Young Balinese women praying in a temple

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Discover the rich tapestry of Bali's culture and religion, including its unique history, cultural customs, and the role of temples in preserving traditions.

Known as the “Island of the Gods” for a reason, Bali is home to a rich culture centred on Balinese Hinduism. Known in Indonesia as Agama Hindu Dharma, Balinese Hinduism is a unique religion that blends elements of Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese, and ancient indigenous beliefs.

Balinese Hinduism differs from Indian Hinduism primarily in its integration with local traditions and Buddhism, making it less scripturally rigid and more community-oriented compared to the individually focused practices of Indian Hinduism. The key beliefs of Balinese Hinduism encompass the cycle of karma and reincarnation, where actions in one's life affect future existences; the pursuit of Moksha, or liberation from the cycle of rebirth through virtue and devotion; and the principle of Tri Hita Karana, which emphasises harmony among humans, nature, and the divine. There are numerous deities and gods worshipped within the religion, the most important of which is the Trimurti, consisting of three main gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Other elements include animism (a form of ancestor worship and deep reverence for the saints of Buddhism (Bodhisattva)

Balinese culture is based on a combination of Balinese Hinduism and local Balinese customs. One of the key religious principles that informs Balinese culture is Tri Hita Karana (“the causes reasons for wellbeing”) which emphasises harmony between humans, nature, and the spiritual world. Religiosity permeates every aspect of Balinese cultural life and is formalised into a set of local Balinese customs and traditions known as adat. These customs govern the way locals interact with each other, conduct ceremonies, and manage their communities. The local Balinese are often observed conducting daily rituals, making offerings (called ‘canang sari’), and worshipping at temples. Most Balinese locals wear ceremonial dress for these activities, such as a kamen (sarong). 

Bali has several significant cultural holidays and festivals, such as Kuningan, which celebrates the arrival of the gods on Earth, and Nyepi, the yearly Day of Silence. Festivals in Bali often involve a range of activities, from group worship to communal feasts and ritualistic performances accompanied by gamelan music.  

Bali is an island alive with an array of art forms and cultural practices, from dances like Kecak and Barong to music performed on traditional gamelan instruments and artisan handicrafts such as woodcarvings and batik textiles. The celebrated local food dishes include Babi Guling (suckling pig) and Lawar (a mixed vegetable and minced meat dish).

The most important cultural norms and rules in Bali involve respecting religious icons and ceremonies, especially while visiting sacred temples or engaging with the locals. It's crucial to dress modestly and refrain from pointing at or touching someone's head, as these are significant aspects of respectful behaviour.

What is the Religion in Bali?

The main religion in Bali is Balinese Hinduism (Agama Hindu Dharma). Balinese Hinduism combines Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese, and ancient indigenous beliefs, and is heavily influenced by government policy. Approximately 87% of Bali's population identifies as Hindu, unlike the rest of Indonesia which is majority Muslim.

Balinese Hinduism has an interesting history, dating back to the first century CE when Hinduism was brought to Bali island by traders from India. Undergoing various periods of flourishing and suppression, a turning point was reached in 1952, just two years after Indonesia achieved independence and formed its own constitution. At the time, Islamist conservatives within the Indonesian government’s Ministry of Religion enforced monotheistic religion under the rule of law. Famously polytheistic, the local Hindu religion had to undergo a rapid change in order to maintain its legitimacy by declaring belief in one supreme god, Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa. This pragmatic adaptation allowed Hinduism to continue thriving in Bali alongside the predominantly Muslim population of Indonesia, couching a fundamentally polytheistic religion within a framework of monotheism. 

In Balinese Hinduism, various gods represent different aspects of life. The main gods recognised in Bali are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, forming the divine Trimurti or “trinity”. Bali's government doesn't recognise polytheistic religions, so the 'Trimurti' is considered the supreme deity, known as Sanghyang Widhi Wasa. Other Balinese Hindu gods include Ibu Pertiwi, the embodiment of Mother Earth, Surya, the Sun god, Semara, the god of love, and Indra, the god of rain. These gods highlight the deep connection between Balinese Hinduism and the natural world.

Balinese Hinduism has evolved from its ancient origins into a contemporary religious movement that is sponsored and mandated by the government, according to Professor June McDaniel. Her thesis, entitled "Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement: Hinduism Recreated in the Image of Islam," was published by the University of California in 2006. McDaniel argues that the reformation of Hinduism in Bali represents a significant departure from traditional practices and beliefs. 

While retaining some traditional elements, this new form of Hinduism in Bali has been rationalised and adapted to meet social and political needs, aligning with the national creed and other accepted religions in Indonesia.
 

What are the key Beliefs of Balinese Hinduism?

Balinese Hinduism is fundamentally Hindu-based but shares core beliefs with traditional Buddhism and integrates aspects of one of the world’s oldest belief systems, animism. Animism is an indigenous religion that integrates aspects of ancestor worship and deep reverence for nature. To the Balinese, mountains, rivers, and waterfalls are not just physical or natural objects but literally inhabited by spirits and gods. Balinese Hinduism is a multifaceted religion, incorporating Buddhist beliefs like karma, reincarnation, and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. One of the main principles unique to Balinese Hinduism is Tri Hita Karana, which is centred around the harmony between humans, nature, and spiritual entities. The philosophy of Tri Hita Karana embodies the order and balance of the universe, emphasising relationships on three levels: between humans and gods, among humans themselves, and between humans and nature. This interconnectedness sets Balinese Hinduism apart and influences its ecological consciousness.

The 6 key beliefs of Balinese Hinduism are listed below.

  • Karma and Reincarnation: Like traditional Hinduism, Balinese Hinduism believes in the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. One's actions (Karma) influence the status and conditions of the next life.

  • Moksha: In Balinese Hinduism, the ultimate goal of life is Moksha, which means liberation from this cycle of reincarnation. Moksha is achieved through virtue, devotion, and philosophical understanding.

  • Tri Hita Karana: The Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana underpins Balinese Hinduism's belief system. It emphasises maintaining harmony between humans and gods, among humans, and between humans and nature. These relationships are crucial for overall well-being and happiness.

  • Ancestor Worship: Balinese Hindus strongly believe in honouring and worshipping the spirits of their ancestors. They believe these spirits have a significant influence on their lives and thus must be appeased through rituals and offerings. The Balinese make a daily offering called canang sari, which consists of a woven basket filled with offerings like flowers and rice. 

  • Temple Rituals: Temples, known as pura, are the focal point of worship in Balinese Hinduism. A range of religious ceremonies are held across the Balinese calendar, involving rituals that are considered essential for maintaining balance and harmony in the universe. 

  • Respect for Nature: In accordance with the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, Balinese Hindus have a deep reverence for nature. They believe in nurturing the environment as a way to maintain the balance of life.
     

What is the Culture in Bali?

Balinese culture is underpinned by a blend of local Balinese customs and Balinese Hinduism. These two facets have developed hand in hand, creating a unique set of religious and cultural customs that is entirely unique to Bali. Balinese Hinduism permeates nearly every aspect of daily life on the island, from traditional ceremonies and rituals to art, dance, music, and even the layout of villages. This cultural richness is evident in the intricate temple architecture, the colourful religious festivals, and the warm hospitality of the Balinese people.

Balinese cultural life is heavily guided by adat, the traditional customs and traditions that govern Balinese society and which are closely intertwined with core concepts of Balinese Hinduism such as Tri Hita Karana (“the three reasons for prosperity”). Adat plays a significant role in Bali's political and social structure and forms the basis of Balinese identity, according to Swiss Prof. Dr. Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, Emeritus Professor in Ethnology at Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen. The Balinese see themselves as masyarakat adat (“people whose life is governed by traditions”), and this is reflected in the sense of principled action, ritual and community solidarity that underpin daily life in Bali.
 

How Does Balinese Hinduism Shape Bali’s Culture?

Balinese Hinduism profoundly shapes Bali's culture, evident in dance forms based on Hindu mythology such as Legong, architecture reflecting concepts like Tri Mandala, musical traditions such as the gamelan, and celebrations like Galungan, which marks the time when the spirits of ancestors visit the Earth. On a smaller scale, Balinese Hinduism is reflected in the daily practices and rituals which underpin Balinese cultural life.

Traditional Balinese dances, such as the Kecak, Barong and Legong, are integral to Balinese life and culture, with strong connections to religion. They often depict stories from Hindu epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These dances are passed down from a young age and are performed with intricate movements and expressions. Balinese dances are performed as offerings to the gods and to communicate with them.

Music is a fundamental aspect of Balinese cultural life and is often used in a variety of settings from artistic performances to religious rituals and even tooth-filing ceremonies. One of the most important musical traditions in Bali is the gamelan, a percussive ensemble that features a range of instruments such as xylophones, gongs, drums, string instruments, cymbals and bamboo flutes. Gamelan music is a vital aspect of Balinese cultural identity and is inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This list covers cultural and artistic practices which are recognised as inherently valuable to humanity. 

Balinese architecture follows a spatial organisation system that aligns with the cultural and religious philosophy of Tri Mandala. Found in both houses and pura (temples), Tri Mandala divides sacred spaces into outer, middle, and holiest zones, each meticulously designed to honour Hindu gods. Intricate carvings and statues are common features of Balinese architecture, often bringing cultural and religious stories such as Hindu epics to life in physical form. These carvings additionally reflect the value given to craftsmanship and creativity so valued in Balinese culture. Plus, the emphasis on harmony with nature, a key tenet of Balinese Hinduism, is evident in how these structures blend with their natural surroundings, symbolising the deep respect for the divine within every aspect of Balinese culture.

Many of Bali’s famous cultural celebrations and ceremonies are steeped in Balinese Hindu tradition. For example, Galungan and Kalungan bookends the period when the spirits of ancestors visit the Earth, while the living seek to welcome and honour them with joyous celebrations. Nyepi, which aligns with Balinese New Year, is a Day of Silence involving self-reflection, fasting and spiritual cleansing. This day is rooted in Balinese Hinduism, reflecting the cultural belief in the balance of good and evil in the universe.

The local Balinese incorporate facets of Balinese Hinduism into many aspects of their daily lives. Most Balinese adhere to Tri Hita Karana, a philosophy emphasising the relationship between humans, the divine, and nature. Roughly translated as "the three reasons for well-being," Tri Hita Karana encourages the Balinese to practice devotion to God, live harmoniously with others, and protect the natural environment. Typically, Balinese participate in daily rituals, either at home or at temples, that involve praying and making offerings (called 'canang sari') to the gods.
 

What are the main Holidays and Festivals in Balinese Culture?

Bali's holidays and festivals hold immense spiritual significance and are marked by elaborate rituals, colourful processions, and communal feasts. One of the main Balinese festivals is Galungan, a ten-day celebration commemorating the victory of good over evil. Another important day on the Balinese calendar is Nyepi, a "Day of Silence" involving self-reflection and no activities. Other key festivals include Melasti, Kuningan, and Saraswati. 

Below is more information on the five most important holidays and festivals in Bali. 

  • Melasti: Melasti is a purification ceremony held a few days before the Balinese New Year. During this festival, the Balinese head to the sea with sacred temple objects to be cleansed. 

  • Nyepi: Known as the "Day of Silence," Nyepi is a day of contemplation, fasting, and meditation. On this day, the entire island comes to a standstill, with no activities or noise. The day after Nyepi is the first day of the Balinese New Year.

  • Galungan: Galungan marks the beginning of the most important recurring religious ceremony in Bali, and centres around celebrating the victory of good over evil. During Galungan, bamboo poles with offerings suspended at the end, known as Penjor, are made as symbols of prosperity. Galungan begins on the Wednesday of Dunggulan, the 11th week of the 210-day Balinese calendar. This means that celebrations are approximately 7 months apart. 

  • Kuningan: Held ten days after Galungan, Kuningan is a day to bid farewell to the deified ancestors who return to heaven after visiting Earth during Galungan. 

  • Saraswati: Saraswati is a Balinese celebration dedicated to the goddess of knowledge. On this day, offerings are made to books, and blessings are sought for wisdom and learning. Saraswati Day is celebrated every 210 days, corresponding to the Balinese calendar. It falls on a Saturday during Watugunung, the calendar's final week, and is observed throughout Bali.

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What is Galungan and Kuningan?

Galungan and Kuningan are important cultural festivals on the Balinese calendar. Galungan is a grand ten-day celebration marking the victory of Dharma (good) over Adharma (evil). The final day of the Galungan festival, known as Kuningan, symbolises spiritual enlightenment and introspection. 

Galungan occurs every six months according to the 210-day Balinese lunar calendar. It's a time when Balinese of all backgrounds unite in prayer at major and family temples, seeking blessings and celebrating the triumph of Dharma (“good”) over Adharma (“evil”) This period offers a unique spiritual experience, characterised by widespread participation and devotion across the island. During these times, the streets of Bali are adorned with ornate decorations and offerings, while locals engage in various rituals and ceremonies.

Kuningan heralds the conclusion of the Galungan festival. It occurs on the tenth day of Galungan and represents a time when the deities are said to descend to earth until noon, commemorating the triumph of righteousness. Kuningan occurs 10 days after Galungan, according to the same 210-day cycle of the lunar calendar.

What is Nyepi?

Nyepi, sometimes called the Day of Silence, is a significant event in the Balinese Hindu calendar held the day after the new moon of the lunar calendar. Meaning “to keep silent”, Nyepi is a day of complete silence, fasting, and meditation in which the entire island comes to a standstill. In 2024, Nyepi falls on March 10th and 11th, while in 2025, the celebration takes place from March 29th to 30th.

On Nyepi Day, activity on the island is subdued with locals staying indoors, keeping lights low, and restrictions on business trading (even Bali airport closes for 24 hours on Nyepi day). This silence marks the start of the Balinese New Year and the new agricultural season, symbolising spiritual cleansing, forgiveness, and finding the balance between Man, God, and Nature.
 

What is the History of Balinese Hinduism?

The history of Balinese Hinduism stretches as far back as the first century AD, when Bali was a major trading hub. This trade activity attracted Indian and Chinese merchants to the island, who brought their religious practices, including Hinduism, with them. Hinduism began to take root on the island, blending with traditional Balinese beliefs and practices, such as animism and ancestor worship. This created the unique form of Balinese Hinduism, known as Agama Hindu Dharma, which is still practised today.  

Initially, following Indonesian independence, the government required that all religions conform to a monotheistic framework to be officially recognised. This posed a challenge for Balinese Hinduism, which historically incorporated a diverse pantheon of deities and local animistic practices. In response, the Balinese Hindu community, aiming to preserve their religious and cultural identity while adhering to national regulations, redefined their practices under the banner of Agama Hindu Dharma. They emphasised the worship of a supreme being, Ida Sanghyang Widhi Wasa, which has various translations including “Almighty God”, “the Divine Ruler of the Universe”, “the Divine Ruler of the Universe”, “the Divine Absolute Cosmic Law”. Ida Sanghyang Widhi Wasa aligned with the government's monotheistic criterion, an adaptation that allowed Balinese Hinduism to gain official recognition. Following this recognition, practitioners were able to maintain their religious rites, celebrate festivals, and uphold their traditions legally and openly.

This cooperation between the government and the Balinese Hindu community under Agama Hindu Dharma not only ensured the survival of Balinese Hinduism but also highlighted the flexibility and resilience of the Balinese people in negotiating their spiritual heritage within the framework of Indonesia's national ideology.

Balinese woman during praying

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What Role Do Temples Play in Balinese Religious and Cultural Life?

Balinese temples, known as 'Pura,' serve crucial roles as centres for rituals, ceremonies, spiritual gatherings, and cultural traditions. Every village in Bali has at least three main temples, each dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva, and the local spirits. These temples symbolise divine intervention in everyday life, perpetuating tradition, and fostering a deep sense of spirituality.  Some of the most significant ​temples in Bali include Besakih Temple, known as the 'Mother Temple' for its significance and ancient roots, Uluwatu Temple, renowned for its cliffside beauty and cultural performances, and Tanah Lot, celebrated for its iconic rock formation, unique offshore setting and sunset views.
 

Why is Bali Hindu rather than Muslim?

Bali is Hindu rather than Muslim because of its geographical location and unique history. When Islam spread through Java and Sumatra in the 13th century, Hindu elites sought refuge in Bali. The island's isolation preserved their culture from Islamic influence seen elsewhere in Indonesia. 

In the face of the spread of Islam across Java and Sumatra from the 13th century onwards, many Hindu nobles, priests, artisans, and members of the royal courts fled to Bali, seeking refuge from the advancing Islamic Sultanates. Bali's relative geographical isolation helped shield these communities from the Islamic conquests and influences that transformed the religious landscape of other Indonesian islands. This influx of Hindu practitioners helped solidify and reinforce Hinduism in Bali, further embedding it into the cultural and social fabric of the island. Consequently, while Islam became the dominant religion in other parts of Indonesia through conversion and conquest, Bali became a sanctuary where Hindu traditions and practices were able to continue to thrive.
 

What’s the Difference Between Balinese Hinduism and Indian Hinduism?

There are several differences between Balinese Hinduism and Indian Hinduism. The main difference is that Balinese Hinduism incorporates local animist traditions and Buddhist elements into its practices, while Indian Hinduism is based on sticks to the traditional Hindu framework provided by the Vedas and Upanishads, a traditional Hindu framework. The Vedas are a collection of ancient sacred texts that form the foundation of Indian Hindu philosophical thought, while the Upanishads are a body of philosophical texts that explore the inner meaning of the Vedas, focusing on meditation, morality, and spiritual knowledge. 

In Balinese Hinduism, traditional Hindu teachings are uniquely integrated with indigenous Balinese beliefs, particularly animism, which venerates natural spirits and ancestors, and elements of Mahayana Buddhism, one of the two major traditions of Buddhism, now practised especially in China. These elements include the significance of transcendent wisdom and compassion. The synthesis of Hinduism with Mahayana Buddhism has led to distinct religious practices, such as a communal approach to temple rituals, the predominance of the Balinese language in religious ceremonies, and a profound respect for the environment, which is seen as inhabited by divine spirits. These characteristics set Balinese Hinduism apart from the more scripturally strict and individually focused practices of Indian Hinduism.
 

What are the Religious Offerings in Bali?

Bali;’s religious offerings are known as Canang Sari, which are handmade baskets made from coconut leaves that contain items like flowers, rice, incense and sometimes even money. These offerings symbolise gratitude towards the Gods in Balinese Hinduism. The canang sari holds great spiritual significance to the local Balinese, expressing gratitude and devotion to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, the Divine Oneness. Locals place these offerings daily at temples, homes, and even sidewalks to harmonise the human, divine, and demonic realms, reflecting the philosophy of Tri Hita Karana for well-being. Each colour of flowers represents a specific Hindu God in the Balinese pantheon. Red signifies Brahma, associated with creation. Yellow flowers honour Mahadeva, symbolising the cyclical nature of life. Green and blue flowers are for Vishnu, the protective god. Lastly, white flowers are used for Iswara, the god of nature.
 

What Balinese cultural customs and rules are there?

The most important cultural rules in Bali revolve around showing respect at religious sites by dressing modestly and behaving appropriately. Remember to cover your shoulders and below the knee when visiting temples. Recently, the Indonesian government has stated a no-tolerance policy towards poor behaviour from tourists. This includes things like disrespecting religious sites, public intoxication, and engaging in disruptive or offensive behaviour. 

Below is a detailed list of Bali’s cultural rules and norms to bear in mind while visiting.

  • Respect the sanctity of temples and religious symbols: Acknowledge the significance of Bali's spiritual heritage by showing reverence at temples and towards religious icons.

  • Honour Balinese customs and rituals: Show appreciation for Bali’s rich culture and traditions by keeping quiet during ceremonial processions and rituals.

  • Dress modestly in sacred areas: Wear modest clothes and a sarong when visiting Balinese temples, tourist attractions, and public spaces to respect local customs. Nudity is not tolerated in public in Bali, especially at these sites. In some cases tourists have been deported for violating these rules. 

  • Maintain polite behaviour: Exhibit courteous conduct in sacred sites, tourist locales, dining, shopping areas, and other public spaces.

  • Avoid sacred areas without permission: Do not enter highly sacred areas in Bali without appropriate reasons or attire, especially if menstruating.

  • Do not touch sacred trees: Respect the sanctity of nature by not interfering with sacred flora such as trees. 

  • Refrain from disrespectful behaviour in sacred places: Avoid actions that could desecrate temples, idols, and religious symbols, such as climbing on sacred structures or taking inappropriate photos.

  • Avoid pointing with your finger: Pointing is considered rude by Balinese people; use a hand with fingers downward to gesture.

  • Don’t stand with hands on hips: In Indonesia, standing with hands on hips is perceived as aggressive or signalling readiness for a fight.

  • Be patient with punctuality: Balinese people have a relaxed attitude towards timekeeping. Delays are common and not meant to offend.

  • Remove shoes before entering Balinese homes: This shows respect for the host's space. Similarly, dress appropriately if visiting government offices.

  • Engage warmly with locals: Balinese people are known for their friendliness and may initiate conversations or extend invitations to their homes.

  • Refrain from touching heads: The head is considered sacred; avoid touching anyone's head, including children.

  • Display affection discreetly: Public displays of affection, such as kissing, are not customary in Bali. Holding hands is acceptable but keep more intimate gestures private.

In 2023, Bali implemented new measures to manage tourism, particularly aimed at Australian tourists, who make up the largest group of foreign visitors. These measures include an official list of tourist guidelines (‘Dos and Donts’), a hotline for reporting misbehaving travellers, and the establishment of a special task force to oversee foreigners' activities. On the 14th of February 2024, an additional tourist levy of 150,000 IDR (~$15 AUD) with the aim of preserving Balinese culture, as well as improving infrastructure and conservation measures. 
 

How do Balinese people traditionally dress?

Traditionally, Balinese people wear ceremonial dress for religious events and temple rituals. This attire includes a sarong called a ‘kamen’, worn by both men and women. Men typically wear a batik (wax-dyed) shirt and head covering called a ‘udeng’, while women wear a ‘kebaya’, a blouse worn with a sash around the waist.

The most common form of clothing in Bali is a sarong called the ‘kamen’. Paired with many types of outfits, kamens are typically made from Batik material. Batik is a technique for textiles that uses wax-resistant dyeing to create colourful and intricate clothing designs. 

The kebaya is an embroidered blouse worn typically made from lace fabric. Worn for a variety of occasions from weddings to temple visits, the kebaya is the national dress for Indonesian women. Usually, the kebaya is worn over the top of a kamen and paired with a sash around the waist. 

Whereas Balinese women wear a kebaya as part of traditional costume, Balinese men wear a traditional headdress called the udeng as part of ‘pakaian adat’ (formal attire). Consisting of a square piece of white cloth wrapped around the head, the udeng signifies that a male is participating in a religious ceremony. The colour of the udeng and the way that it's tied has particular cultural meanings, such as indicating the wearer’s social role or the type of ceremony taking place. Usually, a white udeng is worn for temple days. 

Batik is integral not only to traditional dress but to Balinese culture as a whole and is even UNESCO-protected. Visitors to Bali have the opportunity to observe the Batik-making process as part of a ​Bali day trip. Taking a tour is a great way to learn about Bali’s cultural underpinnings, especially textile and handicraft traditions. Batik making is a fascinating process that involves artisans creating intricate designs in fabric using wax dye.

The level of ornamentation and degree of colour of Balinese clothing such as the kebaya or Batik shirts depends largely on the cultural or religious occasion and depends on custom. Originally, Balinese traditional clothes were primarily white, symbolising cleanliness and sanctity. Over time, the spectrum of colours used in these traditional outfits has broadened to include a variety of hues for everyday worship and casual ceremonial gatherings. In most cases, colour is used for ceremonies based on personal relationships, such as a wedding, whereas white is reserved for temple visits and religious ceremonies. Sometimes, locals can be observed wearing 'Mebija', which are seeds placed on the forehead during ceremonies as a traditional adornment for both men and women.

Observing norms for traditional dress is an extremely important part of Balinese culture, signifying respect for tradition, community, and spiritual beliefs. Whilst visitors are not expected to dress to the same standards, it’s important to show respect when visiting sacred sites by dressing appropriately. This includes covering bare shoulders or knees with a sarong. Typically, removing footwear is not required as the Balinese keep their sandals on inside temples.

balinese couple wearing kebaya dress and traditional balinese costume

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What are some arts, crafts and artisanal skills practised in Bali?

Below is a list of the most common traditional handcrafts and art forms found in Bali. 

  • Painting: Painting in Bali has evolved significantly from its origins, where it was primarily used for decorating temple walls for religious and ceremonial purposes. This art form blossomed into a significant cultural expression, especially in towns like Ubud, Sanur, and Batuan, each developing distinctive painting styles. The introduction of Western techniques in the 19th century propelled Balinese painting towards more modern and personal expressions, moving beyond traditional religious narratives to depict everyday life on the island

  • Wood Carving: Bali is renowned for its intricate wood carvings, which range from religious figures to elaborate decorative panels. Traditional symbols, landscapes, and floral motifs are commonly depicted in Balinese wood carving, with masks for traditional dances being among the most recognized wood-crafted items. Carved masks, often embellished with detailed features such as hair, fangs, and expressive eyes, showcase the craftsmanship and artistic depth of Balinese wood artists. The village of Mas is especially renowned for its skilled woodcarvers. 

  • Stone Carving: Balinese stone carving has a long history. Traditionally, artisans work with volcanic rock or sandstone to create statues, temple reliefs, and ornamental garden features. The area around Batubulan is famed for its stone carvings.

  • Batik: Batik refers to the traditional Balinese textile process of applying wax designs to fabric, which is then dyed with one or more colours. Though not originally from Bali, batik has become a popular craft on the island. 

  • Textile Weaving:  Bali is home to distinctive weaving textiles that are often used in traditional clothing and ceremonial attire. Bali is renowned for its textile weaving, particularly for producing Endek and Songket, which are pivotal in traditional clothing and ceremonial wear. Endek is known for its flashy colours and geometric patterns, whereas Songket is known for its intricate use of gold and silver threads woven into silk or cotton.

  • Basket Weaving: Balinese artisans use bamboo, rattan, and other natural fibres to craft a wide range of baskets and containers that blend functionality and artistic beauty. 

  • Ceramics: Ceramics production in Bali combines traditional techniques with contemporary designs. The village of Pejaten, among others, hosts workshops and studios where artisans create both utilitarian and decorative pieces.
     

What are some famous traditional Balinese dishes?

Below is a list of Bali’s most famous traditional dishes.

  • Satay Lilit: Satay Lilit is a dish involving grilled skewers of various types of meat, such as chicken, goat, beef, or pork. Classically known as minced meat satay, the meat is soaked in a marinade of coconut milk and a blend of spices such as kebab chilli sauce. 

  • Babi Guling: Babi Guling, or spit-roasted pig, is a popular Balinese dish. It is often served at cultural events or ceremonies and features succulent and flavourful roasted pork.

  • Betutu: Betutu is a Balinese dish that typically uses a whole chicken or duck as the main ingredient. The duck or chicken is then filled with a complex blend of aromatic spices.

  • Lawar: Lawar is an Indonesian dish made by combining chopped meat with a variety of green vegetables and grated coconut. It usually contains animal protein such as pork, beef, or chicken. The Balinese men are known to gather together to make Lawar and engage in fun activities while chopping and mincing simultaneously. 

  • Bubur Mengguh: Originating in Buleleng, this type of porridge is garnished with a liquid mixture made from spices, shredded chicken, roasted peanuts, and celery.

  • Urab: Urab is a traditional salad that features a broad selection of steamed or raw vegetables dressed with coconut.

  • Nasi Campur: Nasi Campuri is a rice dish that is usually accompanied by a vegetable salad, shredded meat, and sate. 

  • Nasi Jinggo: Nasi Jinggo, or Jingo rice, is a unique Balinese dish served in a cone-shaped banana leaf. It is usually considered ready-to-eat and is used in various religious ceremonies, such as birthday celebrations and meetings. 

  • Ayam Betutu: Ayam Betutu is a Balinese dish featuring slow-cooked chicken with a variety of Indonesian spices. It is prepared in a slightly different way across various areas of Bali. For instance, Betutu is wrapped in banana leaves in Gianyar and used for special events such as temple ceremonies. 

  • Serombotan: Originating from Klungkung, Serombotan is a traditional Balinese salad that is spicy and packed with vegetables. Traditionally, Serombotan is served with fried peanuts, a side of rice, Tipat, as a healthy vegetarian menu.
     

Do the Balinese Pray?

Yes, prayer is a crucial aspect of Balinese Hinduism. Most Balinese pray daily, offering devotion to the divine through intricate rituals conducted at home temples and public shrines. These religious ceremonies, filled with symbolic offerings and chanted mantras, reinforce their connection to the spiritual realm and uphold the cosmic balance, underscoring the paramount importance of prayer in maintaining harmony in Balinese life.
 

What’s the dress code for visiting cultural and religious sites in Bali?

The local dress code for visiting cultural and religious sites in Bali involves wearing a sarong to cover the shoulders and the legs below the knee, a practice that signifies modesty and reverence within these sacred spaces. The requirement to cover shoulders and legs extends to all who enter the temples, regardless of their gender, underscoring modestly as a gesture of respect towards Bali's rich religious heritage. Understanding ​what to wear in Bali is crucial to engaging authentically in Balinese customs, especially when visiting sacred places such as Pura Besakih, Tanah Lot, and Uluwatu Temple.