in the Know
Please don’t touch a Balinese person on the head or touch someone by the left hand side. This is considered highly offensive to followers of the Hindu faith.
Using the foot to point or indicate is also regarded as impolite.
The square baskets of flowers placed in temples, shop front and other places of significance are actually daily offerings used to appease the Gods. Out of respect, please refrain from stepping on them.
It is important to be dressed appropriately before entering a Hindu temple compound or attending a religious ceremony. A sarong must be worn to cover your knees and a sash should be tied around the waist. Woman who are menstruating are prohibited from entering a temple or any site of worship.
Most Balinese are followers of Hindu faith, but it is very different from the practice of Indian Hinduism. The Balinese believe in magic and spiritual forces, however, the main focus of the religion is attaining a harmonious balance for a peaceful existence.
Colorful ceremonies with offering and prayers take place all over the island on a daily basis. They are held to celebrate rites of passage such as birth, marriage and death or an auspicious date in the Balinese Calendar.
Why do Balinese seem to have the same names?
In Sudra or Jaba (commoner) families, the first born is called Wayan, Putu or Gede, the second is Made or Nengah, the third is Nyoman or Komang, the fourth is Ketut. Then the list start over again, so the fifth (or rarely ninth) is another Wayan, sixth Made and so on. A Male is prefixed by I (pronounced ‘Ee’); a female by Ni.
Wesia (merchant class) use Gusti Ngurah for a man, Gusti Ayu for a woman. Among the Kesatria (nobility) the titles are Cokorda, Dewa or Anak Agung (all with Istri after for the female). The Brahmana (priests) have Ida Bagus for a man, Ida Ayu for a woman. Upper class titles followed by commoner birth order names indicate inter caste marriages. So Gusti Ngurah Putu is the son of a Wesia father and a Jaba mother. All of these status titles are followed by given name.
Balinese temples are surrounded by walls in fact, pura, the word for temple, means a wall area. Each temple is oriented on a mountain-sea or east-west axis. One usually enters the sacred compound from the kelod (the direction of the sea) or west side. Kaja (the direction of the mountains) and kangin (the east) are where the most holy shrines are placed. The sunrise side of the temple is holier than the sunset side, and is usually filled with secondary shrines.
The exotic, pagoda like meru, with its multi-tiered roofs, is a dwelling place or passageway for a deity or an ancestral spirit. The meru is only built with an odd number of tiers; eleven is the maximum and indicates the highest deity.
When the royal court moved from Gelgel to Klungkung in the 17th century, painters from the nearby village of Kamasan decorated the new pavilions with scenes using mainly red, ochre, white, black and brown natural pigments.
The example of Western artists who come to live in Bali led local painters to try something new. Two, who settled in Ubud in the 1930s, Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet were the most influential, teaching perspective, shading, correct anatomy- everything that was lacking in the Kamasan tradition. Ubud’s artists began to produce busy scenes of everyday life with naturalistic figures set against dense vegetation. When the world thinks of Balinese paintings, this is the style that comes to mind, reminding some people of the work of Rousseau.
Balinese Music/ Gamelan
Impossible to describe, unmistakable once you have heard it, the bell like sound of a gamelan orchestra is Bali’s musical heartbeat. You will hear the player practicing when you stroll through a village, or see them in their matching shirts and sarongs, loading theirs instrument into the back of the truck to set off for an engagement somewhere. A gamelan orchestra will accompany most of the dance performances at the hotel as well as at every temple festival. There must be tens of thousands of such groups, all different. Each Banjar (the smallest community) in Bali has at least one, with its own unique collection of valuable instruments, gongs, metal phones (metal version of xylophones), drums, cymbals and flutes. They are tuned to five or seven note ‘scales’, instead of the Western octave. The music is extremely complex – all the more so because performances, which continue for many hours, entail constant interplays of improvisation on the part of musicians.
The gamelan came to Bali from Java and still flourishes there, but after four centuries of separation it has evolved differently and taken on its own character.
Balinese Calendar System
Most people know of two kinds of calendar system: the Solar System and the Lunar System. The Solar System, mostly used internationally, is based on how many days the earth rotates around the sun; so one year has an average 365 days. The Lunar System (used in some Asian countries, is based on the time taken by the moon to rotate around the earth; which is 29 days + 12 hours + 44 minutes so that equation time 12 equals 1 year for the Lunar System.
Bali used the own calendar system. Bali uses the Wuku System (based on the week. There are 30 week in one cycle (Balinese – Oton) and two Otons in one year, so one Oton means 210 days and one year in the Balinese Calendar System is two Otons or 420 days).
The Balinese Calendar System is mainly used for religious purposes such us: to know the auspicious days for farming & raising animals, starting a business, determining the dates of temple ceremonies, three months baby ceremony, tooth felling ceremony, making birthday ceremony (Otonan) and others.