Monday, November 18, 2013

Bali's cultural and religious identity

The island of Bali in Indonesia is often regarded as a must-visit place as it is dismissed by some as a tourist trap. My personal experience, thankfully, is on the positive side. Yes, its beaches may not be of the pristine, powdery, white-sand type but Bali has its charms, most notable of which is the fact that despite the tourism boom it has enjoyed through the years, it has never lost its identity.

Prayer has always been a constant in Bali. Here an old man prepares his offerings at a restaurant along Jimbaran Beach.

Predominantly practicing Hinduism, the Balinese people are generally nice and warm. I don't know if religion has anything to do with it but they seem to be a peace-loving lot. Well, it's Eat, Pray, Love country after all.

Amid all the grandiose resorts and commercial establishments that have continually sprung up across the island, their traditions are never lost. In Bali it is not uncommon to see these cute little square baskets made of leaves containing food, flowers, and even candies and cigarettes. Just please be careful so as not to step on them as these are offerings to the gods called canang sari, which they make thrice a day. It is basically a ritual of giving back to the gods as gratitude for the bounty of life.

I was able to observe an old man during one of his rituals along Jimbaran Beach. Wearing a sarong, he was silent in prayer as he lit up a couple of incense sticks and sprinkled holy water on the offering baskets. He then proceeded to place one of the baskets by one of the posts at the restaurant's door, still silent in prayer. Wary of disturbing his ritual, I kept my distance and soon lost him. It was like seeing this air of serenity, unaffected by all the noise and chaos brought about by the throngs of tourists descending on the beach for seafood and sunset-viewing. I smiled.

A couple of basket offerings ready to be placed around the restaurant.

The first of his canang sari now lays in place at one of the restaurant's doorsteps.

The dedication of the Balinese people to prayer is undeniable, a further testament to which is the numerous altars (I don't know if that's the right word) you see everywhere. There's practically at least one in every home, hotel, or any establishment for that matter. And however modern the architecture of a place is, the design of these altars remains traditional. Here's but a few of what I saw during my stay there:

Nice tower right at the entrance of Alindra Villa.

I don't know exactly what it's called but the cloth wrapped around it signifies that it's sacred. This one's along the grounds of the Grand Hyatt.

Also at the Grand Hyatt, this one's nestled right in the middle of the rotunda.

No matter how far from traditional Balinese architecture Mantra Nusa Dua is, this nook right here is spared from the hotel's general design.

This one sits along Geger Beach, right behind the rows of sunbathing tourists.

Then of course there are temples, lots of them throughout Bali, although I haven't been able to visit even one due to our very limited time.  I was told that in every village there are three temples, one each for the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. One of the staff at Alindra Villa said he could get is in one but we have to wear the proper attire and of course, a sarong. I hope that offer still stands when we come back.

What I assume to be a temple, as seen from Geger Beach.

At a busy intersection in the Nusa Dua area.

Another observation that Bali has retained its identity is in the architecture and design department, that even residential houses sport that distinct pointed tiled roof. Furthermore, there are always touches of traditional design somewhere, be it statues, pillars, or other structures. It is likewise worth noting that these touches don't end with old structures, as even new constructions are following the same template somehow. Whether they are influenced by culture or religion, I don't know, but they are undeniably proof that the Balinese still know who they are.

Statues by the pool area at Alindra Villa.

An elegant sandstone carving stands tall right outside one of Grand Hyatt's ballrooms.

Intricate carvings both on sandstone and wood adorn this beautiful door at the Joglo at Alindra Villa.

A common sight in Bali. I don't know what it's called but you see these in temples, establishments, and even along the highway.

Even along Bali's major thoroughfares, their cultural and religious identity is evident.

An very detailed and glorious statue somewhere in the Nusa Dua area.

Even new structures follow the same old template of Balinese tradition. This one was an ongoing construction along the road going to Jimbaran Beach.

More evidence that tradition has not been forgotten and is in fact very much alive in Bali. This construction work was spotted in the Nusa Dua area.

I was simply in awe at the detailed carvings everywhere, and I admire the Balinese people's dedication to keeping the tradition. I was fortunate to spot a worker in action at the Grand Hyatt. He was working on what I foolishly thought was concrete, but which I was told was sandstone. The sun was beating down hard and he was just there carving his way away on a bridge at the hotel gardens.

Working on sandstone with a slew of tools at his disposal.

You gotta admire his craft. It's just sad how everyone seems to be content with keeping things plain and boring here at home.

Bali has definitely a lot to offer, from beaches, parties, to religious and cultural experiences. When I come back, I'll make sure to explore the island some more, including trying out more of the local cuisine, preferably in an authentic warung (local eatery), and finally get to taste babi guling (suckling pig) which I so foolishly allowed myself to miss.

At any rate, at least I got to try this delectable Indonesian sampler:


You can also check out the following posts about where we stayed:
>My review of Alindra Villa
>The ethnic villas at Alindra Villa: A showcase of traditional Indonesian architecture
>Alindra Villa's Terracotta rooms and pool villas (An attempt at fusing traditional with modern)
>My review of Mantra Nusa Dua (A fairly new hotel in Nusa Dua)
Or of the beaches I've checked out:
>Jimbaran Beach (Chill vibe, fresh seafood, and sunset-viewing)
>Geger Beach (A nice, quiet spot where sunbathers converge)

1 comment:

  1. wow, welcome here in Indonesia. Hope you enjoy Bali :D



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