The culture of Bali is unique. People say that the Balinese people have reached self-content. It is not an exaggeration that when a Balinese is asked what heaven is like, he would say, just like Bali, without the worries of mundane life. They want to live in Bali, to be cremated in Bali when they die, and to reincarnate in Bali.
It does not mean that the Balinese resist changes. Instead, they adapt them to their own system. This goes back far in history. Prior to the arrival of Hinduism in Bali and in other parts of Indonesia, people practised animism. When Hinduism arrives, the practice of Hinduism is adapted to local practices. The brand of Hinduism practised in Bali is much different from that in India. Other aspects of life flow this way.
Traditional paintings, faithfully depicting religious and mythological symbolisms, met with Western and modern paintings, giving birth to contemporary paintings, free in its creative topics yet strongly and distinctively Balinese. Its dance, its music, and its wayang theaters , while have been continually enriched by contemporary and external artistry, are still laden with religious connotations, performed mostly to appease and to please the gods and the goddesses. Wood and stone carvings, gold and silver crafts parallel the development of paintings, gracefully evolving with external forces to enhance their characters. The batik of Bali owes its origin to Java, and inspired the development of ikat and double ikat.
Painting Of Bali
Paintings of Bali have experienced remarkable evolution. Traditionally another means of expressing religious and mythological ideas, paintings of Bali have been subjected to a number of influences, including deep interaction with Western painters who came and lived in Bali. As with any other artistic expression found in the island, these influences have been uniquely adapted into Bali's personality, creating new nuances and styles of paintings that are distinctly Balinese. Instead of religious or mythical characters of wayang, contemporary paintings present nature, daily lives of Balinese, or even tourists. The shades of coal gray that dominate traditional paintings are now accompanied by vibrant play of color capturing Jalak Bali or Gunung Agung in the morning sun.
The Raja of Ubud was known for his fondness of arts and paintings, and his openness to foreigners. Thus Ubud became the center of arts, welcoming into its heart renowned artists such as Bonnet, Spies, Blanco, Snel, et., many of whom came and never could leave Bali. Today's Ubud is only slightly different. You should not be surprised to run into a foreign writer who has spent months living in a homestay facing a rice field terrace while writing his next book. Fabulous museums of paintings such as the Puri Museum Lukisan, the Neka Museum, and the Rudana Museum have in their permanent collections some of the best paintings ever produced by Balinese or foreigners who found their physical and artistic home in Bali.
People Of Bali
The Balinese, anthropologists suggest, are an amalgamation of a number of people. The Chinese coming from the North, the Indian and the Arabs from way West, and other groups coming directly to Bali or by way of Java. Centuries past, and they become what is now known as native Balinese. They are blessed with well-developed bodies, golden-bronze skin, long, glossy black hair, and charm and mystical smiles, happily living in a rich and complete yet dynamic culture.
There are pockets of villages in which fraternization with outsiders is completely restricted, resulting in a people and a culture that the Balinese called Bali Aga (Old Bali), which may curiously be the tunnel that allows us to periscope into the culture of Bali in the past centuries.
People, Religion, and Temples
A person in Bali cannot exist in solitude. Balinese society is very community oriented. The first invitation to attend the next village meeting is delivered to you practically as a wedding present. If ignored, it will result in a warning; if three invitations are ignored, then the village may take actions against you. Since land is usually owned by the community, the village may revoke your privilege to till the land. Much of the rituals require massive effort, which usually the village shoulder in cooperatively. You will have to shoulder it yourself, should you decide to be an outcast. Along with other families in the village, you participate in meetings. You may play an instrument in the orchestra, or dance in the ceremonies. The women prepare the offerings, for their little shrines or for the village's offering to the Mother Temple of Besakih. If a child in a family is having his tooth filed, the rest of the village's women will help cook and prepare, and the men help erect a stage and decorate the house. In short, life in Bali is never alone.
You can observe this even in little children. As their parents go to plant rice, the children - all seem to be in their best behavior - play with their age group. The older ones will care for the younger ones. Fights rarely occur, and loud screams or cries are even scarcer. As if they have been taught to be at harmony with their surroundings.
The Balinese also has a built in population control mechanism through their naming structure. In Bali, all first child is named Wayan, second child is Made, the third child is Nyoman, and the fourth, or the last, is Ketut. If you have more than four? Well, the Balinese seem to have understood modulo arithmetic, so it's back to Wayan, Made, Nyoman, and Ketut, repeat. But implicitly, the culture discourages having more than four children.
Though originating from India, the brand of Hinduism known and practiced in Bali differs significantly from the one found in India. Instead of mysticism or philosophy, the emphasis of Bali's Hinduism is more in rituals and dramatic features, allowing the religion and its practice to be incorporated into daily life of Balinese peasants. These rituals and dramatic features have been intricately woven into the lives of Balinese to the extent that one cannot separate the religious life of Bali from its daily life. In fact, one can say every little action of a Balinese has some religious connotation; stone and wood carvings, cremation ceremony, trance dances, vibrant music - all are intended to please the gods and the goddesses. These rituals most often take place in a temple, the most important structure in the Balinese culture.
Another aspect of religious life in Bali is the belief that the gods and the goddesses appreciate the mundane pleasures as much as the mere mortals. Feasts and festivals color everyday life as they function to please the people as much as they please the gods. Dances, music, and performances will of course be present. And endowed with such fertile and arable land, the Balinese also practice their creativity with the food and offerings presented in these feasts (which, one can rightfully expect, transcend into similar kinds of food and fruits consumed in normal daily living...)
Textil Of Bali
The Batik of Bali provides another venue of showing the artistic excellence of the Balinese people. Their beautiful designs, inspired by religious mythologies to everyday encounters, spread throughout the world. Originally stimulated by Javanese motifs, dominated by wayang and other mythological characters, contemporary batik artists have also experienced artistic development that parallels that of paintings. Modern batik artists express themselves through various subjects, from objects of nature such as birds or fish to daily activities such as cremation (ngaben) procession or tourist attractions as well as religious and mythological stories, accompanied by modern interpretation.
The Ikat and Double Ikat are two amazing techniques that the Balinese have perfected. A piece of Ikat cloth is woven in such a way that the ink is 'tied' (which is what 'ikat' literally translates to) in one of the two threads. A Double Ikat recursively repeats this technique; both threads contain ink. The ink will bleed to its neihboring area, and the result is a piece of cloth with distinctive, subtle patterns.
The village of Tenganan is well known for its superb double ikat work. A good piece of double ikat may take months to complete, and it usually belongs to the family heirloom. Certain patterns, such as the black and white, checkered, double ikat are considered to have protective powers against the evil spirits. Thus, they are used a lot to cover or to dress statues that guard the entrance to a temple or sacred masks like Barong.
A piece of ikat shirt or a batik wrap-around, each can be had for as little as a few dollars, are must have. Local garment shops will gladly supply you with these or any other kinds of Balinese garments that might interest you.