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Visitors Guide To Balinese Customs And Culture

The customs and culture of Bali must surely be experienced to understand its many layers and diversity the society reflects as a whole. On a visit to Bali the caste system may or not appear obvious as you navigate your way throughout the island.

Religion

Bali itself stands out from the rest of Muslim-majority Indonesia with over 80% of the population identifying as Balinese Hindu, an amalgam of the existing local belief system combined with Hindu influences. Minority religions on the island include Buddhism 0.5% and Christianity 1.7% respectively.

Caste System

Each of the following castes are based around the Indian Hindu model which uses different levels of the Balinese language to address members of another caste. While middle Balinese is used for the most part when speaking with people whose caste is unknown, once the caste is established the correct level of language is then used thereafter.

These days however, the caste system is mostly used in a religious setting where the lower caste make requests to the Brahmin caste to conduct ceremonies.

SUDRA (Shudra) Close to 93% of the native population of peasants make up the majority in this instance.

WESIAS (Vaishyas) Are defined as the caste of merchants and administrative officials of the area.

KSATRIAS (Kshatriyas) Are known as the warrior caste, including nobility and kings.

BRAHMANA (Brahmin) Is reserved for holy men and priests.

Language

Whist the official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia, local Balinese language is a Malayo-Polynesian language known as Bahasa Bali, the majority of which are trilingual speaking Indonesian, Balinese and English. English and Chinese follow closely behind, which is driven primarily by the tourism sector for which is the island is famous for.

Culture

Art abounds throughout Bali and the island provides a rich and diverse variety of the form including music, woodcarving, handcrafts, sculpture, painting and dancing. The cuisine is different to that of other regions of the country, featuring fresh fruits and vegetables from the area, with dishes including Nasi Goreng, Satay, Gado-Gado and Martabak.

It may be said that there is not a single day in Bali without a ceremony of some kind taking place from baby ceremonies, puberty rites, weddings, cremations and temple festivals. Other notable ceremonies are conducted during the full moon in April and October, and the holy days of Galungan.

Balinese Hinduism combines traditions including animism (every living thing has a soul) and ancestor worship. Temple festivals are held on the anniversary of the date of consecration, held during a full or new moon or alternatively every 210 days, based on the Wuku System which advocates some days being more powerful than others.

Ceremony too is very much part of a childs life growing up, with at least a dozen life and death cycle rights performed over their lifetime. Many, many festivities and rituals are performed throughout the year, governed by the pawukon calendar, rotating every 210 days, these include (but not limited to):

Nyepi, the Hindu New Year is celebrated in silence during the spring. Everyone on the island, tourists included are encouraged to remain in their hotels for the day. The day before Nyepi, large and colorful sculptures of ogoh-ogoh monsters can be found paraded through the streets, before being burned in the evening to drive away evil spirits.

Saraswati, is celebrated by local Hindus as a day of devotion to the Goddess of Knowledge, Art and Literature – Dewi Saraswati where books of knowledge and Sanskrit manuscripts are blessed with special offerings as a form of gratitude for knowledge.

Banyu Pinaruh, the day following Saraswati is celebrated by the local Hindu community by heading to the beach for either a family day including the performing of cleansing and purification rituals.

Soma Ribek, translates roughly as ‘Rich Monday' and signifies a day of prosperity and blessings for full and rich harvesting of rice, which symbolizes sustenance and affluence.

Sabuh Mas, is known as a day of wealth dedicated to metals and precious stones, where various rituals are performed including blessings to express the gratitude toward the Divinity for their worldly wealth.

Etiquette

The Balinese are a polite and friendly people, respecting the culture and traditions will go a long way to ensuring any visit to the area will be a memorable one for all the right reasons and not the wrong ones.

Be Conservative
When out and about keep public displays of affection at a minimum. Dress modestly, especially in consideration of visiting any temples. Men and women should wear shirts covering shoulders and upper arms. Sarongs too are expected to be worn when entering the temple with a number of stalls available out front, where they can be rented for a small fee.

Use of the Right Hand
When eating with your hands only use your right hand, this too applies when shaking hands with others or to make a gesture in an effort to attract attention. Both hands are generally used when making or receiving an offering to or from another person, or during a temple visit.

Scared Head
Considered sacred in Bali, a persons head represents the location where the soul of a person is said to reside. Refrain from ever touching the head of a Balinese man, woman or child.

Taking Photographs
Prior to taking photographs always ensure you have the permission of the person first. Many temples allow photographs to be taken however this should first be confirmed, followed by making a small donation. Keep an eye out for signs too, which are displayed in areas where the taking of photographs is prohibited.

Getting Attention
Do not point your index finger, as it is considered highly offensive. To get the attention of another, wave your hand with your palm facing down, drawing the fingers toward yourself.

Shoes Off
When entering a temple or someone's home always remove your shoes prior to entering. If you tend to forget this tip, however if you notice a row of shoes outside the door, this should assist to get into the habit.

Feet
Never point your feet at someone, or rest them on something elevated.

Sitting
Never sit on desks or tables, as its considered unsanitary.

Climate

Bali is only 8 degrees south of the equator providing relatively stable climactic conditions, with average annual temperatures of approximately 27 - 30 degrees and humidity levels of around 85%.

Areas at low elevations have temperatures which vary greatly from those experienced in the mountainous regions of Bali with temperatures much cooler providing relief to those who prefer a cooler climate.

Bali’s dry season falls between April and September, with most tourists visiting during the months of July, August and December. The monsoon, or wet season typically occurs between the months of October to March. The central mountain areas of the island are typically cooler and more susceptible to rain than the coastal areas. At night temperatures can drop significantly in these areas.