A Bit About Balinese Culture
The Balinese don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries. They don’t celebrate birthdays much, either. What they do celebrate is their religion. Hinduism is the center of their everyday lives, which are steeped in religious ceremony and tradition. Towns prepare for temple festivals by weaving intricate designs of young palm fronds onto long bamboo poles, which are then displayed all up and down the streets. Each morning the Balinese weave palm leaves into small baskets, filling them with flowers, fruit, and various other food.
These offerings are left out on the sidewalk in front of the home or shop, placed in the windshield of the car, or placed upon a home altar. There are even groups of women whose job it is to prepare and bless the offerings before delivering them to stores in the market so that the offerings will be fresh throughout the day. By the end of the day the food has been devoured by monkeys, eaten by ants, or picked over by birds and the street is littered with the remains of these offerings. Locals can be seen sweeping them into big piles with long whisk brooms made out of twigs. The next day, the whole process begins anew.
The Hindu religion has a myriad of Gods, however the three most important among them are thought to be Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Protector or Maintainer; and Shiva, the Destroyer. Consequently, every village has three major temples, one on the north side to honor Brahma, one in the center to honor Vishnu, and a third on the south side to honor Shiva. Balinese men and women can regularly be seen walking to temple dressed in traditional garb, carrying huge baskets of fruit and flowers on their heads to be left as offerings to the Gods. The ceremonial garb for men consists of a sarong, covered by a shorter saput, both of which are bound by a sash. On their heads they wear the traditional ceremonial headband, knotted in such a fashion that it resembles a hat. Women wear long skirts or sarongs and either colored bras or strapless bustiers, which they cover with see-through lace blouses.
The colors worn are a clue as to what type of ceremony is taking place. White and yellow outfits are worn for temple festivals, dark garments for funerals, and brightly colored outfits for weddings. After my guide explained this to me I thought I was clever when, later, I spied a man dressed in black and white checked saput with a bright red jacket and headband. “Ah, he must be going to a wedding, with all that colorful clothing,” I said. “No, no, he is in traditional dress of security – he provides security for the temple during ceremonies,” Wayan explained. There are so many nuances to the Balinese culture that it would take years to really understand it.
Ubud, being the cultural and arts center of Bali, is the best place to see performances of the famous Balinese dance. There are at least five different dances to choose from each night. I asked around to find out which was the best one to attend. One of the other guests, who comes to Bali regularly, suggested I hire the front desk clerk, Made, to take me to the nearby village of Batu Bula to see their famous dances. Apparently, Batu Bula is one of the few places where the Fire Walk is performed, and then only twice a week. So I hooked up with Made and we agreed upon a price. He picked me up on his motorcycle at 5:30 PM. We wound our way up and down hills, along curvy mountain roads, reaching Batu Bula half an hour later.
It was during the performance that I really became aware of how very important religion is to Balinese culture. Most Balinese dance, chanting, trance, and singing is a depiction of ancient Hindu legend. In this case the performance told the story of the white monkey, Hanuman, who helped Prince Rama retrieve his beautiful bride, Sita, who had been kidnapped by the demon King Rahwana. This particular performance had no music or orchestra, rather it was accompanied by a chorus of 30 men who chanted in rhythm during the entire hour long performance.
The show ended with the Sanghyang Jaran Dance, where an entranced boy dancer on a horse (the horse being represented by palm frond streamers hanging from a frame that the boy carries on his shoulders) dances around and in a bonfire made of coconut husks. At the end, the members of the chorus pull him out of the fire, lay him on the ground, and quickly remove all the burning materials from his feet, body and costume. It was an amazing spectacle.
Although I have been trying to change my flight so I can stay here a few more days, I don’t know if I will be successful, so I am headed down to the southern part of the island tomorrow to be near the airport. If I can change it, I will stay in Sanur for a few days, where they have pure white sand beaches. If not, it’s on to Thailand as originally scheduled. Whatever the Gods decree will be OK with me. There is no doubt that I will come back to this island someday – it is such a beautiful place and there is so much I did not get to see. I will leave you with two more photos – yet more rice terraces, but this time in gorgeous full sunlight that showed off the lush greenery to its best advantage.