Bali ~ Land of Spirits, Music and Rice: Part 1

Get away from the glitz and glitter of the beach resorts and the crush of shoppers in Ubud and you will discover a place like no other. There, Balinese Hinduism along with the ancient Gamelan music and the cultivation of rice are all intertwined to create a land of culture and tradition. Let me try and explain.


Bali is but a tiny part of Indonesia, a 3,000 mile long string of over 17,000 islands that straddle the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The island of Bali is near the middle of the chain, just east of Java and south of the equator. The island is unique. While Indonesia’s 240 million people are 88% Muslim, Bali’s 3.5 million residents are 93%Hindu.

Land of Spirits

Bali ~ Land of Spirits  It is difficult to get away from religion in Bali. Temples are everywhere. Each village is required to have at least three temples. Every family compound has at least one temple or shrine and still more shrines dot rice fields and roadsides. Gamelan music is ubiquitous to Bali – it is a mandated part of the tens of thousands of religious ceremonies held throughout the island each year. Rice, the staple food of Bali, and its culture is of utmost importance in the cycle of life, thus is woven into their religious beliefs. So much so that the Balinese worship and build temples honoring Dewi Sri the goddess of rice and Dewi Danu the goddess of water.

Hinduism made its way to Bali in the eleventh century from India by way of Java and was simply commingled with the existing strong religious beliefs already in existence. Thus, Balinese Hinduism has little semblance to traditional Hinduism. Like Indian Hindus the Balinese worship the same trinity of gods – Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Additionally, they believe in Sanghyong Widi, their supreme god. But, unlike in India, icons of the trinity are never seen. The temple thrones and shrines are empty.

Why? The Balinese Hindus are animistic. They believe spirits are everywhere. The good spirits dwell in the mountains and the evil spirits haunt the deserted beaches and forests. Demons and giant creatures inhabit the sea. Living between the forces of good and evil, the people must strike a balance and keep peace. This is accomplished by making daily offerings to pay homage to the good spirits and to placate the evil spirits.

Finding the Photographer Amusing

Finding the Photographer Amusing

On a recent visit to Bali, we had the opportunity to visit at least six temples including Pura Agung Gunung Raung in the ancient village of Taro in the north central part of the island. The faithful were in the midst of a once in five year celebration. While we were welcome to visit, not being Balinese meant our guide first had to get permission from the priest. Then, of course, we had to be properly attired. Sarongs and sashes for the women and the same for me; plus, I had to wear the traditional head cloth, called an udeng. In spite of my rather outlandish appearance, and that non Balinese were an uncommon sight in Taro, we were welcomed, though I suspect primarily because I was a source of amusement.

Inside the temple grounds, many women were gathered in the shade busily weaving offering trays from palm fronds while catching up on local gossip. Others were making offerings to the spirits and receiving blessings from the priests. All the while, the gamelan ensemble was tuning up for the afternoon’s performances.

Later, while visiting Pura Goa Lawah, one of Bali’s nine directional temples, we witnessed a part of the very elaborate funeral rites. Several hundred loved ones of the recently departed gathered on the beach in front of the temple. Ashes of the departed along with many offerings are scattered into the sea as a purification of the newly released soul. Cremation and the subsequent complex funeral ceremony is the only means to ensure that the spirit may be released from its mortal remains so it can be reincarnated.

A photo gallery of  “Bali ~ Land of Spirits” includes some of my favorite images of Bali’s temples.

In future posts I will write and share images about the Gamelan instruments and music as well as the Culture of Rice.

Visit On the Go With Lynne for more on Bali and other great travel writing.

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Land of Spirits


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One Comment

  1. lynne April 30, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    What an honor to be able to observe and photograph these time honored traditions. Nicely written! Look forward to reading about the gamelon music and rice cultivation.