AGAMA HINDUISM is the religion of Bali, developed over long periods through the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism on traditional cults of animism and ancestor worship already deeply rooted. The Balinese recognise one God, known as Sanghyang Widi Wasa, although they revere many deities and ancestors. This God has three-fold powers – a Hindu trinity. He is Brahma the creator, he is Vishnu the preserver, and he is Shiva the destroyer. This universal God is worshipped in many personifications. Elevation signifies all that is holy, while the powers of the underworld are those which threaten or are injurious. All nature is divided into opposing pairs: high and low, good and evil, light and dark, life and death, a harmonious combination of two opposite poles.
The Balinese also venerate their ancestors, and each family worship their ancestors in the family temple. The origin of all things is far above the highest mountains, the dwelling place of the deified ancestors. A deceased person is addressed by a special title and is never referred to by name. The Balinese think it possible that grandchildren harbour the incarnated soul of their deceased grandfather.
The deeply religious people of Bali ensure that even the youngest children attend religious festivals. Before a ceremony is held, the temple is decorated with coloured fabrics – red for Brahma, black for Vishnu and white for Shiva. Ceremonies to celebrate a marriage, bless a newborn, or mark the completion of a house building, for instance, are performed by a priest, and after these rituals, the congregation is blessed and purified by being sprinkled with holy water. Each village has at least three temples in addition to the family temples within their homes. This is to ensure that the harmony between the villagers and nature is not disrupted. The traditional Balinese temple is surrounded by a wall and faces the mountains, the most important orientation; therefore the holiest shrines are located on this side. The second most important aspect is that which faces the sunrise where the secondary shrines are placed. There are three basic types of temple, the most important being built nearest the mountains, and dedicated to the founders of the village. The second is built in the middle of the village and is devoted to the spirits that protect the village, while the third, with its graveyard, is the temple of the dead, built at the side of the village nearest the sea.
The most important rite of passage is cremation of the dead, although a body may be buried temporarily until arrangements for cremation are completed. For the purpose of economy, it is sometimes organised so that several bodies from a family are buried together and cremated later in a single ceremony. There is a special decorated cremation tower which is carried to the place where the body lies. Then the body is placed in a sarcophagus, the means by which the soul will reach the mountain where it originated. The corpse is sprinkled with holy water and both tower and body are set on fire. After this, the ashes are collected, finely ground, and strewn onto the sea. Now the soul is released and can travel on its journey through purgatory, or, if necessary, to be tortured in hell where, in the fullness of time, it will be cleansed. Eventually, some years later, the soul is recalled from the sea and transported to the mountain temple, having been purified in a series of cleansing rituals. Then the soul may return. To its heavenly dwelling place and is now a deified ancestor worshipped at its own shrine. This is the unbroken cycle of life, death and rebirth which continues until moksha, when the body is united with the macrocosm.
The temples are sectioned off into courtyards where walls surround pavilions, multi-roofed towers of meru shrines, and, in the inner courtyard, stone statues of Hindu deities. There is also a booth to accommodate the temple orchestra. The form of the split gate at the entrance to the temple is derived from ancient Javanese monuments.
The first nights of the new moon and the full moon are propitious for religious services. On some festival occasions, images and thrones of the deities are carried to the sea for a ritual bath, or, if the sea is too far away, to any suitable expanse of water, while within the temple, the women perform their dance as an offering to the gods.