Over the Christmas break I went to the beautiful island of Bali in Indonesia. While close to 90% of Indonesia is Muslim, around 80% of Bali is Hindu and the people there are very religious.
Any travel website with a top ten places to visit in Bali will mention the massive temples which are popular tourist spots, but to witness how spiritual and how staunch the Balinese are in their beliefs you sometimes just have to take a walk down the street or even on the beach.
We stayed in the extremely busy Kuta and were about a 6 minute walk to the beach. The street on which our hotel was situated was filled with vendors. Outside every vendors’ shop there would be a prayer offering. Bamboo (I think?) leaves would be stapled into a small square box and in it there would be flowers, a cracker and incense sticks. Every morning the shop keepers would sprinkle water outside their shops and place the offering at the entrance to bless their business.
Kuta beach is filthy due to the amount of tourists that litter the golden sands with plastic wrappers and bottles. A stark contrast to this is the prayer offerings that scatter the beach daily. On our last day in Bali we also wanted to put an offering on the beach to thank the lord for a great holiday and pray for safe travels home. A man on the beach helped us out with the offering and when we offered him money to thank him for his help he simply refused to accept any remuneration for something for God. We were humbled by this since Kuta, especially Kuta beach, is filled with hustlers and here this man selling trinkets on the beach wouldn’t accept any money for helping us with the offering.
(The stark contrast.)
Out of the big temples which tourists generally visit, I only saw 3: Goa Gajah Elephant Caves, Uluwatu and the highlight of my trip, Tirta Empul. Goa Gajah is almost hidden and made me feel like I was in a jungle with the lush greenery surrounding you. We went to a priest there who blessed us with holy water and rice. Uluwatu Temple, located at the top of cliff, had stunning views of the Indian Ocean and an amazing Kecak Dance at sunset that told the story of the Ramayan.
Tirta Empul is a water temple located near the town of Tampaksiring. We were lucky enough to visit the temple on a holy day for the Balinese. The entrance to the temple has lush gardens and beautiful statues. Inside the temple, there is a holy water spring which pours out from spouts into a purification bath. Here, locals pray under each spout and submerge their head under it. Each spout has special significance. Our guide explained that one was for mind clearing, the other for good health, etc. Tourists can also perform the purification bathing ritual but have to wear a sarong and women on their period are not allowed inside the temples.
(People praying under the holy water spouts.)
The deep spirituality and strong faith is also evident on the roads. While driving to various attractions we noticed smaller temples every 50m. Each family usually has a prayer area/small temple inside their house where they make daily offerings as well. Also, at the traffic circles and big intersections there are massive statues with intricate and detailed carvings of prominent figures and deities in Hinduism. We saw statues of Bheem and Arjun from the Mahabharat, a statue of Raam, Hanumaan and other figures from the Ramayan, and there were also statues of deities like Vishnu.
(Excuse the blurry photo. I was in a moving vehicle. Raam statue above.)
Both in and out of the tourist spots, the strong belief and sense of spirituality is evident on the island. Coming from a big city in my country, being surrounded by deep devotion and faith is refreshing. Truly an incredible, soul-fulfilling experience. 🙂