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Bali: Our visit to 4 Hindu Temples (and what we learned about Balinese culture)

June 9, 2018

Bali, the famed island of the Gods, is known for it’s beaches, waterfalls, terraced rice fields and Hindu Temples. The temples are an important part of the Balinese culture and with nearly 10,000 on the island, it wouldn’t be a visit to Bali without visiting a few. 

 

When we arrived to Bali, our Airbnb host arranged a driver to pick us up from the airport. Our drivers name was Sonny and we were so lucky to have met him. He ended up being our driver during the majority of our time on the island and is the one who brought us to most of the temples we visited. When visiting most temples, foreigners are required to wear a sarong to cover their legs. If you don’t have a sarong, you can rent one and some temples provide one in your entry fee. 

 

ULUWATU TEMPLE

 

Uluwatu is a beautiful coastal temple. In Balinese, ‘ulu’ means top and ‘watu’ means rock. As the name suggests, Uluwatu is perched above seaside cliffs and overlooks the Indian Ocean. We walked along the coast for different viewpoints of the temple. To get to the temple, you’ll climb approx. 200 stairs. Once at the temple, the views are remarkable. You can see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks below. When we visited there was a couple praying in the temple. Only the locals are permitted to enter certain areas of the temple for prayer. 

 

Beautiful coastline views from the temple 

Uluwatu Temple perched up on the cliff

 

Locals are required to wear traditional Balinese attire when visiting the temple. Men wear a collared shirt, with a cloth called a Kamen around their waist. Women wear a long-sleeve lacy blouse with a Kamen wrapped around their waist. The difference of the Kamen is that men wrap it around their waist with a fold front center. Women wear it tightly around their waist on the left-hand side with no draping. 

 

Wearing sarongs visiting Uluwatu

 

As you approach the temple and before ascending the steps to the top, you’ll see monkeys meandering about. There is a myth that the monkeys guard the temple of bad spirits. The monkeys might be cute, but you must watch your belongings, especially hats, glasses and water bottles. We witnessed several people lose their glasses to the monkeys. Luckily there is security on site that will attempt to chase down the monkeys and retrieve your stolen items. 

 

We didn’t stick around for sunset but we’ve read the best time to visit Uluwatu is at sunset. A bonus is the traditional Balinese dance that is performed everyday at sunset here. 

 

Mother and baby monkey at Uluwatu

 

 

TANAH LOT TEMPLE

 

Tanah Lot is another beautiful coastal temple. In Balinese, Tanah Lot mean “land of the sea.” The temple sits on a large offshore rock and is accessible during low tide. We visited during high tide and enjoyed viewing the temple from a distance. We spent 90 minutes at this religious site, staying to enjoy a picturesque sunset. 

Beautiful sunset views at Tanah Lot

Enjoying the sunset and quality time with my parents

 

As you approach Tanah Lot, there are many markets with locals selling Indonesian food and souvenirs. One of the shops sells Luwak coffee, a style of coffee that includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the asian palm civet.  In front of the shop, there was a real live palm civet and we snapped some photos with it. 

 

The Asian palm civet

 

We had the opportunity earlier in the week to visit a coffee plantation to try Luwak coffee. My Dad was served a glass of Luwak coffee as we were seated, then we were served a platter of 12 different coffee and tea blends to try. The flavors were so rich and varied with some having hints of vanilla, coconut, berries, fruit, and ginger. Some of the coffees were too strong and some teas were very spicy.

 

At the coffee plantation learning about the process of making Luwak coffee

 

 

PURA BRATAN TEMPLE

 

Pura Bratan is another picturesque Balinese temple. It is located inland, about an hour northeast of Ubud. Sitting on a lake, this temple looks like it is floating, especially when the waters are calm. The property the temple lies on is very big and has nice gardens to leisurely walk through. During our visit it was raining and our time at this temple was limited. 

Pura Bratan

 

TIRTA EMPUL TEMPLE 

 

Tirta Empul is one Indonesia’s largest and busiest water temples and Bali’s most well known water temple. As such, we opted for visiting Pura Tirta Taman Mumbul Sangeh, a water temple less frequented by foreigners. This temple is special as Balinese people come to receive blessings and purify themselves from the springs holy water. In Balinese, holy water is known as Tirta and Tirta has 3 purposes which are very meaningful to Balinese people.The purposes are to cleanse from evil spirits, bring prosperity and for purification of the body and soul. Each of the showers flowing with holy water also represent a different chakra. Balinese believe each shower will cleanse a certain chakra aligned with the body. 

 

When visiting Hindu water temples, there are specific rules that must be followed. We were allowed to observe and take photos, but we could not step into the springs without being dressed in ceremonial clothing. After exiting the spring, there is a priest who offers a blessing and puts wet rice grains on your forehead and chest. This signifies you will live with a clean mind and soul.

 

 

LEARNING ABOUT BALINESE CULTURE 

 

We enjoyed our visits to each of these temples and learned a lot about the Balinese culture. Here are some things we learned about the culture that we didn’t know before our visit.

 

1. In the Hindu religion, daily offerings are made called Canang Sari. The Balinese prepare these daily as a way to thank the Hindu gods for peace and guard their homes. In context of the Christian religion, it’s like saying the rosary - a repeated act of faith. You’ll commonly spot these in temples, on the ground in front of businesses and peoples homes, placed on shrines and even in cars.  The offerings differ from family to family. Most we saw were made of palm leaves and filled with gifts such as rice, flowers, incense, food, money, and tobacco.

 

Canang Sari offerings can be found all over Bali. These are offerings our Airbnb host left around our home each day

 

2. It’s not uncommon to meet many locals with the same name. We met so many locals with the name Made and thought it was just a common name. We learned it’s part of the Balinese culture to name children according to their birth order. The first born is named Wayan, second born is Made, third born is Nyoman and fourth born is  Ketut. The fifth born is named Wayan and the pattern continues. Some locals choose to go by their middle name, as was the case for Sonny (his birth name is Ketut).

 

3. Traditionally, families live together in on one compound. When a woman marries, she goes to live with her husbands family. Sonny was so kind and invited us to his compound to meet his family. We met his wife, his mother and three of his brothers. It is obvious from our visit with his family, and other locals we interacted with, that family is very important to the Balinese. They work hard to care and provide for their families. 

Visiting with Sonny and his wife in their home

 

4. Balinese are very respectful, peaceful people. They aren’t known to express anger, it’s actually looked down upon. We didn’t encounter any situations like this ourselves but a local we met shared this information with us. 

 

5. When a woman is pregnant, her husband does not cut his hair. As you might notice in our photos with Sonny, he has long hair. His wife was six months pregnant during our visit. We have stayed in touch with Sonny and his wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl last month. 

 

6. Traditional dance is an integral part of Bali’s culture that dates back hundreds of years. Commonly referred to as Balinese dance, they are practiced for religious purposes such as entertaining and welcoming the gods. There are different genres of Balinese dance. Sacred dances are only allowed to be performed in Balinese temples and cannot be seen by tourists in its entirety. It is believed that the gods can possess dancers during sacred dance. Semi-sacred dances can be used for entertainment and tourists. These dances are rich in symbolism and have characters and a story line. 

 

Balinese dancers

 

We had the opportunity to join one of our Airbnb hosts, Made, to a traditional Hindu Balinese ceremony. There are activities throughout the day and the rituals practiced are believed to ward off evil spirits. The morning begins with the men joining at the temple for cock fights. No Balinese females are allowed to attend. Cock fights are actually illegal in Indonesia but it's said they turn a blind eye and still allow it for religious purposes. Locals believe the blood of the dead cock is an offering for evil spirits. 

 

I debated not writing about this experience for the blog, but it's part of the culture and I felt if I am going to share about our experience, I shouldn't leave this out. I'll spare the actual details of the cock fight. In my opinion, this is an inhumane tradition, but it is a tradition. Before arriving, Made could tell I wasn't super comfortable with the situation but he explained it's tradition and I went into the day reminding myself I don't have to agree with it, but I should respect and try to understand the traditions. 

 

In the early evening a religious ceremony is held in the temple. We didn't attend the ceremony and instead used this time to eat dinner and rest. After the religious ceremony, music and dance begins and continues into the wee hours of the morning. Before heading to the temple, Made suited Casey and I up in Balinese attire. Casey is wearing a head-dress called an ‘udeng’. It is an iconic feature for men in Bali and signifies that a man is taking part in a religious ceremony.

 

 Casey wearing traditional Balinese attire

With Made and Latra before attending the Balinese ceremony

 

We arrived at the temple around 8pm and found men and boys playing games and gambling. This was very popular among the males only and continued late into the evening with new games breaking out throughout the night. Around 10pm the Balinese dance began. The first performers to take the stage were young girls, between 7 and 9 years old. They were dressed in traditional Balinese clothing and makeup. The age of the dancers got older as the night progressed on. We left around midnight but our host said he left at 3am and the dancing was still taking place. 

 

 Women dancing during the ceremony

Young girls kicking off the evening and dancing during the ceremony

The men playing a game similar to roulette 

 

Did you know?

Bali is a little island anomaly in the middle of Indonesia. The daily worship of Balinese Hinduism is a stark contrast to the mostly Muslim country. Indonesia has the largest muslim population in the world, with approx. 225 million Muslims. 87.2% of Indonesia's population identify themselves as Muslim and only 1.7% identify Hindu. Hinduism is practiced by 83.5% of Bali's population.

 

Travelers Tip

If you want an authentic experience in Bali, we recommend booking a room at a homestay. A homestay is a unique opportunity to stay with a local family or village and will give you a deeper meaning of the Balinese culture and heritage. We stayed at Abian House while we were in Nusa Penida and had such a wonderful time getting to know Made and Latra, the two brothers who own the property and live here. They were friendly, hospitable and taught us a lot about Balinese culture. Made was so kind to invite us to the Balinese ceremony and we were happy to spend the day with him. 

 

 Casey giving Made an accounting lesson

 

 

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