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Through the Eyes of Researcher: Balinese Religion  

by on Friday, 4 May 2007No Comment | 3,200 views

It is interesting to have a researchers view on Balinese Religion. Here are an excerpt taken from Hildred and Clifford Geertz’s “Kinship of Bali”. this excerpt gives their view on Balinese religion.

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In very general terms, Balinese religion can be characterized as “public,” “social,” and “civic.” Worship is, by and large, collective and external, a matter of visible dramatic actions. Private silent prayer, inward contemplation and persona religious speculation are all unusual, though they of course occur. There is, in general population, but sporadic concern for either theological or ethical reflection, for spiritual ecstasy, for divine communion, or for personal feeling of worshipful awe, and to the degree such interest are present in Bali among individual with a special bent for them, they are covert, implicit, unverbalized, and, at least until recently, socially unimportant.


Ceremonies are frequent, elaborate and involve lengthy preparations. The most common form is the temple festival, in which the gods are formally entreated to descend to human realm for a few days, during which time they reside in a temple and feted as honored guest. The temple is gaily decorated, there are joyful processions to meet the gods, dances and dramas are performed for their diversion, gamelan orchestra plays, and the most important, all sorts of foods, each carefully decorated in traditional ways, are ritually offered to the gods. Every detail of these culinary offerings is rigidly prescribed, and slightest deviation is thought to invite the anger of the gods. While everyone participates in the making of the offerings, their actual presentation to the gods is carried out by temple priest or high brahmana priest. The food must be first sanctified by the priest, by ritual sprinkling of holy water. This holy water is later sprinkled over those members of the congregation who desire it, to spiritually cleanse them.

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Purification through sanctified water is considered by the Balinese one of the central pillars of their religion; in fact, they often call it the “holy water religion” (agama tirtha). The notion of spiritual uncleanliness is equally important: contact with death, menstruation, physical deformity, sexual intercourse, insanity, sexual perversion are all dangerously unclean. Such pollution (sebel) is a kind of irreverence, an insult to the gods, anyone in such contaminated condition may not enter a temple for fear bringing disaster onto the entire congregation.

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Thus, the gods are proud; they strictly uphold the rules for proper respect for their superior rank, and their displeasure falls not on individual transgressor but on the temple group as a whole. But the rules are fairly clear, and if one is properly cautious and circumspect, one need no worry. And the gods like to laugh and they enjoy fine music and dance; one can have a great deal of pleasure at the gods’ festivals. The atmosphere of the temple ceremony is neither fearful nor solemn, but happily busy, matter-of-fact, and for the uninitiated westerner, bewilderingly without focus.

Despite the insistence by thoughtful Balinese that their religion is really monotheistic, their gods, or the manifestation of their one god, are myriad. There are many different kinds, some of high rank, some of low. There are demons in addition to the gods – and the manner of their placation is somewhat different – but their exact moral status is unclear, for some demons are thought to be the “servants” of the gods, while other are thought to be the evil “aspect” of a normally benevolent spirit. The concepts of good and evil are not really relevant to the Balinese system, for neither gods nor demons are felt to be directly concerned with human ethical behavior as such. They appear to be much more intent on enforcing the appropriate deference due them. few of these spirits have a very distinct personal identity: they are not usually referred to by name but rather by designation of the altar or temple at which they are worshipped.

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Another significant trait of the Balinese deities is their great physical mobility. Supernatural beings are thought to be traveling around – “blowing through the island like the wind” – stopping at many different temples. They may even enter the human beings, causing the well-known Balinese trance phenomena. A god who is most closely associated with some particular temple may have special altars or small temples to him in many quite distant places. These lesser altars and temples are of ten called pesanggrahan, a word also used for a king’s temporary rest house where he stops when on tour away from his palace.

Apart from the temples and their celebration, there are also a great many other kinds of religious activities and practitioners: the dragon and witch dramatic trance ritual, the Brahman priests, the ritual to exorcise demons form village and house yard, personal life cycle ritual of all sorts, the funeral and cremation ceremonies, curing and witchcraft, and spirit mediums.

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