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Bali people, Culture and Religion

In religion, the prehistoric influences, especially those of the megalithic periods were still quite strong. Beliefs at that time were focused on worship of the spirit of the ancestors which was symbolized in the form of temples which was called pyramid terraces or terraced buildings. Sometimes at the top of the building a menhir was placed, i.e. a monolith column as the symbol of their ancestor's spirit.

During the Hindu period, menhir could be seen in the construction of the temples which looked similar to the terraced pundan. Belief in the gods of the mountains, the sea etc, originated from the period before the arrival of Hinduism, was still reflected in the lives of people after the Hindu religion came in. At the beginning and during the period of King Sri Wijaya Mahadewi, the religion practiced is not mentioned.
We know only the names of the priests who bore the name Siwa, such as Piwakangsita Siwa, biksu Siwanirmala and biksu Siwaprajna.

Based on that, the religion that developed at the time was the Siwa religion. Only during the period of King Udayana and his queen, there were two large religions practiced by the people, i.e. the Siwa religion and the Buddha religion. This information was obtained from the charters which mentioned mpungku Sewasogata (Siwa-Buddha) as the king's assistant.

The People, the Village, and Orientation of Bali

Bali is a densely populated island. Most of the populations live in closely packed villages of 2.000 to 4.000 people on the fertile southern slopes of the island, along the ridges that carry the irrigation ditches. On these slopes it is usually only a fifteen minutes’ walk from one village to the next through the open rice-fields. On the northern coastal strip, the villages are spread along the Java sea. Traditionally the social organization of the island was based on the village, with each village being completed self-sufficient, providing all needs and functions from birth through cremation. Presently, as in all industrializing countries, the cities and tourist centers are absorbing, to some extent, the flow of goods and services. The social organization of the village is one of the most unique aspects of this enchanting island. The village is very much of communal unit, almost and extended family. The layout of Balinese village and the life of is members are closely tied to religion and the religious life of the people. The center of village is usually an ancient and gnarled banyan tree, regarded as sacred and believed to be the first tree on earth. High in its creeper branches or in a special tower nearly is the village “kul kul,” a wooden gong that acts as a warning of danger, tells of a death in the village, of calls the men to gather for a meeting of the “banjar”. Its importance persists, even in the modern Indonesia state. A village may have several banjars, with each banjar having some separate allegiances to certain temples, palaces, and holidays. Even the bustling metropolis of Denpasar is rigidly divided into its constituent banjars. All decisions concerning the welfare and future of its people are made by the 100 percent agreement of all married men in the banjar. The Balinese are aware that this means that new ideas take a long time to find their realization, but at least thing move along peacefully and in union. Each family has some communal duties to perform for the banjar. Almost every Balinese village has here major temples. The “pura desa,” (literally, the “temples of the village”) stands near the center of the village. Its functions are concerned with everyday village matters and ritually prescribed village gatherings. At the northern end of the village, towards the sacred mountain, Gunng Agung, is the “pura puseh.” This is a “origin” or “navel” temple, the temple dedicated to the spirits of the land and of ancient ancestors. In Bali towards the north, towards the mountain, is heavenly, good, “uranic,” towards the south, towards the sea, is earthly, evil, “chtonic.” As most villages are built on a slope, the southern end, or “kelod,” is the lowest part of the village as well. Here in the south are located the “pura dalem”, (the “temple of the dead”, and the burial ground with its mournful “kepuh” tree. This temple is for the souls of the recently deceased and the major temples symbolize birth (pura puseh), and death (pura dalem). In the center of every banjar also the Bale Banjar, or banjar pavilion. Meetings are held here, village feast are prepared, and people gather here at night to play cards or just talk until the down. The communal work is administered from the Bale Banjar. These works consist of repairing roads, bridges, and irrigation canals, the upkeep of the temples and preparation for cockfights and celebrations. Many villagers spend more time in Banjar pavilion than they do at home. The Balinese do everything in pairs groups. The Bamboo platforms in the Bale Banjar become long best at night, where villagers often sleep, sardine-like, safe in the company of their fellow man. The banjar is the core of village life. It runs its own affairs as a communal organization, such as the local dance group or rice-field association. In contrast to the egalitarian nature of the village political and economical organization, is the caste system, a mainly social convention based on the Indian ideal. Nearly every village has a “Geria” the recidence of a”brahmana,” and a”puri,” the residence or palace of a “ksatria.” Before the Banjar all are equal. Outside the banjar the “tri-wangsa” (the three higher castes) are held in great respect and are spoken to in a different, more refined language, than that used in every day speech on the roads or in the market. Over eighty per cent of the Balinese are “sudras” or casteless. The three higher castes are the descendants of the Javanese conquerors of Bali in the 14th century, or exile from the spread of Islam in Java in the 15th and 16th centuries. Traditionally the Brahmanas ( with the title Ida Bagus ) were the priestly and scholarly caste, the Ksatrias ( Anak Agung; Cokorda), the political and princely caste, the Waisya (Gusti), the administrative and warrior caste. Ideally the members of these castes should only marry within their own caste, but this convention is no longer strictly adhered to. A Balinese, then, live under two bonds. The first is determined by his descend and caste. The second is determined democratically by his village and banjar organization. Before Indonesia gained independence there was a third bond owed to a liege lord or prince, similar to feudal Europe. Language is a complex matter in Bali, Basically there are two different Balinese languages. T common or low language of the sudras is of Austronesian (Polynesian) derivation. The high language of the tri-wangsa is a Javanese court language which owes much of its derivation to Sanskrit. A Sudra should use the high language when speaking to a member of higher castes, and he should be replied to in low language. To cover the embarrassed that sometime emerges, a polite, “middle” language is used. Now a fourth language, the state language Bahasa Indonesia is taught in the school as a unifier for the modern Indonesian Republic. Within the philosophy of Balinese religion are the concepts of “buwana alit” and “buwana agung,” the microcosm and the macrocosm. The individual is the microcosm of the society at large; the one can not exist without the other and they are, because of this, the same. Over the centuries, the Balinese have had and strong sense of culture and an orderly and human society. They had assimilated two period of influence from java. Now they face the influence of mass tourism and technology.

Bali Culture

Bali is famous for its scenic beauty, dynamic culture, and friendly people. Located just south of the equator, tropical Bali has a hot, wet season (November-March) and a cool, dry one (May-September). Towering volcanoes, some still active, contain large lakes which provide water for irrigating thousands of terraced rice fields, enabling up to three harvests per year.

Bali Beliefs

The aim of Hindu Dharma is “to reach peace of spirit and harmony in the material life”. In practicing their faith, Hindu communities try to achieve a spiritual balance of worship between Tattwa (philosophy), Susila (etiquette/morals), and Upacara (rituals). These three areas are subdivided into various tenets.
The Tattwa has five principal beliefs (Panca Srada) :

  • Brahman The belief in the existence of one almighty God head.
  • Atman The belief in the soul and the spirit. Samsara The belief in reincarnation.
  • Karma Belief in the law of reciprocal actions (one gets back, eventually, what one gives out).
  • Moksha The belief in the possibility of unity with the divine (Nirwana).

The susila (etiquette) places emphasis on three major rules for behavior (Tri Kaya Parisuda) :

  • To think good thoughts.
  • To talk honestly.
  • To do good deeds.

As well three is an important code of Hindu Dharma called Tat Twam Asi - “ You are as I am;” in other words, “ to feel the feelings of one’s fellow beings.”

Upacara (ritual) is divided into five areas of holy sacrifice (Panca Yadnya) :

  • Dewa Yadnya - holy rituals for the gods.
  • Pitra Yadnya - holy rituals for the higher spirits, and “rites of death”
  • Rsi Yadnya - holy ritual for the holy Hindu prophets (resis).
  • Manusa Yadnya - ritual for and on behalf of humans (from the baby in the womb until marriage).
  • Bhuta Yadnya - sacrifices for neutralizing the negative influences from the natural and super natural worlds.

Hinduism is a monotheistic religion with one God head, in Bali called “Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa,” “Sang Hyang Tunggal,” or “Sang Hyang Cintya.” Hinduism is often misunderstood as being a faith with many gods and goddesses (Dewas and Bhataris).

These other gods are merely realization or manifestations of the holy rays from the one God. The word Dewa (Deva) comes from the Sanskrit word Dev, meaning ray.
Bhatara comes from the word Bhar, meaning protector. The Dewas, or holy manifestations of God which appear most often in Balinese religion are called the Tri Murti, or the holy Trinity.

  • Brahma - The creator
  • Wisnu - The preserver
  • Ciwa - The destroyer or returner.

In Bali the pedanda, (high priest), selected from the Brahman caste, officiates at large ceremonies. The pemangku, or village temple priest, looks after the temple and leads the holy rituals included in the Panca Yadnya.

The holy books of the Hindu religion are the Vedas, which originate in the India. Those which reached Bali are the Catur and the Veda Cirah, which are still used by the priest in carrying out their religious duties. The religion is taught in other forms as well. The most popular of these are the Purana, or morality plays, and the Itihasa, or epic poems, the most well-known being the Ramayana and the Mahabarata.

The many theatre forms-the wayang shadow puppet plays, the masked drama, the operas and ballets-are also vehicles of religious teaching.

The beliefs of the Balinese are living force that pervade the island and reverberate outside it. The island sings of love, the love that spends an hour making an offering of woven palm leaves and flashing flowers, the love that finds the time everyday to think of the “other world”, of giving something to the gods, of lighting a stick of incense, of sprinkling holy water, of whispering a mantra as the hands make gentle, sacred movement, of processions incredible in their splendor, of offerings amazing in their intricacy or surprisingly simple in their humility, of loving work and love bestowed on children a life of love, given freely to everyone in a smile or a wave as you pass by.

On this island there is a link to enlightenment. The Balinese feel themselves to be a blessed people, a feeling, continually reinforced by the wealth of their every-day life and strengthened by the splendor of their religion. It is almost as if the Balinese are living as art continually worshipping their muse.

To Nehru, Bali was “the morning of the world,” To the Balinese, Bali is the only “real” world in the world and the sacred mountain Gunung Agung is the “navel of the world,” the umbilical cord form whence the world springs

Bali Cycle of life

According to Hindu religious beliefs, after death, a soul passes into another body. During its tenure in the body, the soul is in torment. Consequently, the soul is always seeking to free itself from incarnation so that it can attain enlightenment or moksa. Once enlightenment is achieved, both the body and soul can join their cosmic equivalents forever. Therefore, when a person dies, but its soul fails to achieve moksa, it will continue with the cycle of life through incarnations.

The religious rites which are performed to accompany a soul through its journey in the cycle of life incorporate these cosmic nations. The intervening journey between life and death is given high importance in Balinese rituals. Balinese believe that the mountains are the abodes of the gods, deified ancestors and souls which did not attain moksa.

The gods and deified ancestors will descend occasionally to earth during temple ceremonies to partake of offerings and to enjoy entertainment when the souls are ready to re-incarnate on earth, they will come from the mountains or straight from hell. That is why the mountains are revered as the holy places.

All the phases of existence, from pregnancy to birth and then from birth to death, will be accompanied by rituals. Their purposes are: to fasten the soul in its body before birth, to welcome it into the world, to take it harmoniously along the various stages of life, and finally upon death, to help its cast away all earthly bonds and rejoin the old country of its origins. Here it can merge with the sublime soul of the world, Paramata of God.

According to the principles of cosmic harmony, man is expected to reach moksa. To do this he or she should strive to fulfill three other goals of life: desire-kama, wealth-artha and virtue-dharma. Each of this goals should be fulfilled in an order of priority depending on the stage reached in life, such as when young, becoming an adolescent, getting married, and becoming old.

After marriage, priorities in life shift towards family and an accumulation of wealth or artha. Male heirs are regarded as important because it is these heirs of sentana who will implement the rituals of death and look after the family temples. They are a safe guard in the process of release. It is therefore important to accumulate wealth so that the rites for their ancestors and the community can be financed.

The Balinese death is a return to your origins. The preceding wheels of one’s life are the way to ultimate release. Not all corpses are cremated immediately, as some wait for an auspicious day, a collective ceremony or until their descendant have enough money to perform the rites. The cremation ritual is art minder of the cosmic symbolism of life.

The tower is a duplicate of the cosmos; the corpse is put in the middle, symbolizing its position between the spiritual and the human worlds. The sarcophagus, in which the body is burned, is a vehicle to take the soul away. The ashes are collected and taken to the sea. It is here that the soul passes through hell to be tortured and cleansed. The soul is then called back on shore and eventually taken back to the Mother Mountain, Gunung Agung. The soul is then enshrined in the family temple and the dead in now an ancestor, until the next incarnation.

Bali Galungan Day
Galungan is literally a celebration of the creation of the universe, in which the Supreme God. Creator of the universe is worshipped, and all ancestral spirits are called to come down to earth and dwell again in the homes of their descendants. Welcoming offerings are placed in the family shrines and graceful “Penjor”, tall arching bamboo decorated with palm leaves and flowers, as well as small bamboo altars bearing intricately woven palm-leaf “Lamaks”, placed at the gate of each home.

Bali Kuningan Day
Ten days after Galungan, this is the day on which the ancestors are bidden farewell with more offerings and freshly woven “Lamaks”, and the Barongs take to the roads converting along with their troupes of following children.

Bali Ngaben the Cremation
Hindu funerals in Bali are intensely suggestive ceremonies of great cultural and religious significance. Requiring a complex apparatus and characterized by a large following, funerals are centered on cremation of the body, known as ngaben or pelebon. This practice is considered assenting if the 5 elements making up the microcosm of the human body are to be returned to their original residence, the universe's macrocosm. The five elements, Panca Maha Bhuta, are the earth (pertivvi), water (apah), fire (teja), air (bayu), and ether (akasa). Since the primordial dimension can only be attained through water and fire, the ashes are dispersed in the waters of the sea or if the distance is too great, in a river. The funeral ceremony is generally led by a priest and punctuated by a lavish offering of gifts. For the occasion, a large bullock-shaped wooden structure is built and then entirely covered with white drapes if the deceased belongs to a priestly caste; in black.

There are ceremonies for every stage of Balinese life but often the last ceremony-cremation-is the biggest. A Balinese cremation can be an amazing, spectacular, colorful, noisy and exciting event. In fact it often takes so long to organize a cremation that years have passed since the death. During that time the body is temporarily buried. Of course an auspicious day must be chosen for the cremation and since a big cremation can be very expensive business many less wealthy people may take the opportunity of joining in at a larger cremation and sending their own dead on their way at the same time. Brahmans, however, must be cremated immediately. Apart from being yet another occasion for Balinese noise and confusion it's a fine opportunity to observe the incredible energy the Balinese put into creating real works of art which are totally ephemeral. A lot more than a body gets burnt at the cremation. The body is carried from the burial ground (or from the deceased's home if it's and 'immediate' cremation) to the cremation ground in a high, multi-tiered tower made of bamboo, paper, string, tinsel, silk, cloth, mirrors, flowers and anything else bright and colorful you can think of. The tower is carried on the shoulders of a group of men, the size of the group depending on the importance of the deceased and hence the size of the tower. The funeral of a former rajah of high priest may require hundreds of men to tote the tower.

A long the way to the cremation ground certain precautions must be taken to ensure that the deceased's spirit does not find its way back home. Loose spirits around the house can be a real nuisance. To ensure this doesn't happen requires getting the spirits confused as to their whereabouts, which you do by shaking the tower, running it around in circles, spinning it around, throwing water at it, generally making the trip to the cremation ground anything but a stately funeral crawl.

Cremation of the dead (pengabenan, pelebon) is perhaps the most important, and often the most colorful, ritual of Balinese religion. A cremation is necessary to liberate the soul of the deceased for the passage into heaven and reincarnation. Due to the immense cost and the complicated preparations necessary, cremations often occur long after the death of the person. Usually, group cremation is held in order to share the expense and the labor revolved. Between death and cremation the body is buried in the cemetery, or, in the case of wealthy person whose family can arrange a cremation more quickly, the body lies in state in the family compound. During this time the soul of the deceased is thought to be agitated, longing for release. An auspicious day for the cremation is chosen by a pedanda, or priest, after consulting the Balinese calendar. Preparations begin long before the appointed day. Each family builds a large tower of bamboo and paper, extravagantly painted according to the caste and wealth of the deceased, on a large bamboo platform. A magnificent, brightly colored, life size bull is also constructed of bamboo and plaster. On the morning of the cremation relatives and friends of the deceased visit the house of pay their last respect, and are richly entertained and fed by the family. At midday the body is whisked out of the house and carried, with the tower and bull, to the graveyard by members of the dead man’s banjar. This becomes a loud, noisy, boisterous procession, designed to confuse the soul of the deceased so that it will lose its way and not be able to return to the family compound, where it could cause mischief. At the cremation ground the body is put into the belly of the bull. A priest officiates at the last rites, and then the fires are lit. After the burning, another raucous procession begins, carrying the ashes to the sea or the local river, where they are thrown to the wind. This represents the cleansing and disposal of the material body, and is cause for singing and laughing in the procession. Later, there are private ceremonies for the care of the soul is believed to be reborn. The status of reborn soul relates to the person’s karma, or his conduct in previous lives. In general, the Balinese feel that the soul is reborn within the same circle of blood relations. This cycle of death and re-birth is the cause of the Balinese reference for ancestors. Every Balinese knows that one day he will be an ancestor, whose long passage through the other world must be expedited and cared for it if he is to return to his beloved island of Bali.

Bali Nyepi Day
Balinese New Year’s Day according to the Caka Calendar this is a day inactivity and silence throughout the island 24-hour. Fires may not be lit so cooking must be done the day before. Great purification offerings are made in every village on the day before to appease the evil spirits and a general exorcism is held. That evening large gangs of children roam the villages dressed in garnish attire and bearing burning torches, chanting and banging on home made cymbals to scare the evil spirits away. Traditionally the day of Nyepi is spent at home fasting, in prayer and meditation, but only more religious Brahman families follow this custom.

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