Bali People and Religion
Bali, home to a variety of faiths, is predominantly Hindu. There is a small minority of Christians and Buddhists of Chinese and Balinese origin, as well as a number of Moslems. Balinese Hinduism called Agama Hindu Dharma is a blend of Shivaism and Buddhism originating from classical Java and is the primary religion of the Balinese. Indian philosophy provides the theological framework while indigenous beliefs are at the core of the rituals. Such blending of beliefs is legitimate in Bali where the saying goes as follows, The truth is one, the interpretations multiple.
Indigenous beliefs are clearly seen in the belief in natural elements and of the ancestors. Nature is viewed as "power" itself and each of its elements is thought to be subjected to spirits. These must be taken care of, provided with a shrine, fed with various offerings made from agricultural products and given respect.
The Mother mountain, Gunung Agung is highly sacred to the Balinese and central to their beliefs. It is the abode of the gods and the ancestors and where you return to when you die. As the origin of water and volcanoes, from which the wrath of the gods is issued, the mountain occupies the pole of purity, kaja. The pole of impurity in contrast being the sea, kelod. Balinese Hinduism revolves around this kaja-kelod axis and determines the spatial organization of rituals, architecture and daily life. One sleeps, for example, with one’s head in the direction of the mountain.
Religion in Bali varies according to three principles Desa; place, Kala; time and Patra; circumstances. Hinduism acknowledges five pillars of faith, respectively belief in the one Supreme God (Sanghyang Widhi Waça), belief in the soul as the universal principle of life and consciousness (Atma), the belief in the fruition of one’s deeds (Karma Phala), belief in the process of birth and death (Samsara) and belief in ultimate release (Moksa).
One of the consequences of the principles of karma and Samsara is the existence of the Wangsa system where an individual inherits his status as a result of his or her past life. The four wangsa in Bali are the Brahmana, who deal with religion and the holy texts; the Satria or rulers; the Wesia or merchants and the Sudras the lower class.
God has a variety of names, being multiple and all pervading he is the Ultimate Void or Sunya expanding in an infinity of Murti of manifestations from which people select one as Astadewata or a personal god. Some of the names are indigenous; Sanghyang Embang or Sanghyang Parama Kawi. Ultimately however, all gods are seen as emanating from a single source.
The principle gods are Brahma, the God of Creation; Wisnu, the God of Providence; and Çiwa, the God of Dissolution. These three move the world through an unending process of birth, balance and destructon.
Man a microcosm of the world is subjected to the same process until he or she achieves Moksa, blending into the Cosmos and God. The cosmos and its movement is symbolized by the swastika.
Man should endeavor to maintain the harmony of the whole system, hence the role of rituals. Only by adhering to the proper rules of behaviour can the proper balance be kept between the two sets of godly and demonic forces. Balinese religion is known to the world through the richness of its rituals. Gods and demons see, to be everywhere and the life of the Balinese is therefore replete with rituals.
As the tools for maintaining the balance of the world, they are for everything imaginable, from knowledge, cleansing machines to marriage and birth ceremonies, all of different types and levels. Rituals consist of calling down the gods and the ancestors for visits from their heavenly abode in the country above the mountain. They come down during temple festivals and are entertained with dances and fed with offerings. They can also be called down through the entreaties of a priest.
Balinese rituals are ruled by a complex calendar system, a combination of the Indian Çaka calendar and the Wuku calendar. The Çaka year rules the agricultural cycle and is divided into lunar months and fitted into the solar calendar by the addition of an extra month, every thirtieth month. The full moon and the dark moon are the most important ritual moments of this calendar. The first day of the Çaka year however, usually in March is the day of Silence and of profound importance throughout Bali.
The Wuku year consists of a cycle of 210 days divided into thirty wuku weeks, each of which corresponds to a specific activity. There is a week of weapons and one of animals for example. There are then other types of weeks varying from one to ten days, each having a name and number, being auspicious or inauspicious. The most important days in this system are Galungan and Kuningan, when all the ancestors come down to visit.
Temples in Bali are simple walled open yards from which people can communicate directly with their gods and ancestors. Gods and ancestors normally "visit" their human worshipers or descendants during temple festivals (Odalan). They reside in miniature houses set in the temple, the pelinggih shrines and alight effigies of gold, coins or offerings.
During the length of their stay, the gods and their companions are symbolically bathed, fed, put to bed and entertained with dances and other shows. Meanwhile members of the temple come and go over three or more days, with offerings and to get their share of holy water sprinkled over them and the offerings during the collective prayers.
There are few societies in the world where religion plays a role such as it does in Bali. The incredible beauty and colour that accompanies the rituals and offerings, which seem to be ever occurring, is proof that Bali is continually harmonizing the world of Man with the cosmic world of the Gods.
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