BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BALINESE PRAYER, OFFERINGS, TEMPLES
AND RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES
by Jim Cramer ©
Guide to Balinese Prayer
This short introduction will hopefully serve as a guide to help
visitors understand the essence of Balinese Religious Prayer
and explain the do’s and don’ts while observing or
participating in them. The Balinese feel themselves to be a
blessed people; a feeling continually reinforced by the wealth
of their every-day life and strengthened by the splendor of
The beliefs of the Balinese are a living force that pervades
the island and reverberates outside it. The island sings of
love. The love that spends an hour making an offering of
woven palm leaves and beautiful flowers. The love that finds
the time, everyday, to think of giving something to the Gods;
by lighting a stick of incense, by praying a Mantra, by
sprinkling holy water or by doing a Mudra (a sacred
movement with the hands).
Bali is also the love bestowed upon their children, the
beautiful processions and the intricate offerings made with
The Balinese consider magic as true and the power of spirits
and much of their religion is grounded in this belief .As in
Hinduism, Balinese religion is a quest for balance between
the forces of good and evil.
The main expression of Balinese religion is through rituals or
festivals in which the people spend hours making offerings
of flowers, food, and palm leaf Figures. Daily small offerings
called “canang sari”, which contain symbolic food and
flowers are placed in temples and shrines around the family
Religious festivals are innumerable in Bali. The Odalan is the
most common type of temple ceremony. This is a regularly
scheduled event to celebrate the anniversary of a temple
Over 20,000 temples in Bali have an Odalan every “uku” year
to celebrate the anniversary of the temple, usually on a full or
These ceremonies usually last for three days, although some
major celebrations will continue for a week to 10 days. The
village prepares for days ahead cleaning and decorating the
temple, preparing large ornate offerings at home, and
preparing the food that will be provided to the priest and
musicians during the festival.
Characteristically, the first day yields crowded roads, as
throngs of worshipers, dressed in their finest traditional
attire, march to the temples bearing offerings of pyramids of
food and fruit on their heads. Days of prayer, music and
dance to entertain the gods follow.
As the ceremonies in Bali display spectacular and colorful
scenes, they have become a great attraction to visitors who,
when they do not understand the procedures may
unwittingly create intrusive distractions.
The visitor who just sees these ceremonies as a photo
opportunity without regard for the proceedings and who
disregards all reasonable requests to behave respectfully,
will not be welcome.
However for those who are willing to honor customs and
behave accordingly are very welcome to observe and
participate if invited.
THINGS YOU WILL NEED
1)DUPA (INCENSE) The Balinese word for incense is Dupa.
2)Flower offering. A typical offering for prayer consist of 5
different colored flowers. Usually red, orange, yellow and
3)Temple Sash. The minimum temple wear for prayer is a
temple sash. Usually Yellow or colored will work well. It is
worn around your waist and indicates that you are serious
about the gods.
4) Holy water. If you are praying in the temple. You will have
holy water poured over your heads with your hands extended
over your head.
5) A Pemangku or Balinese Priest who serves the three
village temples one to Siwa, Wisnu and Brahma. The
Pemangku helps to bring the proper spirits for prayer.
6)Humbleness .The main idea is to be Thankful to the
many Hindu gods that provide abundance. Remembering
Spirit is the Source of All
A GUIDE TO WORSHIPPING FOR VISITORS
Picture 1) Sit quietly, men cross-legged, women kneeling
to calm yourself and breathe in harmony in preparation for
Picture 2) Wash your face and hands in the smoke of the
Picture 3) Praying with empty hands to connect to your own
Picture 4) Hold a flower in your fingertips to pray to the
Picture 5) Having discarded the single flower now hold
different colored flowers in the finger tips to pray to the three
God manifestations- Creator, Preserver and
Destroyer.(Brahma, Wisnu and Siva)
Picture 6) Holding three or more flowers honoring the
manifestations of the One God in All Beings
Picture 7) Praying with empty hands beseeching peace in our
selves and othePicture 8) Wait quietly for the Pemangku to
come around and sprinkle holy water on you.
Picture 8) Wait quietly for the Pemangku to come around and
sprinkle holy water on you.
Bali-Hinduism dominates the everyday lives of most
Balinese, and has blended with culture, architecture,
literature, philosophy, and much else.
One of the oldest names for the Balinese religion is Agama
Tirtha, or “religion of the holy waters”. The name depicts not
only the sign of water as a tool of purification, but also the
role of irrigation in the overall socio-ecological system.
Balinese believe all religions are like rivers, which all flow
from the mountain heights and all end up in the same large
sea. Only their beds are different. Some meander, others do
not. The religion is a combination of elements from the
Indian Shivaite and Buddhist traditions with older beliefs and
practices originating from other parts of Indonesia. Here
ancestors are deified, as are the fundamental forces of
nature. The resulting blend continues to be anti-dogmatic
and ever changing as it absorbs aspects of the various
religious systems that are brought to the island.
The Balinese idea of truth.
To the Hindu-Balinese, the truth, although it may exist, is not
knowable. In Bali there is no attempt at religious uniformity.
Such religious tolerance makes the Balinese open to all
manners of social coexistence.
Balinese Hinduism versus mainstream Hinduism.
Although there are many similarities between Hinduism as
practiced in Bali and most parts of India (deities, religious
holidays), the differences are more striking. For example, in
Bali the castes are losing their social significance, and
between castes is not uncommon. The Balinese use their
own 210-day calendar, consider Mount Agung as the center
of the world, and - unlike Hinduism as practiced in India -
allow people to become Balinese Hindus later in life. In
practice, Balinese Hinduism is a separate religion.
Gods & deities
The Balinese pantheon still includes sacred power specific to
Bali, usually under the generic term bhatara or god. Of all the
gods residing in nature, the most powerful are those
associated with the mountains, lakes and the sea. There are
literally thousands of gods in the Balinese religion, the most
important of whom are:
Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa. This is the “one supreme
unknowable God” and is represented as Atintya a being in
meditation surrounded by flames. Atintya has gained
importance in recent years because he falls in line with
religious beliefs that revolve around a single god, of whom
all other gods are manifestations.
This god is more generally expressed as the Trimurthi or
Hindu trinity (Brahma the creator, Wisnu the preserver and
Siwa the destroyer).
The beloved goddess of rice. She is the anima of a rice cult
of particular beauty. Her shrines in the rice fields are simple
structures of virgin bamboo. She is honored in a number of
different cyclical rituals, including the daily offerings set out
after cooking every day
She is the consort of Siwa in her ferocious aspect. She rules
over demons, ghosts and witches. Her most famous
manifestation in Bali is Rangda, the queen of the witches in
the Calonarang dance drama.
She is the goddess of knowledge, wisdom and arts. She is
usually depicted as a beautiful, richly dressed woman riding
Bhatara Kawitan. This is the term for the original clan of
ancestors. The most intimate gods are the deified ancestors.
The relationship between a Balinese and his ancestors is at
once reverent and practical. The souls of the dead can be
absorbed into heaven only by the purification rites of the
living. In return, the ancestors bestow blessings and
sometimes advice through trance mediums.
Sanghyang Semara-Ratih. She/he is the symbol of sexual
union and also the symbol of beauty and is able to guarantee
success in all ventures, cure sickness and chase away evil.
Ida Bhatara Gunung Agung. He is the god of Mount Agung
and is honored at Pura Besakih and other major temples.
Ida Bhatari Dewi Ulun Danau Batur. She is the goddess of
Lake Batur and her temple is on the edge of Batur crater. Her
son is called Maya Danawa.
Offerings, usually made of palm leaf, flowers and
foodstuffs, are an art form associated with every ritual
occasion in Bali. The Balinese belief in the forces of the
invisible world dictates that offerings be created with a
spirit of thankfulness and loving attention to detail. They
seem never too tired of producing these colorful and
highly symbolic, ephemeral creations for every ritual,
from the simplest daily household offerings to gods,
demons and ancestors to massive ceremonies such as
the PancaWali Krama held at Pura Besakih to purify and
bring blessings upon the entire world.
Canang sari offerings differ in form and function depending
on locality. They function as a kind of repayment to the
forces of the invisible world for their gifts to human society.
Typically Canang sari offerings contain flowers, leaves,
liquid fragrance and a symbolic betel quid.
Gayah. While women construct most offerings, elaborate
offerings made of meat are fashioned by men for use on
major ritual occasions. The gayah or sate gede is said to
represent the animal kingdom, the complement to the
kingdom of plant life so often represented in offerings made
by women. Creations such as these represent the Balinese
notion that offerings symbolize the “entire contents of the
Gebogan are towering offerings constructed around the base
of a banana trunk, to be presented at odalan. Typically, the
first layer is composed of fruits, followed by layers of rice
cakes in many shapes and colors. The next layer is a canang
sari offering and the top an exuberant arrangement of
The kwangen is a small, triangular offering containing
flowers, a small betel nut and often Chinese coins. muspa
(to pray with flowers). kwangen are said to represent human
action, purified in the act of worship.
Lamak. A small temporary shrine of bamboo called a
sanggah cucuk is always found beneath a penjor. Small
offerings to the deities are placed here for as long as the
penjor is in use. This shrine is often “clothed” in a symbolic
garment called a lamak.
The colorful runners made of plaited palm leaf often contain
images of prosperity and fertility like the cili, an ancient
symbol of both human and wet rice life cycles.
A penjor is an offering in the form of a tall, decorated
bamboo pole whose gracefully curving upper end is said to
resemble both the tail of the Barong, symbol of goodness
and the peak of thesacred mountain, Mount Agung.