Vibrant and superbly rich in culture, Bali is an experience in the beauty of rituals, ceremonies and unusually beautiful sights. Among its majestic temples and wonder of natural beauties, you will encounter Bali’s uniqueness that is tightly-knitted to its main religion – Hinduism.
Many different aspects of the culture may seem a little odd and fascinating that for first-time travellers, you cannot help but be curious and tempted to know more. Here are the 10 unusual everyday sights in Bali explained:
1. Penjor Poles
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Penjor Poles in Bali are the equivalent of Christmas trees in the western tradition. The festivities of Bali’s cultural and religious scenes around the holy days include a decoration of bamboo poles decorated with young coconut leaf ornaments. During Galungan and Kuningan, you will see these towering bamboo poles, which feature significant harvest items such as rice stalks, fruits, coconuts and coconut leaves. They are also the symbol of victory over evil.
If you look closely, you will see that at the base of the pole is a small woven bamboo shrine called “ Ardha Chandra”, an offering for the gods during the celebration.
Also a familiar sight during the wedding ceremony, art performance or other festivals, Balinese will erect Penjor Poles in front of their houses and roadsides, making a heaven-like archway and a dreamlike sight to behold.
2. Festive Funerals
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Referred locally as Ngaben or Pelebon, cremations are truly a remarkable occasion in Bali. Usually loud and full of festive sights, processions with blaring gamelan instruments are carried out in systematic manners.
The ornate coffins themselves are also sights to behold, towering high and carried by a troupe of male villagers. The form and height of the coffins, or bade, are symbolic to the level of social class of the deceased; the higher meaning the better. Some are up to 10 meters high with meticulous decorations of flowers, wooden masks and other colourful ornaments.
Needless to say, when a ngaben takes place, it will become a spectacle with endless streams of crowds. Schedules of cremation are usually announced months beforehand and attract international visitors flying in to witness this magnificent sight and rare procession.
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3. Parade of Giants
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If you are in Bali around the Nyepi or Saka New Year celebrations, you are in for an unusual treat. As the whole of Bali shut downs on the actual New Year, the eve of celebration takes place as glorious as possible prior.
Filled with noisy firecrackers, torches and parading monstrous-like figures all around the village streets, it is truly a cultural wonder unlike any other. These giants are called Ogoh-ogoh and are passionately created by youths, just like the giant kites.
Through the several weeks leading up to the Saka New Year Eve, the youths will vigorously build and passionately create sophisticated and stunning Ogoh-ogoh to display. Youth groups will work hand in hand in brainstorming, raising funds, putting creative concepts and finally, building these mythical figures from scratch. Starting from a bamboo framework, the youths will continue to add layers and layers of artwork until the final artistic creature appears before their eyes.
Every year, the crowds in Banjars ( communal halls) and roadsides are treated with the sights of impressive Ogoh-ogoh. These spectacular giants are paraded around during the celebration, and will then be burned after the parades. This represents that demons and evil are being rid of to embrace the silent and peaceful day that follows
4. Balinese Scriptures
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The alphabets of Bali are often seen in temple plaques, signs and local government offices. These Balinese scripts are also known as theAksara Bali or Anacaraka. Originated from the Brahmi script, Aksara Bali is very much alike the variety of scripts one encounters throughout Southeast Asia.
Bali’s own scriptures are quite elaborate religious texts, with the well-preserved original form in palm leaf manuscripts. All public signs and local offices in Bali now feature the script, some with accompanying subtitles for further understanding. This is all part of the movement to save and preserve the heritage script from waning.
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Also called “sesajen” in a local word, this is an unmissable daily sighting. Balinese Hindus give offerings everyday as a way of giving thanks. You may see a small meal such as small pinches of rice or the morning’s cooking placed on square-cut banana leaves, together with a sprinkle of salt. The placement is usually on the ground of a temple shrine, symbolizing offerings for higher deities or down in the yard or front of the house for lower spirits.
The colorful canangsari or flower offerings are also present among the small portion of food on the banana leaves or palm leaves. The flower’s colors are symbolic to the four cardinal points for certain Hindu gods such as yellow for Mahadeva in the west and red for Brahma in the south. Finally, a sprinkle of holy water completed with an incense stick is put on the side.
As this is a form of religious offerings prevalent on the street, careful on your steps when you walk down all Bali leisurely lanes.
6. Black and White Checkered Cloth
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Worn not only by art performers or temple officials, but these cloths are also draped around tree trunks, statues and rocks. This ubiquitous fabric is calledsaput poleng which is also another religious item presenting the main essence in Hinduism – balance.
As harmony in eternal opposites is the core of Bali Hinduism, saput poleng represents that the good is present just as naturally as the bad. Usually, statues or large rocks that are draped in them, are considered to hold power or force of a spirit or deity.
Locals will often show respect when passing these sites such as honking their horns upon seeing a tree in poleng stands.
7. Giant Kites
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There is nothing quite like the blue skies of Bali when speckled with soaring gigantic kites or layangan/ layang- layang. When the Bali Kite Festival starts its buzz, many Bali tourists and enthusiasts will impatiently wait for the final confirmation date where weather is most favorable.
A free show of gigantic and breathtakingly beautiful layang- layang in Bali sky is truly a sight of wonder. Just about every kid and village troupe will fly these beauties attracting international traffic all over the world.
This grand annual festival is a big deal where massive flying artwork are transported by trucks causing heightened traffic in the streets of Bali. The process of taking off these giants is equally
8. Water and Kisses
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The day afterNyepi or the Saka New Year, another cheerful, yet peculiar, celebration will take place involving the community of Sesetan village in South Denpasar.
The much localised event is undertaken by the youths of Banjar Kaja community, participating in tug of war or omed- omedan. As boys get in one line and girls in another, elders are armed with buckets and hoses will douse them with water during the pull & tag war.
This activity also involves the pre-arrangements of shoving several coming-of-age couples and encouraging them to kiss and embrace for a very brief moment before being pulled apart again. As the cheerfulness continues on, onlookers and passersby are not much safe from the hoses of the elders, causing riots of fun and laughter.
This event dates back to an old local legend about a male and a female pigs that fought in a push and pull clash on the same street of Sesetan village. When the festival was halted, a plague hit so it has been held every year since.
9. Blood Battles
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The tradition of cock-fighting in Bali is faced with ongoing criticism and legal issues. Mostly because the gambling activity that is inadvertently involved. However, cockfights are deeply rooted in Bali rituals that require offerings of blood. Cockfighting or tajen, dates back centuries and is a form of purification via animal sacrifice which precedes each temple festival or religious ceremony.
Instead of fighting chickens, a ritual of blood offering using human blood also takes place in Tenganan village, several kilometers north of Candidasa. Youths in this village will be taken to a raised platform arena and then carry out a friendly blood match. Their weapon of choice is a tied bundled of thorny pandan leaves and woven rattan shields. As a result, slashes of pandan leaves will cause bloody cuts at the backs of these men who show no sign of pain.
Pandan battles takes place during the fifth full moon on the indigenous Tenganan calender and are held over several days each year.
10. Balinese Costume
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Worn mostly during religious ceremonies or events, traditional Balinese attire is unique and colorful. The female costume consists of silver headgear or golden flower hairpins worn to decorate the full bun or sanggul. The hair decorations may get more complex and elaborate in special occasions such as wedding, such as a tall golden flower crowns called gelung mas. Kebaya with all sorts of patterns and beautiful embroidery works also enhances the feminine figure.
While the men will also wear a headdress known as udeng or destar, which is a folded piece of batik cloth. Balinese boys are all required to practice wearing udeng from an early age to achieve the perfect folds, flaps and pointy end form flawlessly. This is a symbol of the male definitive. Along with this, a sarong that is wrapped around the waist completes the male garment.