The Balinese way of life

The Balinese way of life

Those of us who have the privilege to live on the famous island of Bali for an extended time understand that for the Balinese harmony reigns supreme. The three pillars of the Balinese philosophy called Tri Hita Karana influence the daily life of the Balinese and those of us who have made Bali our home.

  1. Pawongan – Harmony among people 
  2. Palemahan – Harmony with nature or environment 
  3. Parahyangan – Harmony with God 

Balinese Hinduism – Agama Hindu Dharma is a complex mix of Shivaism, Buddhism, animism, ancestor worship. The religion of the Balinese oscillates between Hindu scriptures, old customs and beliefs (adat).

In 1950 after the independence of Indonesia, the Balinese religion was not recognized because of their polytheist and animist practices. It was only in 1964 that the government accepted the Agama Hindu Bali. Balinese scholars created a monotheist form of Hinduism to meet the criteria of the government’s department of religion. 

The Balinese worship a God called Sanghyang Widhi or Acintya.

Sanghyang Widhi is a manifestation of Trimurti, three deities as depicted in Hinduism as a triad of Gods that comprise Brahma – the cosmic functions of creation, Vishnu – the preserver, and Shiva – the destroyer. You can see Sanghyang Widhi or Acintya at the top of the Padmasana, the altar of the home temple in Balinese compound.  

According to Balinese Hinduism, the cosmos is comprised of three layers: 

  1. Swarga (heaven), the abode where the gods live 
  2. Buwah, the world of humans
  3. Bhur (hell), where demons reside

The Balinese prepare daily offerings called “canang sari,” or “banten” to maintain balance and peace on earth (buwah), amidst the forces of good and evil, among gods and demons, between heaven and hell, between suarga and bhur.

Offerings are little weave baskets that contain symbolic food and flowers. The offerings consist of different coloured flowers: white flowers to the east, as a symbol of Iswara; red flowers to the south, as a symbol of Brahma; yellow flowers to the west, as a symbol of Mahadeva (Shiva); blue or green flowers to the north, as a symbol of Vishnu.

Daily offerings are made to thank Sanghyang Widhi. Canang saris are placed in the temple, on small shrines in the houses, and on the ground. Offerings are made to honour both the higher and the lower spirits of a household, so negativity can be neutralized with positivity and ensure harmony. The Balinese believe that good spirits reside in the mountain, so for them the offerings are placed high, while for the lower spirits they are placed on the floor.

In my compound and studios we make 45 offerings a day.

Making offerings is meant as a selfless action and should not be done as a form of barter with spirit. The purpose of the ritual is first to give back what you have received; it is a gesture of gratitude to maintain a good relationship between human and spirit, to appease spirit and bring good health to the family. It takes roots in animism and naturalism.

How to pray the Balinese way:

  1. You take an offering of a lit incense stick.
  2. Clean your face and hands with the smoke of the incense and also with a flower.
  3. The priest starts to ring the bell. 
  4. First, we pray with our palms together in front of your forehead to empty our mind and connect with the spirit within. When the bell rings three times, we stop. 
  5. The second time the priest rings his bell we pray to the sun with a yellow or white flower between the middle fingertips. When the bell rings three chimes, we stop and discard the flower.
  6. The third time the priest rings his bell we pray to mother earth with multi-coloured flowers between our middle fingertips. When the bell rings three chimes, we stop and discard the flowers.
  7. The fourth time the priest rings his bell we pray with three or more flowers to the whole universe, and when the bell rings three chimes, we stop. We can put the flowers in our hair, behind our ears, or on top of our head.
  8. The fifth time the priest rings his bell we pray with empty hands for peace, and when the bell rings three chimes, we stop. 
  9. The priest will sprinkle on our head some holy water three times while we place our palms upwards. Then we put our right hand on top of the left, and the priest will drop water into them, and we drink. We drink holy water three times, and the fourth time when the priest pours the holy water, we wash our face, and the fifth time we put the water on top of our head. He then offers us rice, of which we take a small pinch and place it on our forehead, our throat pit, and on our temples.

When praying privately, you need to wear minimum a sash around the waist to show respect. However, when going to the temples, men and women are required to wear appropriate temple attire:

  • Men wear udeng (headpiece), a shirt (usually white), kamen (long woven clothes to cover the legs), saputan (a cloth that goes on top of the kamen from the waist to thighs), and umpal (a waistband). 
  • Women wear kebaya, kamen with a sash wrapped along the waist, and their hair pulled back.

I wanted to share with you this special way of praying as Bali is considered by many people a magical place, and I think that the local spiritual practices are part of the island’s magic.

You could try it at home and let me know how it worked.