With its fascinating history and colourful culture, it’s little wonder that Bali has plenty to offer in the way of unusual sights and interesting encounters. And while many of these may seem like a mystery at first, it makes a lot more sense once you dig a little deeper. We’ve put together some interesting insights into the wonderful traditions and experiences you’re likely to encounter on your holiday in Bali.
What’s in a name?
Bali is full of friendly locals to meet during your travels. After striking up a few conversations, you’ll start to notice something a bit strange about their names though. As it turns out, most Balinese people have one of four names depending on what order they were born in. The firstborn child is named Wayan, Putu or Gede, the second is Made or Kadek, the third is Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth is named Ketut. Luckily, many Balinese go by a nickname – so you won’t get too confused!
Nyepi – Saka New Year
Known as the Day of Silence, Nyepi is a New Year’s celebration with a difference. While other countries party – Bali does the exact opposite. Nobody steps out of their homes. All traffic, air travel and activity are put on hold. No restaurants, parks or entertainment areas are open. Just complete silence, peace and tranquillity. Party animals don’t need to worry too much though, as the wild celebrations that come before and after Nyepi are well worth the wait!
New Year’s Ever Monster Parade
While New Year’s Day is a silent affair, Bali’s New Year’s Eve celebrations more than make up for it! Get ready for blazing fireworks, flaming torches and papier-mâché monsters parading through the streets. These creative and masterfully crafted effigies, known as ogoh-ogoh, represent demons and are burned at the end of the evening to make way for the silence and reflection that follows on Nyepi the next day.
Saput Poleng − Chequered Cloths
You won’t travel far through the streets of Bali before seeing a black-and-white chequered cloth in some form or another. Whether it’s wound around a tree trunk or draped over a statue, these cloths will become a familiar sight wherever you go. Known as ‘saput poleng’ this sacred colour and pattern combination symbolises the harmonious balance of opposing forces such as good and evil. In accordance with Balinese Hinduism – these cloths are used to mark items that are considered to contain a spirit. Locals are likely to show a sign of respect when passing, such as dimming their car lights or saying a quick prayer.
Cremations are a cause for celebration in Bali. These festive affairs feature huge coffins decorated with colourful flowers, ornate masks and artistic ornaments paraded through the streets with much fanfare. The funerals become more and more extravagant depending on the social class of the deceased. Expect blaring gamelan music, big crowds and international visitors, especially for members of royal families. At the end of the procession, a blazing pyre is lit and the coffin is reduced to ashes.
Busy public streets in Bali are a veritable obstacle course of tiny offerings laid out as a gesture of gratitude and blessing. These daily offerings can be found anywhere from the ground outside a local’s house to temples and shrines. Usually consisting of a few grains of rice, fruit, meat and a dash of salt, these offerings are presented on a square-cut banana leaf along with a fresh canang or canangsari flower and incense on the side. Be careful not to step on them!
Penjor Poles are festive decorations made from curved bamboo and decorated with the rich harvest fare of Bali, including coconuts, rice stalks, fruit and leaves. On the holy days of Galungan and Kuningan, the streets are lined with these majestic poles to form breathtaking archways throughout the island. Penjor Poles are also used as elaborate decorations during rites of passage.
The writing is on the wall
One of the most noticeable sights in Bali is the flowing script featured on certain public signs, temple plaques and administrative offices. Known as the Aksara Bali or Anacaraka, this local alphabet originates from the Brahmi script and is used prolifically in religious texts and manuscripts. In order to help preserve the script, local law has made it a must-have on all public signs in the form of subtitles. So don’t get too confused while you’re navigating your way around!
Makare-kare – Fight for a Bride
This action-packed ceremony takes place in the village of Tenganan, home to the oldest tribal group in Bali. Virile young men armed with sharp-edged pandanus leaves and bamboo shields battle it out to win the hearts of the village’s unmarried young women. During the ceremony, the young girls perch atop a ferris wheel and are paraded around the village while wearing their finest ceremonial clothes.
During religious ceremonies, you might notice that priests use elaborate hand gestures. These are called mudras and have symbolic meaning. Gesturing is a big part of Balinese culture and it’s a good idea to keep in touch with the various signs of respect (and disrespect) when talking to locals. For instance, never crook your finger when calling someone. Don’t cross your arms or put your hands on your hips when talking. Try not to use your left hand or feet when engaging with locals. And bow from the waist when greeting elders or officials.
Eka Dasa Rudra
While you’ll never actually see this rare ceremony, it’s certainly something worth knowing about. Eka Dasa Rudra only takes place every 100 years (the last time was in 1979.) Originally found in the lontar-palm manuscripts, the instructions of this ancient ritual have been passed down for centuries. The purpose of the ceremony is to exorcize the chaotic element call Rudra, and purify the universe for the next century.
Bali is fascinating with their interesting rituals and culture and sure to be a treat any time of year. So why not speak to one of our travel experts to make your Bali holiday a dream come true.