Bali Emerald Isle – A Faith of Harmony

Religious beliefs, rites and festivals guide a Balinese from birth to death and into the world thereafter.

They provide a cohesive force within the family and form the basis for village social interaction and cooperation. Religious customs defines the plan of a town, the design of a temple, the structure of a home and the distribution of responsibilities with the community. Holidays, entertainmenst and social gatherings are all determinted by the religious calendar and occur within the context of ritual observances. Some might find such a situation confining, but for the Balinese these observances are a rich source of inspiration, providing a life of unending pageantry and an outlet for their consideable artistic talents.

Each person finds himself born into a complex web of social bonds. Children are privileged in Bali, for it is believed that the younger a person is, the closer his soul is to heaven and the purer is his spirit. A baby is not permitted to touch the impure earth and is carried everywhere. Never are Balinese children alone, nor are they everbeaten, and rarely are they upset. Ceremonies are held at presscribed intervals, notably on the child’s first birthday (210 days), when offerings are made by a priest. Thus begins a life long cycle of rites of passagem which will later include ceremonies to mark puberty, marriage, childbrith and death. These are interspresed with regular offering to the ancestors, at a household shrine.

Communal activities revolve around the three temples possessed by every village: the Pura Puseh or temple or origin dedicated to Vishnu ceremonies for the living; and the Pura dalem or sanctuary for the ancestors. Each has a separate calendar of local ceremonies in addition to the regional and island – wide schedule of temple festivals. Within the village (deso) are smaller communities, the banjar, coopeartive groups of neighbours bound to assist each other in marriiages, festivals and especially during funeral cremations. Every adult belongs both to his desa and to his banjar, where he carries out most of his responsibilities to the village. The banjars control community property – a gamelan orchestra and dance properties – and have a kitchen for preparing banquets, a signal drum tower (kulkul) to call meetings, and a communal temple. The banjar’s meeting hall is an open pavilion with a large porch, called the bale. It serves as a local clubhouse, where mengather in their leisure hours to practise with their gamelan ensemble, watch dancers rehearse, hold council, or just sit and smoke and chat.

Fortunately, the 20th century Balinese harbour no anxieties about the preservation of their old, traditional customs. The traditional way of life is to each new generation as fresh and dynamic as it was to the last. By the same token, the Balinese are not precious about their religion, which they regard simply as custom (adat). And as the Mexican artist Covarrubias  so astutely noted in his book, Bali (1937), “what is the rule in one village is the exception in the next.” This makes Bali a place which is unendingly new and fresh for visitors, too – for no matter how well you may know the island, there is always more.

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