Culture and customs of Bali

The Language

Bali is an island with a lot of culture and her own language called Bahasa Bali. In large parts of Bali also Balinese Malay is spoken. Both languages are a Malayo-Polynesian language. Next to these two main languages there is a third language called Kata Kolok which means sign language. This language is mostly used at Benkala which is a small village in the North of Bali.

  • Statue of two hands at Garuda Wisnu Kencana Park
  • Traditional danceshow at Taman Wedhi Budaya.
  • The head of a traditional Balinese statue.
  • Traditional dance performance in Ubud
f.l.t.r.: Garuda Wisnu Kencana - Legian | Taman Wedhi Budaya - Denpasar | Balinese Statue | Traditional Balinese Dance - Ubud .

Hinduism

As opossed to the rest of Indonesia which is mostly Muslim the population of Bali is mostly (93%) Hinduistic. After India this region has the highest concentration of followers of Hinduism. This form of Hinduism; Balinese Hinduism (Hindu Dharma, Agama Hindu), is a combination of Balinese mythology and influences from Southern Southeast Asia. This results in a more free Hinduism in comparisson to India and Sri Lanka.

In their every day life Hinduism is very important to the Balinese. This is shown in for example the many offers (canan sang) they bring. These offers are made daily at temples located on the streets, markets, airports and at home et cetera. Estimations say Bali has more then 20,000 temples.

The Balinese Calendar

The Balinese use a different kind of calender then we do. Their calender only has 210 days. Every year they start with the day of silence called Nyepi. For the Balinese this is one of the most important days of the year. By staying silent all day they try to convince the evil spirits that Bali has been deserted. They hope these spirits will leave Bali. Beside this very important holiday Bali has a lot more special holidays. For example they celibrate the constitution of each temple individual. Underneath is a list of several other important days:


  • Hari Raya Tumpek Wayang (Wayang doll blessing)
  • Hari Raya Sarasvati (the day they honor the god of knowledge, literature and art)
  • Hari Raya Tumpek Landep (blessing of weapons and other tools)
  • Hari Raya Tumpek Uduh (day to bless plants and harvest)
  • Hari Raya Galungan (day to celebrate the good defeated the bad)
  • Hari Raya Pagerwesi (day to honor the lord of the universe, Sanghyang Pramesti Guru)


Because these days are determined by the Balinese calendar it’s impossible to supply dates based on our calendar.

Caste Structure

Although the Caste Structure isn’t as important as in India it still plays a part in the life of the Balinese. The Caste Structure on Bali only has 4 layers called Varna. Underneath is the list of the 4 Varnas listed from the highest to lowest rank:


  • Brahmana – the Caste for Priest
  • Ksatria – the Caste for Kings and Royals
  • Wesia – the Caste for traders and businissmen
  • Sudra – the Caste for the streets

This structure is less complex then the Caste Structure in India. In India a Caste (Jati) can consist of groups of thousands which all have their own rules. The persons name tells you to which Caste a person belongs. For example a man from the Caste Brahama starts his name with Ida Bagus and females start their name with Ida Ayu.

An unique tradition on Bali is filing of teeth. The Balinese are convinced that sharp teeth belong to animals. By filing they try to become fully human. This ritual is especially important to persons which belong to the higher Castes. Before they file the teeth the person is secluded for the outside world. After the seclusion a priest files the teeth. The waste from the filing is buried at the altar of the ancestors.

Balinese music and dance

Another distinctive parts of the Balinese culture are the traditional music and dance. These dances are not only spiritual important but are also of great importance in the normal life of the Balinese. These dances like Baron (liondance), Kecak (monkeydance) and Calonarang are often accompanied by Gamelan music. This kind of music is not only used for dance shows but also for celebrating festivities at temples. Furthermre Bali is known for arts like painting and woodcarving which they have perfected for centuries.

Wayang Kulit

A well known artform on Bali is Wayang Kulit which is also known as shadow doll theater. For centuries this kind of art is used to tell myths and stories. Flat dolls behind a white curtain are used to project shadows which tell the story or myth.