Balinese Hinduism

Hinduism is a widely practiced religion focussed on the order of the cosmos, which is commonly referred to as Dharma. Opposite to Dharma is a disordering force known as Adharma. Finding balance between these two forces is a central goal in Hindu practice. These key elements originated in the Hindu traditions first found on the Indian subcontinent. As Hinduism spread to other areas of the world, it transformed slightly to accommodate to varying cultures. This is evident when observing Balinese Hinduism. Although Balinese Hindus worship the same gods and goddesses, perform similar rituals, and build sacred temples, there are certain elements that differ from Hindu practices in India. For example, Balinese Hinduism has united the Indian belief in divine beings with the Balinese belief in the protective nature of ancestors (Ariati 13). In addition, Balinese Hindus are not entirely vegetarians as most Hindus are, but they still maintain a Dharmic life style. Some of these differences may have occurred due to local beliefs and traditions of Balinese culture. Other differences may be due to the political changes in Bali that have occurred over the past few decades (Bakker 7).

Hinduism is among the five official religions practiced in Indonesia. The religious traditions of Hinduism emerged in Indonesia within the first millennium CE. Although Buddhism and Islam later replaced Hinduism in most of Indonesia, Bali maintained Hindu traditions. The spread of Hinduism has been thought to be due to settlers and colonists immigrating to these new lands. Although this may be true for some areas of the world, it appears to be false in the case of Bali. Recent research has suggested that the spread of Hinduism to Bali was largely due to allies between Hindus of India and the merchant class of Bali (Ariati 11). In particular, it was due to those among the priestly class of India that largely contributed to the spread of Hinduism in Bali. As described in the following quote, Hindu Brahmins were responsible for introducing elements of Indian culture to the island of Bali.

“Cultural and religious circumstances, the introduction of Sanskrit for writing, and the adoption of Buddhist and Hindu mythology were not the domain of traders. It is more likely that the princes who ruled small Indonesian kingdoms were influenced by priests and Brahmins from India. These priests would have been responsible for introducing a religion that allowed the king to identify himself with a deity or bodhisattva, reinforcing his temporal power. More abstract cultural elements also played a role, such as the concept of the cakravatin (universal ruler), varna or social class, the existence of a supreme supernatural power, rasa in aesthetics, and all the detailed artistic renderings of those concepts. Kingdoms that adopted Indic concepts of kingship were found in Kalimantan, Java, Sumatra and Bali” (Ariati 13).

By examining the rituals performed by Balinese Hindus, the differences between the Balinese and Indian Hindu tradition can be understood more clearly. Early rituals performed by the Balinese Hindus have been indicated through inscriptions which were written in traditional Sanskrit language. The oldest known inscriptions that suggest the presence of Hindu rituals in Indonesia predate between 350-400 CE. They describe gifts of cattle to a Brahmin community, which would indicate the use of ritualistic yupa posts. Unlike the traditional cattle sacrifice commonly performed in India, Balinese Hindus did not sacrifice the cattle. Instead, the cattle were purely given as gifts. This demonstrates the adjustment of traditional Hindu rituals to the culture found within the Indonesian archipelago. This newer form of Hinduism found in Bali has developed distinct local characteristics including the worship of ancestors, as well as animist beliefs. These characteristics set Balinese Hinduism apart from Hinduism of the Indian subcontinent. For the most part, Balinese Hinduism depends on five different groups of rituals known as the Panca Yadnya. The five ritualistic groups include: Dewa Yadnya, Manusa Yadnya, Resi Yadnya, Bhuta Yadnya, and Pitra Yadnya.

The first ritualistic group common among Balinese Hindus is dedicated to worshipping divine beings. This ritual, commonly known as Dewa Yadnya, involves temple festivals referred to as Odalan. The timing of such festivals follows the Balinese 210 day sacred year, or Pawukon. Often during Odalan shrines comprised of traditional Balinese decorations and offerings are built within the temples. In order to associate physical design with the varying degrees of sacred activity, the temples are built in three distinct courtyards. Each courtyard is dedicated to a particular activity. The Pendet dances take place in the outer courtyard to welcome the divine beings to the ceremony. The preparation of decorations and offerings take place in the middle courtyard. Finally, all worship occurs in the inner courtyards where the sacred shrines are located (Ariati 14). It is important to note that these temples are not just places of prayer and worship, but of socialization between sekala (visible beings) and niskala (invisible beings). In addition, there are certain rules that are strictly followed by the Balinese Hindus, including that which prohibits menstruating women to participate in this particular ritual. Although many westerners believe this is to exclude women, it is due to the Balinese belief that blood attracts negative spirits, and therefore puts menstruating women in danger.

The second ritualistic category common among Balinese Hindus is known as Manusa Yadnya, which is the ritual of life cycles. Every Balinese Hindu is required to perform these life cycle rituals throughout their life span. Among the most important rituals in Manusa Yadnya are the three months ritual known as Telubulanin, the six months ritual known as Otonan, and the ‘tooth-filling’ ritual which is performed prior to marriage (Ariati 15). These rituals are of particular importance to Balinese Hindus for the purpose of cleansing and purifying one’s physical and spiritual self. As described below, life cycle rituals begin from the moment a person is born.

“In Balinese belief every baby is born with its four siblings called Kanda Empat. Those four siblings are represented physically by the blood, vernix caseosa, amniotic fluid and placenta which are born with the child and personified as potentially divine or demonic beings that can either protect or harm the baby depending on how we treat them.” (Ariati 15)

Another valued ritual is the Otonan ritual which can be thought of as the Balinese birthday. Unlike western birthdays that occur every 365 days, birthdays in Bali occur every 210 days. This ritual is performed for male Hindus throughout their entire life span, but for women, this ritual comes to an end after marriage. The tooth-filling ritual is the next important ritual in Balinese Hinduism. Depending on the level of Balinese language used, this ritual can be referred to as Mesangih or Mepandes. This ritual is performed either before or during the marriage ceremony in order to reduce any influences of six internal enemies known as Sadripu. These negative influences are reduced by filling the six upper teeth that are symbols of the six internal enemies. Each enemy is associated with a particular emotion. Kama is associated with lust. Lobha is associated with greed. Krodha is associated with anger. Mada is associated with drunkness. Moha is associated with spiritual confusion. Finally, Matsarya is associated with jealousy. All of these emotions, or states of being, are considered negative and therefore must be avoided.

As mentioned previously, rituals for divine beings are known as Dewa Yadnya, where as rituals for demonic beings are known as Bhuta Yadnya. The latter is the third significant ritualistic category common among Balinese Hindus. This ritual is aimed at “appeasing the demonic spirits so that they are transformed into protective spirits” (Ariati 14). It is a significant ritual because the Balinese believe in spirits that are both visible (sekala) and invisible (niskala). These spirits can either be inhabited by humans or hosts of invisible beings that reside in land and space. Any being that is invisible can either be divine or demonic. In order to maintain a harmonious relationship with these invisible beings, the Balinese Hindus make offerings to them daily. These offerings become more elaborate on special occasions such as days within the lunar cycles. Offerings are normally given to demonic beings by laying them on the ground. This stems from the belief that demonic beings reside in the underworld below us. The simplest offering, known as bhuta-kala, consists of rice and banana leafs. Among the more elaborate offerings includes blood or flesh collected from the sacrificial animals. Through the gift of offerings, Balinese Hindus are able to transform demonic spirits into divine spirits that act to protect all who participate in the ritual.

The final ritualistic category is referred to as Pitra Yadnya, or post-modern rituals (Ariati 16). This ritual is significant because the aim is to liberate the soul (atman) to allow it to enter the ancestor realm. According to Balinese Hindu beliefs, the body is simply a microcosm of the universe comprised of five elements: pertiwi (earth), apah (water), teja (fire), bayu (air), and akasa (ether). When a person dies, these five elements must be returned to their place of origin to allow the soul, or atman, to be liberated. Ancestors can be worshipped at any family temple referred to as Sanggah or Merajan, depending on the level of language used. These temples house several shrines dedicated to the ancestors. One involves a wooden shrine that is divided into three segments representing the deceased ancestors of the family, as well as the three major Hindu deities: Visnu, Brahma, and Shiva. Depending on the family’s wealth, these rituals can be quite elaborate. If the cost of this ritual is quite high, then it can be assumed that the family involved is quite prosperous.

Several developments have been taking place in Bali over the past few decades. All developments have been taking place within an environment in which the government is dominant. Among the most significant developments include the development of Protestant and Catholic churches in Bali making Balinese Hindus the minority (Bakker 3). With this new development, Balinese Hinduism temporarily became the unofficial religion of Bali. This was largely due to the fact that the government would only recognize religions that focussed on the belief in one god. Although the Balinese Hindus were confronted with many challenges at this time, recent contact with Indian Hindus has helped to restore Hinduism in Bali to its previous state of religious dominance. Another significant feature of recent development in Bali has been the spread of Balinese inhabitants to other islands in the Indonesian archipelago including Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. This spread of Balinese inhabitants has created a spread of religious beliefs as well. Hinduism is no longer isolated to the island of Bali, making it more dominant within the Indonesian archipelago. To ensure the survival of Hinduism on other islands, instructions on Hindu practice and tradition are being taught in various schools. In particular, these teachers of Hinduism, also known as gurus, are ensuring that the concept of Dharma is reinforced (Bakker 8). In doing so, key elements of Hindu tradition are being maintained throughout the Indonesian archipelago, particularly on the island of Bali.




Bakker, Freek L. (1997) “Balinese Hinduism and the Indonesian State: Recent Developments.” In Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Deel 153, 1ste Afl. (1997), p. 15-41. KITLV: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.

Picard, Michel (2011) “Balinese Religion in Search of Recognition: From ‘Agama Hindu Bali’ to ‘Agama Hindu’.” In Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Vol. 167, No. 4 (2011), p. 482-510. KITLV: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.

Wayan P. Ariati, Ni (2008) “Hindu Rituals in India and Bali.” In the Selected Works of Wayan P Ariati, p. 1-20. SIT Study Abroad.


Related Readings

Bakker, F.L., 1993, “The Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals”, Amsterdam: VU University Press. -, forthcoming, The Renaissance of Balinese Hinduism in the Context of Independent Indonesia; Its Relationship with Polities’, Proceedings of the Euroseas

Bagus, G. ., 1993, “Cultural Tourism and Religious Belief Systems in Bali”, in: W. Nuryanti (ed.), Universal Tourism; Enriching

Eisman Jr., Fred B. 1990 Bali: Sekala & Niskala. Vol.: II: Essays on Society, Tradition and Craft. Berkeley-Singapore: Periplus Editions.

Swellengrebel, J., ed. 1960 Bali: Studies in Life, Thought and Ritual. The Hague: Van Hoeve.


Related Research Topics:


Dewa Yadnya

Manusa Yadnya

Resi Yadnya

Bhuta Yadnya

Pitra Yadnya








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Article written by: Jenn George (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its contents.