Bali’s Religion & Culture


About 500 years ago the Queen of Java was usurped by her own brother to surrender her throne. She and all her followers had adhered to the Hindu religion, in a peaceful way. She was now asked to accept the Moslem religion or die.

Instead of fighting her brother, or surrendering, she asked to be allowed to flee the country, taking her highest priests with her in order to take refuge in Bali.

Bali however had its own population at that time, who was following animism, seeing spirit in all of nature and communicating with these live beings as well as ancestor worship. Bali was now starting to be populated by a Hindu culture and in time a merger of the two spiritual paths emerged, followed by a third, Buddhism.

Balinese believe in One Supreme God called Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, with His three manifestations known as Trisakti, that is Brahma The Creator, Wisnu The Preserver, and Shiwa The Transformer.

Hindu philosophy provides the theological framework while indigenous beliefs are at the core of the rituals. In Bali such a tolerant merging is permitted, as in the hearts of Balinese a very wise belief has helped them survive the many intrusions into Bali’s culture: “The truth is one, the interpretations multiple”.
The ancient indigenous beliefs are easily recognized in the many rituals, where nature is viewed as “power” itself and each of its elements is thought to be subjected to spirits. These spirits must be taken care of, they have to be provided with a shrine, and need to be fed with various offerings made from agricultural products as well as given daily respect.
The mother mountain, Gunung Agung, is highly sacred to the Balinese and central to their beliefs. It is the abode of the gods and the ancestors and where you return to when you die.

Religion in Bali is adjusted according to three principles: Desa (place), Kala (time), and Patra (circumstances).

Hinduism wisely acknowledges five pillars of faith:

  • The belief in the one Supreme God (Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa),
  • The belief in the Soul as the universal unit consciousness (atma)
  • The belief in the fruition of one’s deeds (karma phala)
  • The belief in the process of birth and death (samsara)
  • The belief in the ultimate release of the soul (moksa)

One of the consequences of the principle of karma and samsara is the existence of the wangsa system where an individual inherits his status as a result of his or past life. The four wangsa in Bali are the Brahmana, who deal with religion and the holy texts, the Satria or rulers, the Wesia or merchants and the Sudras, the lower class.

Status can be recognized by the prefixes to their names. In Bondalem however, no one is permitted to reveal their class’ status in order to allow a more humane and harmonious cooperation between people.

In daily live however; humans should work to maintain the harmony between the heavens and earthly life, hence the role of rituals. Only by adhering to the rules of conduct, ritual, and reverence can the proper balance be kept between the two sets of godly and demonic forces.

Balinese religion is known to the world through the richness and the life of the Balinese is therefore filled with rituals.
There are rituals for everything imaginable: from knowledge, cleansing machines to marriage and birth ceremonies, all of different types and levels.

Rituals consist of calling down the gods and the ancestors for visits from their heavenly abode in the country above the mountain. They come down during temple festivals and are entertained with dances and fed with offerings. They can also be called down through the ceremonies of a priest. Balinese rituals are ruled by a complex calendar system, a combination of India‘s astrology and observation of natural cycles.

Temples in Bali are ornate enclosed only by walls, open areas, from which people can communicate directly with their gods and ancestors. Gods and ancestors normally “visit” their human worshipers or descendants during temple festivals (odalan). They reside in miniature houses set in the temple, the pelinggih shrines.

There are few societies in the world where religion plays an important role such as it does in Bali. The incredible beauty and color that accompanies the many, often daily rituals and offerings, which seem to be ever occurring, is proof that Bali is continually harmonizing the world of man with the cosmic world of the Gods.

The strength of their religion and traditions may be the main factor that enables them to preserve their culture from the outside influences.

Everyday life in Bali merges with social duties and religious obligations while the art reflects an integration of environment, religion and community in which the individual is a part.

The organization of the villages, land cultivation’s and the creation of art are of communal efforts. A village in Bali is the central place for its people while a family is the basic unit of the Balinese society which is grouped into ‘Banjar’, the group unit of several families. (Adjusted text taken from Indonesia Bali Guide Book, 1997, p.64-65)