Those planning a trip to Bali would be well-advised to take the following advice: Don’t just go there to languish in the sun for a weekend on the beach! The island of Bali is one of the world’s most exotic, dynamic, and fascinating cultures, ripe with a dazzling array of local color and a deep culture that will be worth your while to explore. Just off the top, here are some aspects of Balinese culture you ought to at least take in once in your life, just to cross them off your bucket list:
Balinese Dancing Dance ceremonies in Bali stride the line between religious ceremony and deliberate performance art. Bali is a very ancient culture dating back to 2000 BC, and their dances have evolved continuously since that time. Like a stage play or an opera, there’s characters and a story, all with the performers decked out in intricate costumes that will dazzle your eyes. Find out the story behind each traditional dance, and the variations from place to place. You will be fascinated, and maybe even pick up a few lessons from Balinese beliefs. One good site on Balinese dance here.
Balinese Music More likely than not, this will accompany the dance performances, but its sounds also permeate every aspect of Bali. The principle form of music is “Gamelan”, a traditional form derived from Indonesian forms. It features metallophones, xylophones, flutes, gongs, and “kendang” drums. Its cyclic patterns and revolving melodies are hypnotic and otherworldly. There are also varieties of it: gamelan jegog, gamelan gong gede, gamelan gambang, gamelan selunding, gamelan semar pegulingan, angklung, and bebonangan. Most of these have traditional acts they accompany, such as weddings and funerals. In addition, there is a Bali-specific form of vocal music called “kecak”, which is evocative of the sound of monkeys. Here’s a YouTube video example of Gamelan, and here’s a YouTube video documentary of a Kecak dance.
Balinese Arts As with other aspects of Balinese culture, their artwork invokes the exotic South Pacific in all of its enigmatic wonder. The hub of Balinese creative arts is indisputably the city of Ubud, which is filled with museums and stores selling everything from tapestries to furniture. Balinese artists produce both paintings and carvings, as well as a special kind of fabric called “batik”, which uses a special dying technique to capture intricate geometric designs. Batik is the foundation for Balinese fashion as well as many tapestries, curtains, and other artistic textiles. Here’s one site on Balinese museums.
Balinese Temples The Balinese are chiefly Hindu, with mixes of Buddhism and Muslim. Most traditional Balinese temples are some variant of traditional Hindu, and they are all wondrous to behold. They attract the most visitors of any Bali attraction, with tours conducted regularly. The Balinese are also keen to build temples in interesting places, such as on the side of a volcano or a jaunty island amid the tide-pools, so just getting there can be part of the adventure. Some have stood for centuries. All of them are decorated with the cheerful abandon typical of Bali culture. Here’s one site listing the seven most spectacular temples worth your visit.
There is even more to Balinese culture to share and explore, but these are some great starting points. You’ll get a lot more out of your visit if you take the time to gain a deeper understanding of the whys and hows of Balinese traditional culture.