As you walk through the streets of Bali, an island in Indonesia, you cannot miss the temples in every street, in every house, in every shop,
and the thousands of tiny baskets of palm leaf containing flower and
food (including sometimes a biscuit and menthol) and incense placed on
the roads as offerings to invisible gods.
Yes, you heard that right. Invisible Gods. So who are these invisible Gods and why are they worshipped in Bali. Know more in this slide show
They are invisible because this is one of the most striking differences between Balinese Hinduism and Indian Hinduism. In Bali, the temples are full of tiny shrines, each with a seat located
high above a pillar or tower, but the seat has no deity.
The temple has arches, courtyards, doorways, images of fierce guardian gods, and doorkeepers, but no god or goddess, just empty thrones. These
gods are invisible, residing in the sky or the mountain or the ocean,
and they come when invoked to receive offerings made by the people of
Bali. In exchange they give good luck, harmony and blessings.
Click on further slides to know when Hinduism came to Bali
Hinduism came to Bali over a thousand years ago via seafaring traders, followers of Buddhism and various Tantrik and Vedic Hindu traditions, who travelled the sea from the East coast of India.
Memories of this are still retained in the form of the festival of Bali
Jatra in Orissa during which tiny paper boats with lamps are set afloat
on the River Mahanadi in the month of Kartik, post Diwali.
The similarities in rituals and script and dance and stories of Bali with those in Tibet, Nepal, Manipur, Orissa, Bengal and Tamil Nadu are striking. On walls you see words like Om Shanti Shanti
Shanti Om and Om Su-asti-asto. Priests speak of rituals such as
Agnihotra and chant the Gayatri mantra.
There are Brahmins here and Kshatriyas and Vaisyas and Sudras, without the dark side of caste system so prevalent in India. And men even cool
looking bartenders in swanky hotels very casually wear Champa and
Hibiscus flowers tucked against their ears, which is rather cute.
Click on next slide to know a secret story
The story goes that exactly a thousand years ago, in 1011, a great conference took place not far from the city of Ubud, where under the
supervision of the king Udayan, wise men sat together to unite and
synchronize the various branches of local and imported beliefs and
It was agreed that every household, and every village and every province would have temples dedicated to cosmic, hilly, oceanic, forest and local
gods. The first to be invoked would be the Trimurti: the creator
Brahma, the preserver Vishnu and the destroyer, Shiva.
The Trimurti concept is quite different from the one in India. Brahma is associated with creation hence fire and the kitchen. Vishnu is associated with water and the fields and with the heroic epics
of Ramayana and Mahabharata, which are extremely popular locally. Shiva
is associated with breath, wind, death and destruction.
While Hinduism of India is marked by bhakti or passionate devotion, which swept across India in the 14th century AD, Balinese Hinduism is more ritualistic and is about aligning, through rituals,
space and time and people (desa, kala and patra, as they say, reminding
once again of ancient links with India). This is what the priests do as
they sprinkle water with grass and move from shrine to shrine,
channelizing the energy of the earth and the sky for the benefit of the
It makes us wonder what exactly is Hinduism? Is it the rituals, is it the stories, is it the devotion, or is it the gods of the Puranas or
adherence to ideas found in Vedas and Tantras? One cannot answer the
question. Perhaps it is this absence of doctrine and dogma, which makes
Bali famous for its tolerance and hospitality and gentleness.