The richness of Bali's arts and crafts has its origin in the fertility of the land.
The purest forms are the depictions of Dewi Sri, the rice goddess, intricately
made from dried and folded strips of palm leaf to ensure that the fertility of
the rice fields continues.
Until the tourist invasion, the acts of painting or carving were purely to
decorate temples and shrines and to enrich ceremonies. Today, with galleries
and craft shops everywhere, paintings are stacked up on their floors and you
trip over stone- or woodcarvings. Much of it is churned out quickly, but you
will still find a great deal of beautiful work.
Balinese dance, music and wayang kulit (a leather puppet used in shadow
puppet plays) performances are one of the reasons that Bali is much more
than just a beach destination. The artistry on display here will stay with you
long after you've moved on from the island.
On Lombok you can find excellent crafts, including pottery in villages
such as Banyumulek (p292). There are many shops and galleries with good
items in Mataram (p290) and Senggigi (p298).
Foreigners can enter most temple complexes if decently dressed. Ususally, clean, tidy clothing
and a selandong (traditional scarf ) or sash to tie around your waist - some temples have these
for hire for around 2000Rp, or a donation - is an acceptable show of respect for the gods.
Priests should be shown respect, particularly at festivals. Don't put yourself higher than them
(eg by climbing on a wall to take photos).
Usually there's a sign at temple entrances warning you to be respectful, and asking that women
not enter if menstruating. At this time women are thought to be sebel (ritually unclean), as are
pregnant women and those who have recently given birth, or been recently bereaved.
Richly illustrated, The
Art & Culture of Bali
by Urs Ramseyer is a
comprehensive work on
the foundations of Bali's
complex and colourful
artistic and cultural
art, literature, music and culture. While the Bali Aga retreated to the hills
to escape this new influence, the rest of the population simply adapted
it for themselves. The Balinese overlaid the Majapahit interpretation of
Hinduism on their animist beliefs creating the unusual Balinese form of
Balinese worship the trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, three aspects
of the one god, Sanghyang Widi. The basic threesome is always alluded to,
but never seen - a vacant shrine or empty throne tells all. Balinese temples
come to life at the regular and colourful temple festivals (p337). A temple
ritual involves major communal offerings, plus each family's own large and
colourful offering, brought in in a spectacular procession. The betel on top
of every offering symbolises the Hindu Trinity, as do the three basic colours
used - red for Brahma, black or green for Wisnu, and white for Siwa. Conical
shapes are models of the cosmic mountain and rice cookies represent plants,
animals, people or buildings.
You can catch a quality dance performance in Bali anywhere there's a festival
or celebration, and you'll find exceptional performances in and around Ubud.
Enjoying this purely Balinese form of art is reason enough to visit and no
visit is complete without this quintessential Bali experience.
To see good Balinese dance on a regular basis, you'll want to spend some
time in Ubud. For an idea of what's on, see p197. Performances typically
take place at night and although choreographed with the short attention
spans of tourists in mind they can last two hours or more. Absorb the hyp-
notic music and the alluring moves of the performers and the hours will,
er, dance past. Admission to dances is generally around 50,000Rp. Music,
theatre and dance courses are available in Ubud, where private teachers
advertise instruction in various of the Balinese instruments (see p185).
A great resource on
Bali culture and life is
through to Culture to
find explanations on
everything from kids'
names to what one wears
to a ceremony and the
weaving of the garments.
Islam is a minority religion in Bali; most who practise it are descendants of
seafaring people from Sulawesi. Mosques are most often seen at seaports
and fishing villages.
Gujarati merchants brought Islam to Lombok via the Celebes (now
Sulawesi) and Java in the 13th century. The traditions and rituals affect
all aspects of daily life. Friday afternoon is the official time for worship,
when all government offices and many businesses close. Many, but not
all, Muslim women in Lombok wear headscarfs, very few choose to wear
the veil, and large numbers work in the tourism industry. Middle-class
Muslim girls are often able to choose their own partners. In east Lombok
most people practise a stricter, more conservative variety of Islam, and
there is evidence that more radical, anti-Western beliefs are taking root
with some youths.
The ancient Hindu
swastika seen all over
Bali is a symbol of
harmony with the
universe. The German
Nazis used a version
where the arms are
always bent in a
Although tourists in Bali may think they are the honoured guests, the real honoured guests
are the gods, ancestors, spirits and demons that live in Bali. They are presented with offerings
throughout each day to show respect and gratitude, or perhaps to bribe a demon into being
A gift to a higher being must look attractive, so each offering is a work of art. The basic form
is fresh food arranged on a palm leaf and crowned with a saiban (palm leaf decoration). Once
presented to the gods it cannot be used again, so new offerings are made again and again each
day, usually by women (as more women hold jobs, you'll see easy-to-assemble offerings for sale
in markets - much as you'll find quick dinner items in Western supermarkets).
While offerings come in many forms, typically they are little bigger than a guidebook. Expect
to see flowers, bits of food - especially rice - and a few more unusual items such as Ritz crackers.
More important shrines and occasions will call for more elaborate offerings, which can include
dozens of citrus fruits and even entire animals cooked and ready for eating.
One thing not to worry about is stepping on offerings. Given their ubiquity it's almost impos-
sible not to (just don't try to). In fact, at Bemo Corner in Kuta (p95) offerings are left in front of
This unique religion originated in Bayan, in north Lombok. Wektu means
'result' in Sasak, while telu means 'three' and signifies the three religions
that comprise Wektu Telu: Balinese Hinduism, Islam and animism. The
tenet is that all important aspects of life are underpinned by a trinity.
The Wektu Telu (p316) believe they have three main duties: to believe in
Allah; to avoid the temptations of the devil; and to cooperate with, help and
love other people.