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Spirituality in Bali is a bit like Star Wars. By that I don’t mean that the spiritual leaders look like Yoda (although I’ve seen a couple who do). But more that the people here believe in an invisible force that is both good and evil and controls all living things.
Take the black and white cloths that are wrapped around the images of the deities or around trees. They symbolize the yin and the yang; the light and the dark; the acceptance that the same force that does good also does evil and the two are inseparable because to understand one, you must have experienced the other.
I write this post not because I am particularly spiritual (nor because I couldn’t resist a Star Wars analogy). I write this because everywhere I have gone in Bali, this has been one of the big topics when the conversations turn to Balinese culture.
Even the most short-sighted Australian tourist can’t avoid noticing the deep connection the Balinese have with the spiritual world. Temples seem to outnumber the touts offering you taxis and almost every shop or restaurant has a small offering placed outside it several times a day.
This offering is a simple palm leaf basket holding holy flowers, rice and gifts to the gods – money, biscuits and even cigarettes. Its incense stick burns with an aroma that fills the area and surely reaches a divine nose or two.
There is much more to the Hindu beliefs the Balinese practice than what an average traveller sees on the street, though. And I got a much deeper understanding of it through a documentary I saw the other day.
No, before you ask, it was not Star Wars. It was called Sacred and Secret by director Basil Gelpke and, despite the disjointed narrative and narrator who sounded like he should be doing action movie trailers, it gave a real insight into the religion of the island.
It showed the path from birth to death… a baby’s feet must not touch the ground and allow the bad spirits into the body until a special ceremony when it is about three months old… and when a person dies they are buried but it is not until a mass cremation (that in some areas can happen only every few years) that the soul is free and can leave this earth to be reborn.
The whole cremation thing actually seems a bit weird. The families will dig up the bodies of their loved ones when it’s time for the ceremony, they’ll wash the bones and then they’ll celebrate as they’re burnt next to the bodies of other villagers who have died since the last mass cremation.
The film also showed quite amazing access to some of the secret ceremonies of the Balinese.
The hectic dancing that leads to trances and men stabbing themselves with their holy daggers; the filing of the six front teeth to rid the body of the six enemies within; and the hiding of the kilos of cannabis in the boogie board bag (ok, that last one was just to check if you were paying attention!).
Back to the serious stuff, though, and I’ve spoken with a few people who have lived in Bali for years and they all talk about how the invisible light has become brighter during their time here. Some thought it was mere superstition at first but over the months and years they came to see its effect.
Like any religion, it takes strong faith and belief to commit yourself to an immeasurable hypothesis. In Bali, though, the belief system is ingrained in their upbringing. The idea of karma is strong in their attitudes and their behaviours and it certainly makes for a calmer sense of being.
For good options in Seminyak, I would suggest CR Tris Rooms for an affordable hotel or Kanvaz Village Resort for a new luxury resort.
For Canggu, a lovely hotel at a reasonable price is Perissos Echo Beach, while an absolutely stunning option is the Haven Suites.
And in Ubud, I would recommend an affordable hotel like Ubud Tropical Garden 2 or a really special boutique place like Calma Ubud
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT INDONESIA?
To help you plan your trip to Indonesia:
- How to see Komodo dragons at Komodo National Park
- Indonesia’s most incredible heritage site
- Take a boat into the jungle to meet the wild orangutans
- Go beyond Bali’s tourism to find the spirits in the rice fields
- Why Raja Ampat is probably the world’s best diving
- Visiting the majestic Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta
- The best things to do in central Jakarta
- Take a jeep ride up the dangerous Mount Merapi
- Learning to code on a inspiring retreat in Bali
Let someone else do the work for you:
You may also want to consider taking a tour of Indonesia, rather than organising everything on your own. It’s also a nice way to have company if you are travelling solo.
I am a ‘Wanderer’ with G Adventures and they have great tours of Indonesia.
You could consider:
When I travel internationally, I always get insurance. It’s not worth the risk, in case there’s a medical emergency or another serious incident. I recommend you should use World Nomads for your trip.