Bali’s Culture, Bali

People in Bali

Visitors to Bali are often struck by the warmth and hospitality of its people, who mostly reside in the southern coastal areas of the capital of Denpasar. Bali’s ethnically-diverse population includes people from the smaller islands of Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Lebongan, Nusa Peninda, Serangan and Menjangan. Hinduism is their main religion – another thing that makes Bali stand out amongst all the other islands in largely Muslim Indonesia. Other minority religions include Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Balinese Hinduism is vastly different from mainstream Hinduism. For one, the religion’s main deity is Sanghyang Widi Wasa, an all-compassing being, of whom other gods like Vishnu and Shiva are merely manifestations of.

Most Balinese rely on agriculture as their main livelihood. Fishing, trading and craftsmanship are also traditional practices passed on from generation to generation. However, globalisation and increased tourism activity have contributed to the rise in the number of younger people seeking new career paths.

Bali Language & Arts

Most people in Bali are fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, the main language spoken by everyone in Indonesia. English is commonly spoken in tourist hotspots, where multilingual signs are written in other foreign languages like Japanese, Korean, French, Russian and German. There are also a few Balinese indigenous languages distinctive from Bahasa Indonesia. Any small effort you make to learn and speak this difficult language will undoubtedly impress the locals.

Bali is well known for its painting, woodcarving, sculpture and performing arts. Just like neighbouring Java, the gamelan percussion orchestra and wayang kulit shadow puppet theatre are key tourist attractions. Performances usually depict stories from Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana, and dances are extremely dramatic and expressive.

Celebrations in Bali range from temple festivals to tooth-filing ceremonies, which are a coming-of-age ritual. Ceremonial artforms like wayang kulit can be improvised to suit the context of the occasion. Ramé, a rowdy, lively atmosphere, is characteristic of many celebrations in Bali.

Design & Architecture

Thanks to the increased demand for Balinese-style villas, hotels and cottages after the growth in the tourism industry, Balinese architecture has become one of the most popular styles of Asian tropical architecture. Blessed with abundant natural materials to utilise, modern Balinese architecture mixes native artistry with contemporary influences. It also carries some Hindu and pre-Hindu influences.

The Balinese are known for being master craftsmen and sculptors, whose works are influenced by a strong

 

sense of communal living and spirituality. They favour sophisticated techniques and intricate decoration, often with floral motifs. Sculpted in both stone and wood, palaces and temples are richly ornamented. Common elements of Balinese architecture include pagoda-like tiered roof towers called Meru; shrines honouring ancestors, certain gods; ornately carved columns, beams and ceilings; carvings of the deity, Kala and candi bentar (“split gate”) at entrances.

Statues are a common sight in temples and courtyards. Keep a lookout for the likenesses of Dewi Sri, Goddess of Rice and Fertility, the protecting demon Rakasa and various gate guardians that often flank entrances. Entire villages like Batubulan specialise in the large-scale production of such sculptures, which are popular souvenir items for tourists.

Cultural & Legal Restrictions

Spirituality is a big part of the Balinese way of life. Leaf trays bearing tiny offerings (canang sari) like flowers, rice, glutinous rice, and even coffee and cigarettes can be seen on the ground everywhere, together with burning incense sticks. It’s worth noting the local belief that deliberately stepping on these can bring bad luck – so, mind your step.

Balinese village systems are very communal in nature. All rites, festivals and important decisions are decided by a community panel of about 50 to 150 family members called the Banjar, while the local government oversees matters related to education, healthcare and infrastructure. The Subak – a subset of the banjar – takes charge of rice production and irrigation organisation, in order to ensure that every rice field receives a fair share of water. Bale Banjars are venues that function like town halls for regular gatherings.