Balinese Religion

Doctrines The island of Bali to the east of Java is the home of the last surviving Hindu-Buddhist civilisation of Indonesia. However, beliefs and practices of the earlier Malayo-Polynesian culture still exist and in some cases have been syncretised with the Indic religions. For example, the sacred mountain of the Balinese, Gunung Agung, has been identified with Mount Meru, the cosmic centre of Indian mythology. And the ancient Balinese god Twalen, who is a buffoon in contemporary Balinese epics and in the wayang, the shadow play, and is made the servant of the Hindu gods, is still considered older and more powerful than all the Hindu gods, being really the elder brother of Siva (Siwa in Balinese).
The various competing Hindu and Buddhist sects in Bali have fused into a single religion known as Bali Hindu or Agama Tirtha, the Religion of the Holy Water. There are a dozen kinds of holy water. Hindu and Buddhist texts are the source foundation of Bali Hindu, some written in Sanskrit but most in Kawi (Old Javanese) and Balinese. These are palm leaf lontar manuscripts and are consecrated to Sarasvati, the goddess of wisdom. She has no special shrines; the books and libraries are her temples. There are some 250 texts from which we can see that there was patronage for a multitude of sects with no single sect being given precedence. All the sects were encouraged, indicating that rulers were not confined to doctrinal differences between sects but had a deeper appreciation of Indian religion. The texts include Tantric and Mahayana Buddhism, the main schools of Saiva Siddhanta and Vaishnava Hinduism, and the cults of Ganesa and Surya.
Sekehe bebaosan, reading groups, gather at rituals and festivals. One line of original text is read out and then another reader makes a spontaneous translation which can be commented on or improved upon. These readings are "sounding the texts" to bring written order into the world and show the logos or meaning behind mundane reality.
Balinese religion is characterised by being organised into specialised temple networks. Water temples are found all over an irrigation system and the festivals held in these determine the schedule of "water openings" to flood fields downstream. Later festivals come at important times in the agricultural calendar, such as planting, transplanting, and the appearance of the milky grain. There are also village temples, caste temples, and other types, and Balinese only worship in temples of institutions they belong to.
The most important aspect of religion to the Balinese is the performance of five related ritual cycles. These are five yajna, sacrifices, and are derived from ancient brahmanic theology. They are: dewa yajna, sacrifices to the gods, which are made in the temples; buta yajna, sacrifices to the chthonic powers or "elements"; manusia yajna, rites of passage; pitr yajna, offerings to the dead; and rsi yajna, consecration of priests.
Balinese religion contains a strong Tantric element and it is firmly believed that demonic forces are part of both inner and outer reality.

History Prehistoric Balinese religion reflected Malayo-Polynesian culture. There were many religious concepts in the Neolithic culture including nature gods such as a sky god, ancestral spirits who lived on top of mountains, a human soul or multiple souls, and a shamanistic trance.
The Metal Age was a sophisticated culture as seen by archaeological remains, most notably the "Moon of Pejeng," a magnificent bronze kettledrum created on Bali between the second century BCE and the second century CE, and fifty-three stone sarcophagi of the same period, ornamented with knobs decorated with stylised human heads. Most impressive are stepped stone pyramids built at the same time, which were probably temples to the ancestors and nature gods as well as monuments to important chiefs. These pyramids are similar to the marae of Polynesia.
Early in the first millenium CE, Indian civilisation reached Bali. The nature of the ensuing process of "indianisation" or "hinduisation" with Hinduism and Buddhism is much disputed by scholars, some believing there was only a thin veneer of Indian culture with brahmans in the courts while others argue for large-scale colonisation by Indian exiles. There is no important evidence for large-scale colonisation. Early evidence of "indianisation" is all religious, with stone sculptures, clay seals, ritual apparatus, and stone and copperplate inscriptions. The first inscriptions are of the ninth century CE and are written in Sanskrit and Old Balinese with an Indian alphabet by court scribes and are addressed to specific villages and monasteries, giving evidence that the rulers supported a variety of Hindu and Buddhist sects. Villages were instructed to assist monks and monasteries through hospitality, labour, taxes, and military defence against raiders from the sea. These inscriptions tell us of an intricate web developing between the indianised courts, the Hindu and Buddhist monasteries, and the villages.
In 1073 CE a royal inscription states that the population was divided into the Indian varna system, the four primary castes (see Social Castes in Hinduism). This was more intention than actuality.
In 1917 there was a fatal earthquake which destroyed or seriously damaged 2,431 temples.
A new century started in 1979 according to the Balinese calendar and a gigantic ceremony called Eka-dasa-Rudra was held at Besakih temple with more than 100,000 people in which the accumulated demonic energies of the previous century were transformed into divine energies.
Bali Hindu is an official religion of the Indonesian government. As the government has made it mandatory that all Indonesians profess a recognised religion, in recent years there has been an attempt to include certain tribal religions from islands near Bali, such as Sulawesi, within Bali Hindu.

Symbols The old Balinese nature god, the great earth serpent Anantaboga, with "indianisation" was symbolically buried in the Balinese earth, his head at the centre of the island underneath the crater lake of Batur and his tail touching the sea at Keramas. Old gods such as Twalen and Hindu gods are popularly represented in the wayang, the shadow play. This and the wayang orang, peoples' play, are based on the Hindu epics.
Early Indian sculptures found on Bali include dhyani Buddhas, Padmapani or Avalokitesvara and Amoghapasa, Vishnu on Garuda and Vishnu as Narasimha. There are also many forms of Siva, one of these being Ardhanari, who is quadruplicated as the catukhayas and accompanied by Durga, Ganesa, and Guru.
The five yajna, sacrificial rituals, involve considerable symbolism and the details of the yajna are unique to Bali. In the rsi yajna to consecrate a new padanda, high priest, the candidate must symbolically undergo his own funeral to emerge as a special being, a Balinese high priest, who then belongs to a certain sect.
Balinese temples follow the plan of ancient Malayo-Polynesian megalithic shrines and within the temples space is ordered along a continuum, a concept followed in Malayo-Polynesian times. The line of the temple is oriented from the sea to the mountainous interior of the island, and other aspects of the continuum are downstream - upstream, profane - sacred, and chthonic - ouranic. There are more than 20,000 temples on Bali.
The priests in Bali prepare magical drawings to keep evil forces away. One of these drawings depicts Yama-Raja, the judge in the afterlife. There is rich use of symbolism in dance, drama, and temple sculpture. The main gods, however, are not depicted in cult images but are invisible and only descend to earth at special rituals when small statues and stone lotus-thrones are provided for them. The Balinese like bold or even grotesque representations of mythological animals, monsters, and demons. The cave entrance at Goa Gadjah is decorated in the form of the monstrous head and gaping mouth of Kala, the evil Lord of Demons.

Adherents In 1984 there were approximately two and a quarter million Balinese, the vast majority being adherents of the Bali Hindu religion. Other adherents of tribal religions on islands near Bali are officially included in the Bali Hindu religion (J. Stephen Lansing, Balinese Religion in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, Macmillan: New York, Vol 2, p. 46).

Main Centre
 Besakih temple is the supreme temple of Bali on the slope of the highest mountain, Gunung Agung.