Squirrel’s Secret Spot No: 3c (Bali/culture)

For josie, to help you decide.

Bali is rich in art, crafts and culture which probably developed due to an abundance of food and hence more leisure time, availability of suitable raw materials such as tropical woods for carving and volcanic pumice rock for sculpturing, and drawing its inspiration from nature and their religious beliefs. Their religion is actually a mix of Hindu and animalist beliefs.

Much of the folklore, dance and theater for example have their roots in Hinduism and in Hindu classical literature such as the Ramayana. However, this is tempered by a unique Balinese perspective. Balinese believe in the forces of good and evil but unlike many modern religious beliefs, they do not believe in good triumphant over evil. Rather, they believe that good and evil occur naturally and that evil is not actually viewed as bad but natural and must exist in balance with good to achieve harmony.

This is reflected in their culture. For example, in the Barong dance, the mythical Barong beast must protect the villagers from the evil witch creature. However, in the story, neither the Barong nor the witch creature is sufficiently powerful to completely defeat the other. Therefore the happy ending of the story is not good triumphing over evil but that evil and good reach a compromise. The symbolic colours of the Balinese is a black and white checkered cloth. Again this symbolizes the balance of evil and good. There colors are worn as sarongs or head-dresses for Balinese warriors and are also found wrapped around the ubiquitous shrines all over Bali. The Barong dance is a regular staple for visiting tourists.

The Barong is in the middle

I recommend the Kecak Dance more than the Barong because the Barong is more sedate as opposed to the vibrancy of the Kecak dance. While the latter is more unique as it uses the rhythmic chant of the male dancers for its music. The Kecak can also be seen performing at an open aired amphitheater at the Ulu Watu Shrine. This is a spectacular location that sits on top of cliffs overlooking the sea with a wonderful view of the sunset. The Kecak also uses fire in its dance choreography so is best seen at dusk and early evening.

The Kecak Dance at the seacliffs of Ulu Watu

Fiery Finale of Kecak Dance

The Balinese build their shrines and temples everywhere and offerings are made daily and as you travel from village to village, you are likely to find a religious ceremony . These are worthwhile as you will be treated to genuine hospitality, culture and food. Their temples are usually built near forests, cliffs, caves, springs and volcanic mountains.

The holy springs at Tirta Empul have been built into bathing pools. Men and women bathe in the two pools at different times and one pool is to give blessings of health and the other blessings of prosperity. President Sukarno of Indonesia built a magnificent palace on the hill immediately adjacent and overlooking the springs. It is gossiped that from his vantage point, he would spy on the women bathing at the springs. The palace is still used for official meetings and to house foreign dignitaries.

When I was visiting Tirta Empul, I stumbled across a magic ceremony being carried out by a female bomoh or witch doctor. In the pictures, she is dressed in black. The ceremony was to cleanse a young married couple of evil spirits because they have been suffering ill health. The ceremony sounded a bit like the Christian baptism in that it refers to a death and resurrection. The bomoh places the woman into a death-like trance in which to observers like myself, she is hardly breathing and completely oblivious to the world. She is laid on a woven mat and rolled up init which symbolizes death. The ceremony is supposed to fool the evil spirits to leave as they believe that their ”host’ is dead. The bomoh will chant over the still and “dead” body and finally reawaken her and give her a drink of blessed medicine.

When I saw this being done, I could not tell if the woman in the trance was breathing or not. It seemed quite convincing. When the ceremony was done with the man however, it was less convincing as he kept scratching his nose!

This theme of being possessed by spirits is also common in Balinese dance. In the Kecak dance for example, the main characters are actually believed to become possessed by the spirits of those they portray. Hence, their will always be a priest or bomoh at one side to pray that they will be protected from harm and the spirits will cease their possession after the dance.

All in all, Balinese culture is rich and very different from what most of us are familiar with. With an open mind, the Balinese culture can be fascinating and exotic and another reason why Bali is a unique Secret Squirrel’s Spot.

Black magic ceremony
Holy waters of Tirta Empul


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