The Bali people believe in the existence of a goddess called Dewi Sri to whom they tirelessly give offerings in bamboo shrines. They believe that this deity had existed even before the Hindu traders brought Hinduism to Bali in the 7th century. This is a clear indication that most of the Balinese are Hindus even though there are other unorthodox religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism. According to Grunert, 93 % of the Balinese are officially Hindus.
It is essential to note that the Balinese believe in the widespread of other spirits all over, inhabiting landmarks like rivers and large rocks together with other prominent places. From time to time, the people of Bali appease these spirits by offering sacrifices as a show of respect, and to keep any danger at bay. Ritual is intricately woven into everyday life here (Grunert). There are shrines scattered all over in social centers and schools, which act as platforms for offering the sacrifices.
About ten minutes from Ubud, regarded as exceedingly chaotic street according to Grunert, is Bali’s grandest temple. Reportedly, this temple is the holiest landmark in Ubud attested by Blinese as a place of religious unity. Built in the 11th century, and renovated in 1917 after an earthquake, the temple has decorations and sculptures that, to the people of Bali, are symbols of the guardian spirits. Soapstone sculptures, fearsome wild eyes, and threatening teeth represent these spirits.
In the spirit of pulling together, the people of Bali reap plentiful harvests from their rice paddies a result of skilful organizations referred to as Subaks. The Subaks ensure proper arrangements during planting seasons that majorly rely on irrigation and ensure there are no conflicts, which could be otherwise possible since there is no personal land ownership.
According to Grunert, the people of Bali have a distinctive culture. Young girls are guided through formal lessons of music and dance. These lessons have unique importance for they are considered to add value to prayer ceremonies. Especially the Rejang, a holy dance, enacted only in the temples. Boys too, participate in the dances, though most of them prefer to join gamelian bands that majorly consist of musical instruments. These are mainly key instrumentals accompanied by flutes, drums, cymbals, and drums. The dance and music troupes give the impression of a complete life. In this manner, the dances are quite a peculiar mark in the culture of the people of Bali.
In the many villages of Bali, ceremonies are the order of the day. It is either the gamelan sounds accompanying tooth-filing rituals (rites of passage) for teenagers to get their front teeth slightly flattened, or the Barong dance that form part of battles of the dragons among the Bali, fighting with Rangda, the witch, so as to bring spiritual balance to the place where it is performed (Grunert). Alternatively, it could as well be a ceremony of mass cremation performed at the sunset.
The ceremony of mass cremation is the most dramatic of them all. It is one that is chilling and breathtaking, more so to the visitors. The ceremonies start with ‘energizing of the spirits of the dead’ by the gamelan, ostensibly to give them a positive send off as well as to prepare them for reincarnation. Family members spend the initial two weeks before cremation designing unique sarcophagi; a priest’s water from Bali’s sacred places is used to bless the offerings. There is also a collection of festive offerings meant for the gods that are arranged towards the graveside mainly by women of the families of the dead. Men and women playing their prescribed parts according to the tradition follow a flurry of other religious activities. The families will eventually be looking forward to another child born of the same spirit. Finally, the villagers sprinkle the ashes from the cremation in the river whose water they use for irrigation and cleansing.
Grunert Peter, “High spirits in Bali” Lonely Planet Mag., BBC, 20 Jan 2011. Web. 31 Jan 2011.