avatarSomil Gupta

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GLIMPSES FROM MY TRAVEL DIARY

Temple Trails Abroad: Learning About Balinese Hinduism

Exploring Sacred Paths and Navigating Balinese Hinduism on My Trip to Bali

Ulun Danu Beratan Temple — Image by the Author

Hinduism is one of the oldest and most complex religions. It is so diverse that you can find differences in the beliefs, rituals, and ways of practising in different parts of the world.

I was pretty curious after reaching Bali as I discovered that 87% of the Bali population was Hindu. Soon, I was awestruck to see the Lord Ganesha sculpture at my Airbnb entrance, as in the temples in India.

Suddenly, a question came to mind:

Is Balinese Hinduism related to Hinduism in India?

So, after reading a bit about Balinese Hinduism, I found out it is indeed linked to Hinduism, but it represents a distinct and unique branch of the Hindu tradition.

Balinese Hinduism has its roots in the arrival of Hindu influences in the Indonesian archipelago, which can be traced back to trade and cultural interactions between India and Southeast Asia.

Over time, these Hindu influences blended with indigenous beliefs and practices in Bali, resulting in a distinctive form of Hinduism.

Both share the same deities and core philosophical concepts of Hinduism, such as karma, dharma, and moksha. However, interpretations and emphasis may vary.

My journey led me to the Besaikh Great Temple —

During my Bali exploration, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Besakih Great Temple. It is considered one of the holiest temples for Hindu devotees in Bali and one of the largest temple establishments in Bali. The temple complex consists of 23 separate temples, with the most important being Pura Penataran Agung on the top.

View from the top of the Pura Penataran Agung Temple — Image by the Author.

By paying 60k IDR for the ticket, approximately 3.87 USD, you'll receive a sarong, a cloth to cover your legs. Wearing the sarong is mandatory for all visitors entering the temple premises.

Also, there's an option to have a guide accompany you during your visit, which is free of charge. I recommend having a guide because they often provide information and insights you may need help finding elsewhere. And that's what happened with us.

We got to know something that I am pretty sure I couldn't have found easily on the Web.

And here is the exciting fact that we got to know.

While explaining the architecture and geometry of the temple, he informed us that the temple is constructed with six levels, terraced up the slope.

As you ascend to the primary temple area at the top, you'll find separate sanctuaries at every level dedicated to prayer and ceremonial rituals.

These levels are organized based on various aspects of spiritual significance, and every sanctuary is designated to a particular society group.

After listening to this, we were like, WHAT?

We asked — So it’s fixed who worships on what level and in what sanctuary?

Our guide — Yes, It is.

So, every level is assigned to a particular community of society, and they are allowed to worship in that area only. Below is the photo I took of one of the sanctuaries where a ritual ceremony is happening.

Ceremonial rituals happening in one of the sanctuaries — Image by the author.

But that's not it — The arrangement of these sanctuaries follows a hierarchical order. Eighteen separate sanctuaries belonging to different regencies and caste groups surround the main temples dedicated to Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu.

I learned that the four castes in Balinese Hinduism are:

  • Satrias — the warrior's caste, it also included some nobility and kings
  • Sudras — peasants comprise nearly 93% of Bali's population
  • Wesias — the caste of merchants and administrative officials
  • Brahmanas — the priests' caste

These sanctuaries follow the hierarchy where Brahmin sanctuaries are on the highest level, near the main temple, and the rest follow the order.

We were pretty shocked after listening to this. I come from a country where we also used to have this system in Ancient India, and the people have fought a lot against this as many people faced daily discrimination.

This discrimination caused hard times in livelihood, providing daily bread, or having a decent life without financial problems.

But here, from what we saw, it felt different. Even with diverse groups and communities participating at various levels, there was harmony among them, which reflected the temple's rich cultural and historical diversity.

The mix of cultures and histories made the place special; you could feel this shared respect among everyone there. It felt like the temple brought people together, no matter where they were from or what they believed.

Great Mt. Agung is in the frame — Image by the Author.

The other reason we visited this Great temple was Mt. Agung in the background. Mount Agung is an active volcano in Bali.

It's the highest point in Bali, and the views of this volcano are just breathtaking. Watching sunsets with this in your frame is a magical experience that will stay forever in your memory.

Interesting fact shared by our guide.

During the volcanic eruption of Mt. Agung in 1963, this temple miraculously survived the eruptions by a few meters.

Balinese believe this is a demonstration from the Gods to showcase their power, not to destroy the monument, so the lava miraculously parted and flowed around the temple.

Bomba guarding the property — Image by the author.

Another thing that caught our attention was the Balinese demon, called 'Bomba' by locals, who are all around the temple complex. These figures in the temple precinct served the same function as guardian demons in Buddhist temples or gargoyles in Christian cathedrals: ward off evil.

Overall, visiting the temples in Bali is fun, as is knowing the history of establishing the oldest and largest temple in Bali. You can see many temples here inside the complex of Besaikh Great Temple. So enjoy your day exploring the beauty and uniqueness of this temple.

For us, the highlight of our trip was the interaction with our guide, who told us a lot of exciting facts and explained the temple's history to us in every detail. This made us realize how crucial it is to interact with locals whenever you visit a new country cause the information they will provide you is truly priceless.

Takeaways

If you visit Bali:

  1. Explore the unique characteristics of Balinese Hinduism, tracing its roots to historical interactions between India and Southeast Asia, and understand its distinctive features.
  2. Delve into the details of the Besakih Great Temple, discovering its architectural wonders, the cultural significance of wearing a sarong, and the option of enriching the experience with a knowledgeable guide.
  3. Witness the hierarchical structure within the temple that assigns levels to different societal groups, yet appreciate the harmonious coexistence and shared respect prevailing among diverse communities.
  4. Discover the cultural diversity and historical significance embedded in the Besakih Great Temple, with separate sanctuaries dedicated to various regencies and caste groups.
  5. Experience the breathtaking views of Mount Agung, Bali's highest point, and relish the magical moments of watching sunsets with this awe-inspiring volcano in the background.
  6. Recognize the importance of interacting with locals for a more enriching travel experience. They are very friendly.

Happy Travelling! Thanks for reading my story. I wish you the best in your travel journey. Till then, Sayonara!

I am a software engineer who enjoys travelling and writing — About Me.

Travel
Religion
Hinduism
Travel Writing
Indonesia
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