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12 Oct

Balinese Religion or Balinese Culture

The Balinese are an ethnic group native to the Indonesian island of Bali. Most Balinese live in Bali; however, significant groups of them can be found the Indonesian islands of Lombok and Java. The Balinese were known for their independence and distinct culture. While the rest of Indonesian culture gradually absorbed Chinese and Indian influences, the Balinese preserved their own heritage. This is very evident in their religion. Most of Indonesia’s ethnic groups transitioned from to their pre-Hindu religion to Hinduism and then Buddhism. The Balinese also made the transition, only in a different manner. They retained many of their pre-Hindu customs and developed what is known as Balinese Hinduism.

Balinese Hinduism is one of Indonesia’s prime tourist attractions; however, the true fascination of Balinese religion is often ignored in the excitement of tourism. Balinese Hinduism is based on the concepts of dharma (order in the cosmos) and adharma (disorder in the cosmos). The Balinese attempt to find the true balance between these two concepts in order to achieve moksa (a state of supreme happiness through the end of the reincarnation cycle). The Balinese worship the two main gods of Hinduism, Vishnu and Brahma, as well as the ancient gods of their original culture, Sang Hyang Widhi and Dewi Sri. Their ancient gods and political philosophy, Pancasila, are responsible for the majority of their fascinating culture.

Apart from the beautiful Balinese temples, there are two festivals that attract worldwide tourist attention in Bali. They are Galungan and Nyepi. Galungan is a festival that celebrates the triumph of dharma over adharma. It marks the time when ancestral spirits visit earth and ends on Kuningan, the day the spirits return to heaven. The Balinese mark this time by a devout show of hospitality to the spirits through prayer and offerings. The most apparent manifestations of this can include a solemn parade to a Balinese temple led by beautifully attired Balinese dancers and the display of bamboo poles known as the penjor, which contain offerings for the spirits.

Nyepi or well known as the Day of Silence marks the start of the Balinese New Year. While the Balinese observe absolute silence and inactivity on the actual day, the main attractions are the festival days leading up to it and the ones that follow it. The central one is the Melasti Ritual, which occurs 3 days before Nyepi. The Balinese turn out in solemn procession to witness the drawing of the sacred water from the sea at the temple of Pura. The day after Nyepi is called Ngembak Geni, a day meant for forgiving. The Balinese dress in the finest traditional clothing and the youth participate in the Omed-Omedan ritual (The Kissing Ritual).

Both the Galungan and the Nyepi festivals provide tourists with a spectacular display of Balinese culture; however, the rituals themselves can be just as fascinating. Sober beauty does not always attract the eye immediately, but it holds the attention much longer. Learning the intricacies of the Balinese religion is similar. It seems sober from a distance, but it is full of rich and beautiful meaning when it is closely inspected. The Balinese religion provides the substance behind the Balinese culture. A person can only comprehend the full beauty of the Balinese culture by learning the details of the religion. Once that happens, the beauty of the Balinese culture will appear in more stunningly, beautiful colors. Commit a little time and effort and you will not be disappointed.