A tiny island in the Indonesian archipelago, surrounded by powerful neighbors, Bali reverberates in the public imagination to an extent far greater than its size might indicate. People are drawn here from all walks of the globe, coming to catch a glimpse of its beautiful topography, but more-so, its expressive culture. Many scholars find trouble in defining Hinduism as a religion, it is therefore classified as a “way of life”. Its people conform to a set of rules of behavior, unlike the sectarian church system that is separate from daily life, supporting a hierarchy of priests that control the people. Hinduism on the island of Bali is ubiquitous, being practiced by 90% of its 3 million inhabitants.
Observing the mannerisms of the people and magnificence of the statues evokes a sharp sense of wonderment, these being the clearest illustrations of the spirit of the Balinese. Thrice daily, offerings are set out to give back to the gods and ancestors, based not upon fear, but gratitude to the gifts of life. These simple palm leaf baskets, of which are woven together, filled with garnish and edibles of choice, are briefly blessed then placed upon a shrine. Sometimes, casually laid in the streets or other nonspecific places(wedged in the windshield wiper of a car), in order to maintain good relations between the spirits and the people.
The ornate craftsmanship of the statues and temples is perplexing. Their design is the architectural standard of many of the structures on the island. Serving as street cornerstones, accents vaulting out of black lava stone walls, or even grand, 50ft tall monuments. It must be noted that these works of art are not deities in their own right, but merely, a receptacle for the visitation of the divine. It is through ritual acts – invitations to the gods, ornamentation of the temples, and presentations of offerings – that vessels become sacred objects. The ultimate quest for a Hindu is creating harmony between living humans, spirits and the nature that surrounds them. As a result of this, beautiful garden displays embellished with stones and vivid local flowers decorate the island.
Daily, as a Westerner, I find myself pausing for a moment to enjoy the bizarre presentations Hinduism has to offer.