Bali’s spiritual landscape is enriched by a pantheon of deities from Hinduism, animism, and local belief systems. statues and temples dedicated to them make a big part of the special vibes of the island, nad its unique architechture.
This Bali glossary article delves into the diverse world of Bali’s deities, exploring their roles, symbolism, and significance in the island’s culture.
Overview of Bali’s Deities
Hindu Deities: Bali practices a unique form of Hinduism known as “Agama Hindu Dharma.” Major Hindu deities like Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are revered, with distinct Balinese interpretations and rituals.
Balinese Ancestors: Ancestor worship is a vital aspect of Balinese spirituality. Deceased ancestors are considered divine and are honored through rituals, offerings, and family altars.
Local Spirits: Bali’s belief system also includes a host of local spirits and deities associated with specific places, such as mountains, lakes, and sacred trees. These spirits are believed to protect and bless their respective domains.
The most important Hindu Deities in Bali
Yo will see thousands of statues and temples in the island of gods. So here is an overview of the most important god residing on this island:
Dewa Brahma (Brahma)
The creator god in the Hindu triad or Trimurti. In Balinese worship, Brahma plays a pivotal role in the creation of the universe.
Dewa Wisnu (Vishnu)
The preserver or sustainer god in the Hindu triad. Vishnu maintains cosmic order and is often depicted riding the mythical bird Garuda. Many temples in Bali are dedicated to Vishnu and his incarnations (avatars).
Dewa Siwa (Shiva)
The destroyer and regenerator god in the Hindu triad. Many rituals, dances, and ceremonies revolve around legends associated with him. The Mother Temple of Besakih, the most important temple in Bali, is associated with Shiva.
Dewi Sri (Rice Goddess)
Goddess of fertility, agriculture, and prosperity. As rice cultivation is fundamental to Balinese culture and sustenance, Dewi Sri holds a special place in the hearts of the Balinese people. She is worshipped for good harvests and prosperity.
Dewa Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (Supreme God)
The supreme god in Balinese Hinduism. Represents the Balinese conception of the supreme being and is an amalgamation of the Hindu Trimurti. The term is often used in Bali to refer to the divine in general, encompassing various deities and the divine essence of the universe.
Ganesha is depicted as an elephant-headed deity with a rounded belly and is typically shown riding a mouse. His elephant head symbolizes wisdom and understanding, while the mouse represents the trivialities of existence which Ganesha can overcome.
Hanuman, a central figure in the Hindu epic Ramayana, is the divine monkey god renowned for his strength, loyalty, and valor. Revered as a symbol of devotion and selfless service, he played a pivotal role in Lord Rama’s quest to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana.
The Ramayana Epic
The Ramayana holds a cherished place in Balinese culture, influencing various aspects of its artistic and religious traditions. Integral to Balinese dance and theatre, the epic’s tales are frequently depicted in renowned performances such as the Kecak and Ramayana Ballet. Temples and shrines depict scenes from the Ramayana in their intricate carvings. Moreover, the moral and spiritual teachings of the Ramayana shape Balinese values, emphasizing righteousness (dharma), loyalty, and the perpetual struggle between good and evil. The island’s unique rendition of the Ramayana, blending indigenous elements, underscores the syncretic nature of Balinese culture.
Roles and Symbolism
Deities in Bali are often invoked for protection, guidance, and blessings. Each deity has a specific role, such as Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility, who is revered for agricultural prosperity.
everyone who visited this islands know how important daily rituals are to the local community. Deities are central to Balinese rituals and ceremonies, including temple festivals, cremations, and rites of passage. The offerings and prayers made to deities are essential components of these rituals.
Temples and Shrines
Bali is dotted with thousands of temples and shrines, each dedicated to specific deities or spirits. Visitors can witness the devotion and artistry of Balinese temple architecture and rituals. It is remarkable how literally every familiy home has their own temples.
Often, you can see the statue of Ganesha, a hindu god with an elephant head, known as the the remover of obstacles.
Balinese Religious Calendar
Bali also follows a unique religious calendar with numerous auspicious days dedicated to different deities. These ceremonies often involve colorful processions, music, and traditional dances.
Known as the “Pawukon” calendar, it is complex and differs from the Gregorian calendar. It consists of a set of concurrent cycles of different lengths. The most commonly known is the 210-day cycle called the Wuku year.
Traveler’s Tip: Visitors to Bali are welcome to observe temple ceremonies and rituals but should do so respectfully by wearing appropriate attire (often a sarong and sash) and following temple etiquette, which includes not stepping on offerings or sacred areas.
Holy Mount Agung
Mount Agung is not only the highest peak in Bali but also the most spiritually significant. Revered as the island’s holiest mountain, it’s believed to be a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe in Hindu cosmology. Mount Meru is considered the dwelling place of the gods, and this belief extends to Mount Agung in the context of Balinese spirituality. The Mother Temple of Besakih, Bali’s most important temple complex, is located on the slopes of Mount Agung, further underscoring its spiritual significance. The Balinese believe that the gods and ancestral spirits reside on this sacred mountain, and it plays a pivotal role in their spiritual narratives.
The mountain is not only a site of pilgrimage but also holds mythological importance in shaping the island’s religious and cultural practices. Periodic eruptions of Mount Agung are often interpreted by locals as manifestations of the gods’ displeasure, leading to communal introspection and rituals to appease these divine forces.
Sanghyang: Holy places in Nature
In Balinese spirituality, “Sanghyang” refers to divine forces or spirits that inhabit various aspects of the natural world, such as mountains, forests, trees and water sources. These spirits play a crucial role in daily life and rituals.
Nyepi and Ogoh-Ogoh
Nyepi, also known as the “Day of Silence,” is one of Bali’s most important religious observances. A stark contrast to the usual bustling and vibrant atmosphere of the island, Nyepi is a day dedicated to introspection, meditation, and renewal. For 24 hours, the entire island goes into a serene stillness — streets are empty, businesses are closed, even the airport ceases operations. But the tranquility of Nyepi is preceded by a night of exuberance and spectacle. On the eve of Nyepi, Balinese communities come together to conduct the “Pengerupukan” ceremony, which involves parading large, colorful effigies known as “Ogoh-Ogoh” through the streets. These monstrous figures represent evil spirits and the procession culminates in their symbolic burning, signifying the purification of the environment from malevolent forces. This juxtaposition of lively celebration and profound silence embodies Bali’s deep-rooted spiritual traditions and its emphasis on harmony and balance.
6 lesser-known and interesting facts about the Deities and Gods of Bali:
- According to the Balinese calendar, it is 1945 (2023 in the Gregorian calendar).
- Mount Agung, considered to be Mount Meru, the axis of the universe, saw a large eruption in 1963, leading to more than 2000 people dead.
- Village Deities: Bali has a rich tradition of worshiping village deities, known as “Pura Desa” or “Pura Puseh.” These deities are believed to protect and bless the local community and are the focal point of village rituals and ceremonies.
- Ancestor Worship: Balinese Hindus practice “Pitra Yadnya,” or ancestor worship, where deceased ancestors are considered divine and are honored through rituals, offerings, and family altars. This belief reinforces strong family ties. Every traditional house in Bali has its own temple for the ancesters.
- Sacred Water Sources: Water sources are often considered sacred in Bali, and deities associated with water, such as the goddess Ganga, are highly revered. People often perform purification rituals at these sources.
- Hanuman, the mountain shifting monkey (from the Ramayana): When Lakshmana was severely wounded during the war against Ravana, Hanuman couldn’t find the specific medicinal herb needed to heal him. Instead, he lifted an entire Himalayan mountain that had the herb and brought it to the battlefield.
What is the main religion in Bali?
The main religion in Bali is a unique form of Hinduism known as “Agama Hindu Dharma.” This form of Hinduism incorporates elements of indigenous Balinese spirituality, making it distinct from Indian Hinduism.
How do Balinese people worship their deities?
Balinese people worship their deities through various rituals and ceremonies. These often include offerings, prayers, temple festivals, and traditional dance performances. Ancestor worship is also a significant part of Balinese spirituality.
What are the roles of the Trimurti deities in Bali?
The Trimurti deities in Bali are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Each deity is associated with specific roles and attributes within the religious and spiritual context of Bali.
Are there specific deities associated with nature in Bali?
Yes, Bali has a belief in spirits and deities associated with various aspects of the natural world, such as mountains, forests, and water sources. These spirits, known as “Sanghyang,” play a crucial role in Balinese spirituality.
How can visitors respectfully observe Balinese religious practices?
Visitors to Bali can respectfully observe Balinese religious practices by wearing appropriate attire (often a sarong and sash) when entering temples, following temple etiquette, and not disturbing offerings or sacred areas during ceremonies.
What are some unique features of Balinese religious festivals and processions?
Balinese religious festivals and processions are known for their colorful and elaborate nature. They often involve vibrant processions, traditional music and dance performances, and intricate decorations. Each festival has its unique characteristics and significance.
Is ancestor worship a common practice in Bali?
Yes, ancestor worship, known as “Pitra Yadnya,” is a common practice in Bali. Deceased ancestors are considered divine, and families honor them through rituals, offerings, and family altars. This practice reinforces strong family bonds and connections to ancestors.