Unlike the rest of Indonesia which is almost entirely Muslim, Bali is a Hindu island with up to 95% of the population actively practicing the faith.
However, Balinese Hinduism is different from Indian Hinduism, incorporating aspects of Buddhism and animist beliefs. The beliefs in karma and reincarnation are Hindu, while indigenous practices are evident in the worship of nature and the ancestors, a strong belief in magic and in the power of the spirit world.
The Balinese hold an enormous number of ceremonies or ‘upacara’ throughout the year, on Hindu occasions as well in response to various important cycles: the lunar cycle, the rice-growing cycle, and the cycle of human life. Ceremonies are held for reasons as diverse as to purify a physical place, mark the arrival of a baby’s first tooth or the birth of a goddess, or to honour the art of wood-carving. They can take place in family compounds, in the temples, even on the street.
Other occasions are celebrated at home. An unusual occasion for visitors is the day for the blessing of metal. Your camera and other items may be enthusiastically swept up for blessings, and you‘ll be sure to find your car, motorbike, oven or kitchen blender covered in elaborately crafted offerings.
All members of the community must participate in the ceremonies, including makng donations, and everyone has a distinct role to play.
It’s one of the great delights of Bali to watch the community on the way to a temple ceremony in traditional dress, carrying offerings and accompanied by drums and gongs. Ceremonies often run the whole night through and involve purification rituals, blessings, offerings and mantras. Some also involve animal sacrifice, seen as a form of cleansing.
Visitors are usually welcome to attend ceremonies, but it’s important to respect the local customs and etiquette. You can read more specific details about the range of traditional ceremonies under ‘Ceremonies & Rituals’. For guidelines on what to wear and how to behave at a ceremony, see ‘Local Etiquette’, under ‘Ubud Info’.