The Indonesian Island of Bali is a blissful beach paradise, but beautiful beaches can be found in many places around the world. What makes Bali special is the unique culture that exists here and nowhere else. To discover the best of Bali, seek out the island’s culture treasures.
Beauty is everywhere in Bali. And much of that beauty is deeply linked to the island’s rich culture. Here’s a glimpse of that culture.
Temples and water gardens
Most people living on Bali are Hindu and elaborate temples (pura) are found in every village throughout the island. These temples are often sprawling complexes with gates, courtyards, and a variety of towering shrines and open pavilions – all of which are extravagantly decorated.
Some of these are water temples. They are an integral part of both Balinese Hinduism and the island’s traditional cooperative water management system. Known as subak, this system not only provides water for the all-important rice fields, but also creates a sacred landscape that links the human, spiritual, and natural worlds. This way of thinking and managing the landscape is such a significant component of Balinese culture that five rice terraces and their accompanying temples are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape of Bali.
With water playing such an important role in both Bali’s spiritual and economic life, it also became an important feature at royal palaces. Elaborate water gardens with a stunning mix of pools, plants, and architecture served as both royal gardens and family temples.
Dance has a long history in Bali. Over time it has developed a variety of forms performed for sacred ceremonies, popular entertainment, or both. These dances are so significant that UNESCO designated nine of them as part of humanity’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Some sacred dances are never performed for tourists. And a few are performed almost entirely for tourists. However, many are enjoyed by both tourists and the local community. And, as many dances tell ancient Hindu stories, Balinese residents and Hindu visitors know exactly when to cheer, boo, shout warnings, clap, and chant as performers re-tell ancient tales. Their participation makes a performance all the more fun for the rest of us!
While there are many different types of Balinese dance, all rely on highly expressive movement of the arms, legs, hands, face, and eyes. The only exceptions are dances or special characters where masks replace facial expressions, as with the figure of the lion in the Barong dance. The expressiveness of Balinese dances make them fascinating to watch even when it is difficult to follow the story’s details.
The visual arts
Almost everything in Bali is a work of art. That’s as true of buildings and religious offerings as it is of clothing, jewelry, and decorative arts. Beautiful art is everywhere in Bali.
However, visiting a gallery, workshop, or museum offers an opportunity to learn about Bali’s rich artistic tradition, see some amazing works of art, and watch demonstrations that show how various types of art are created.
As you start looking around Bali, you will find many more beautiful expressions of Balinese culture. It really will be all around you.