A Buddhist in Bali
Text: © Garry Benson 2014
Images: © Garry Benson 2014
Honouring the Gods is such a long-standing tradition in Bali that the island is named after the native word for ‘offering’ – Bebali. For the Balinese, to make the material world as beautiful as possible ensures a safe journey to the afterlife and a better reincarnation.
The religious festivals of Balinese daily life are a continuous performance. Traditional music, dance, theatre and the arts are there to give pleasure to the Gods. The daily offerings are an excellent example – every banana leaf offering is covered with rice and marigolds, mostly grown in the highlands around Bedugul in the north of the island.
Bouquets of flowers and larger offerings abound, and in traditional towns like Ubud the daily hubbub of tourist traffic is punctuated by the sight of these beautiful ‘bebali’. Lavish sculptural offerings of food and gifts are created for odalan, or regular temple activities.
Tono Prayseta is an Ogoh Ogoh artist from the small artist’s village of Batubulan near Ubud.
An Ogoh Ogoh is a classic Balinese figure that is closely associated with Nyepi – the Hindu Day of Silence or the Hindu New Year in the Balinese Saka calendar. The villages are cleaned, food is cooked for 2 days and in the evening as much noise is made as possible to scare away the devils.
On the following day, Hindus do not leave their homes, cook or engage in any activity. Streets are deserted, and tourists are not allowed to leave hotel complexes. No arrival nor departure flights at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar – Bali. No tourist activities… The largest celebrations are held in Bali as well as in Balinese Hindu communities around Indonesia.
Ogoh ogoh is a kind of statue/giant doll made of light materials such as the combination of wood, bamboo, paper, and styrofoam so it is easy to be lifted and paraded. The name ogoh ogoh is taken from Balinese ‘ogah-ogah’ that means something that is shaken. In fact, when an ogoh-ogoh is paraded around it is always shaken by its carriers to make it look like it’s moving or dancing. There’s no set image – it can be any of dozens of frightening creatures.
In culturally diverse Bali the celebrations of Hindu holidays are very important. For example Galungan celebrates the return of Balinese gods and deified ancestors to Bali. For ten days, Balinese families offer prayers and offerings, along with ceremonies to cleanse and balance the inner and outer energy on the island.
Galungan lasts for 10 days and features, among other things, Barongs (links with Vishnu) dancing from temple to temple in each village. The festival symbolises the victory of good over evil. The origins of Galungan are still a mystery, but essentially this is the beginning of the week in which the gods and ancestors descend to earth…and good triumphs over evil.
The Balinese have maintained their unique culture for centuries despite many outside influences. 95% of traditional Balinese practise the Hindu-Dharma religion (known as Agama Tirta). This uniquely Balinese combination of Hinduism, Buddhism and ancestor worship is basically a monotheistic religion with one Supreme Being, Sang Hyang Widhi.
As a practising Buddhist when I took Refuge in Buddhism I made five vows:
1. Not to kill any sentient being.
2. Not to steal.
3. Not to lie.
4. Not to indulge in sexual misconduct.
5. Not to surrender to intoxifying substances.
The Balinese have their own Five Religious Principles:
1. Brahman, belief in One Supreme Being
2. Atman, Belief in Souls and spirits.
3. Samara, or Reincarnation
4. Karma, that action and practice is appropriately rewarded – that is good rewards good and evil, evil.
5. Moksa, the possibility of unity with the divine.
There are many parallels with Buddhism apart from the fact that Buddhism is regarded as a philosophy and we don’t believe in One Supreme Being.
A Balinese person’s life is marked by rituals, beginning in the seven month ritual of pregnancy followed by the birth ritual; the sixth month ‘baby touching the ground’ ceremony; the teenage’s toothfiling ceremony (perhaps in abeyance now); wedding and birthday celebrations and clan gatherings at temple anniversary ceremonies.
The ultimate ritual, Pitra Yodna, is coming next month – in July and August many villages prepare pyres for the elaborate cremation of the dead, to speed their souls to Balinese heaven so they can be reincarnated for an even happier existence in another physical form.
One thing is certain. The tremendous growth in tourism has generated demand for the work of all Balinese artists and craftsmen, revived their traditional skills and fostered a thriving new industry. Whether it’s sculpture in stone, wood or styrofoam; fantastic kites or wallhangings, the art of Bali has a soul – and that’s also expressed by their daily offerings and lifestyle.