Bali: Culture, Art and Hinduism

Karim Raslan — Ceritalah ASEAN

Posted at Dec 12 2017 09:43 PM

Ceritalah ASEAN recently visited Ubud (Bali), Pekalongan, Muntilan, Magelang (Central Java) and Jakarta’s phenomenal Tanah Abang district to produce a series of videos on Indonesia’s “Keberagaman Agama” (Religious Diversity”). Starting from this week, Ceritalah ASEAN will present these videos as well as companion essays on the country’s stunning tradition of pluralism.

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Bali isn’t just known for the beauty of its nature, beaches and paddy fields. As one of Indonesia’s main tourism draws, it is also renowned for its culture, including its unique tradition of Hinduism with its heavy emphasis on art and rituals.

Anak Agung Ari (also known as “Gung Ari”) is a 24-year-old Balinese Hindu who is a midwife as well as a dancer. With her artist father and civil servant mother, this elder of two sisters lives in Ubud, famed for the abovementioned paddy-fields as well as its beautiful hillsides. Her sister, Gung Inten, is married and lives with her husband.

Growing up in a Hindu family has given the young, smart and talented Gung Ari a friendly demeanour. Working from a private clinic in Ubud, she is on-call at all hours to assist with births. Her heavy responsibilities have made her cling her faith even more strongly.

Every morning Gung Ari—who hopes to eventually operate a free maternity clinic for the poor—goes to pray at the Pura Dalem Puri temple that is 500 metres from her home. Before leaving, she says an initial prayer at the merajan, a sacred space in her residence.

Wearing Balinese kebaya and carrying a banten, or offering with her friend, Cok Gek, they make the 10-minute walk to the pura. The banten consists of fruit and flowers and is given as a token of gratitude to Ida Sang Hyang Widi Wasa—the godhead of Balinese Hinduism.

There are usually other worshipers already at the pura by the time Gung Ari and Cok Gek arrive. There is an air of silence and reverence. That, as well as the frangipani trees around the temple takes the edge off the morning heat.

After praying, Gung Ari briefly discusses the difference between Balinese Hinduism and the faith as it exists elsewhere. “Balinese Hinduism is more universal and free”, she states. “We are taught to willingly choose the teachings of the Hindu religion and exercise them according to our personal consciences.”

Balinese Hinduism is centred on the worship of three gods, called the “Tri Murti”, namely Brahma, Wisnu (Vishnu) and Siwa (Shiva). 

As Gung Ari notes, each temple contains different statutes and decorations that corresponds to the deity being worshipped there.

Balinese Hinduism (i.e. the “Agama Hindu Bali”) which is called the “agama Hindu Dharma” (“Hindu Dharma religion”) or Tirtha (“agama Air Suci”, or “The Religion of the Holy Water”) is practiced by the majority of the people of Bali. Worship is closely linked with art and ritual. It is also closely linked to the concept of “Hyang” or spiritual entities. Balinese Hindus stress the need for pacification rituals for the Hyang that are dramatic and aesthetically-pleasing. 
These rituals are done in candi and pura temple sites across Bali.

Balinese Hinduism has had a marked effect on the island’s character. Both local and foreign visitors often flock there simply to witness the various rituals and religious ceremonies. While Hinduism originated from India, the Balinese have made their own unique stamp on the religion. Its rituals are seen as an important, personal expression of faith among Hindu Balinese. Moreover, it has given the community a reputation of being elegant and respectful in their behaviour.

Balinese culture and faith is seen as complementary and highly-symbolic. Dances accompanied by gamelan music becomes more than just an expression of art and culture but also a communal act of worship. Indeed, dance is also seen as an act of worship to the Creator.

Bali has three unique dance forms: wali (sacred), bebali (ceremonial), and balih-balihan (entertainment). Wali and bebali dances are performed at specific places and times. Wali dances, for instance, take place in the inner part of the temple, while the bebali are held in the middle spaces. Balih-balihan dances on the other hand occur outside the temple and are primarily for entertainment.

Gung Ari’s father, the 53-year old Anak Agung Alit, who is also the caretaker of the Pura Dalem Puri, notes that Balinese Hindus believe that their art forms are both an ancestral heritage as well as a means to worship the Sang Hyang Widhi. As he says, art was created for a reason “To create peace, that is the purpose.”

In Bali, cultural ceremonies and art performances take place every day. According to Alit, this has strengthened Balinese Hinduism and prevented the faith, as well as the island’s culture and art from being negatively influenced from the outside. “This has allowed our regeneration process to be maintained” he notes.

A 2010 census notes that Indonesia had some 4,012,116 Hindus, or 1.69% of its population. This makes Hinduism the fourth-largest faith in Indonesia. Hinduism is one of the six religious accorded official status in Indonesia, besides Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

97% of Bali’s people are Balinese Hindus, with the rest being either Muslim, Protestant or having other faiths. Despite this, religious tolerance is strong on the island. Balinese Hinduism believes that there is only one God but many faiths. Its adherents also believe that Hinduism is the “mother” of all religions and cultures. As such, Hindus are taught not to disrespect other religions.

The people of Bali hold fast to the spirit of that popular saying (which has been partially adapted as Indonesia’s national motto) “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Tan Hana Dharma Manggrua”, or “Unity in Diversity, there is no duality in the Truth.” This highlights how the Balinese have been able to live in harmony with the adherents of other faiths.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.