The Balinese culture is a unique combination of spirituality, religion, tradition and art. Religion is considered to be art and it seems that almost every Balinese is a devoted artist, spending 'free time' applying skills and images which have been passed down from generation to generation and grasped from a very young age. Expressed through beautiful and intricate paintings, extraordinary carvings, superb weaving, and even in rice decorations that cover the myriad shrines found in public areas, in paddy fields or in homes, the island is alive with art and religious homage.
Sekala and Niskala
Balinese culture is a complex event characterised by diversity and adaptability. A central dictum in Balinese thinking is the concept of Desa - Kala - Patra, (time, place and situation), a dynamic notion holding that traditional thinking will blend in harmony with the new. The Balinese distinguish between Sekala, the material, and Niskala the eternal. Reality is a coincidence of the material and the eternal realms. One does not exist without the other. The world, therefore, is the product of the interaction of Sekala and Niskala.
Temple festivals are commonplace. Each village will hold some sort of colourful ceremony for each one of its own temples a couple of times a year. Add to this the rituals and celebrations for each persons' passage from birth, puberty, marriage, childbirth to death and the after-world, and include the major island-wide celebrations like Galungan, Kuningan and Nyepi; the day of silence when the whole island closes down in fear of evil spirits flying in from the sea, and you can begin to understand how important religion in Bali is.
Art, culture and day to day activities for most Balinese are strongly bonded to a unique form of Hinduism called Hindu Dharma, which is widely thought to be the closest example to the religion and social framework that existed in Java during the zenith of its power and is now found nowhere else. Classical dance dramas based on the old Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabarata which arrived from Java, are like everywhere else in Indonesia, mixed with pre-Hindu animist belief and peculiar local folklore. Not all Balinese adopted the new Hindu religion though. The Bali Aga who now live in isolated groups in the mountains at Trunyan and Tenganan, for example, preferred their ancient animist beliefs, which are still practiced and remain largely intact today.
Balinese belief systems
The very soul of Bali and Balinese belief systems is rooted in religion and is expressed in art forms and skills that have been passionately preserved over the centuries. During the mid sixteenth century Bali reached a cultural climax, which encouraged and developed elaborate arts and customs, which are the foundations of what is practiced today. In a sense they have changed very little since that time, but as has been the case throughout much of the Indonesian archipelago, adaptation of new environments is absolutely essential for survival. It was at this time that the Javanese Hindu and the Balinese calendars were combined and a complex schedule of rituals and ceremonies was defined. Nine great temples, the Pura Agung, were also built, linking the structure of the new calendar with that of the gods. The most sacred being the Mother Temple, Pura Besakih, built high on the slopes of Bali 's most sacred mountain, Gunung Agung.