is allowed during these days. It is usually celebrated in March.
- Canang sari is an offering to the spirits, which is made every day as a form of thanking for the peace given to the world. The philosophy behind the offering is self-sacrifice in that they take time and effort to prepare.
- Puputan is a term to showcase a mass ritual suicide in preference to facing the humiliation of surrender. There were 3 occasions of it during 20th century.
- Rice fields are not only fields, but big part of life and culture as historically 90% of Balineese population are farmers.
- There are uncomfirmed rumours that Dawid Bowie requested in his will to have his ashes scattered in Bali in a Buddhist ritual and his family had fulfilled these wishes.
Ubud is probably the best place to learn more about culture and rituals in Bali. These days the commercial side of it the loudest one, but it doesn’t take a lot of efforts to scratch the surface and learn more. Just go to any temple and you will feel it, just give yourself some time.
We started our day by changing our outfits to Balinese attire. There was a big reason for it: as part of #TripOfWonders team we were invited to the Tea with the Kings family to the Pura Agung Desa Peliatan. Firstly i was confused: the king himself?!? Really!!!??? Then i have learned, that historically Bali was a kingdom till early 20th century. There were several kingdoms and Kings in Bali, but now it’s more of a cultural and historical part of the island: the King got no political power and serves more as an ambassador of historical heritage of the island. We were invited to the King of Ubud. Unfortunately, at the last moment he wasn’t able to join us, but couple memebers of the family joined us there.
Pura Agung Desa Peliatan is pretty nice location by itself. It is located in a village in Ubud and have several Temples inside of it. My most memorable part of visiting it was a lesson about making offerings to the spirits. You can spot little green boxes with the flowers or food almost everywhere on the island. The reason is that everyone here believes that spirits are waiting for an offering at least once a day (traditionally 3 times a day) or they will start to play with you. And guess what, i know that they do play! I lost my camera cap there, but i have found it literally in a minute after i made an offering!
I kindly asked to teach me how to do it in a right way. 2 nice ladies, who worked there, were so happy to share it with me. I mean, really, it was such a great moment when they saw my interest and were so happy to share this part of their life. So they teached me how to make a box, what to put inside of it and how to make this offering in the right way. I really wanted to know and was happy to learn about it.
My second stop for today was Rumah Desa. Rumah Desa literally translated as house in the village. It is located in very tranquil area and surrounded by greenery and rice fields. It was interesting: they explained us about Balineese alphabet and showed some traditional dance, there were fighting cocks and nice traditional food. Also they made us some talismans as a sign of blessing.
But for me personally it was a very special moment when one lady called me and we had a small talk. She was sitting and making coconut flakes. I never knew (and actually, never got a question) how it is produced, so it was interesting. Firstly you need to clean the coconut from to take the main shell. Then you need to open it. This is men’s only job and requires a lot of energy. One guy showed me how to do it and we opened one coconut together. I need to say, it’s not that easy. Than ladies made some coconut flakes from it using some kind of special grater.
I had some more small talks with the lady there. In a few minutes she suggested to make one more mascot for me. But this time it was much more personal experience. There were only 2 of us and she was so kind and obviously had such a beautiful thoughts, that having blessing from her feels very special. I know that many people are doing it and these talismans are very common tourist thing, but in this case it feels so right and nice. I would always remember this special moment!
No surprise, that currently 80% of economy of Bali is tourism dependent. That brings a lot of challenges: noone can blaim business owners to supply the demand. On the other hand, the culture of Bali is so unique, that it should be protected in any way. That’s why as a visitor it’s very important to make sure that you support the place, but not ruining it. If someone think that it’s not his deal and he came to pay money for vacations i need to say: it’s not that easy, when you come, you become part of the place. It’s extremely important to learn and study, to support and ask questions. I was so surprised that when i asked only few questions, locals were so grateful that i’m interested. They opened their hearts, showed me something unique and personal, which many people miss. Indonesians tend to be very nice and open people. I really reccomend you simply to take your time and appreciate it: show your interest and you will be highly rewarded!
To learn more about things to do and places to visit to explore Bali, check Indonesia.travel web site with lots of great articles!