Bali Heritage, Culture and Traditions

Bali Heritage, Culture and Traditions

Tanah LotThe Rich Bali Heritage and Culture

Bali’s rich cultural heritage and traditions have helped make it a unique and fascinating place to visit. From its intricate art and music to its traditional ceremonies and rituals, Bali is an island that celebrates its past while embracing the present. Bali heritage and culture remains extremely lively, coexisting and/or adapting to the new tourist situation, and that’s good!

The island’s culture is deeply rooted in Hinduism, with many traditional ceremonies and rituals taking place throughout the year. Visitors can witness these ceremonies and learn about the island’s customs by attending a temple ceremony or visiting a cultural museum.

Bali may well receive more than 3 million tourists each year, but it has not been distorted. Everywhere on the island – except perhaps around Kuta – you can attend processions, ceremonies or traditional shows. Bali is more than just a tourist destination; it is an experience that touches the heart and soul. The island’s natural beauty, rich culture, and warm hospitality make it an authentic paradise that visitors will never forget.

Dances and musics

Bali is well-known for its traditional dances and music which are an essential part of the island’s rich culture. Balinese dance is often accompanied by gamelan music, which features a unique blend of percussion, gongs, and xylophones.


Balinese dance is an important aspect of the island’s culture, and it is an expression of the island’s religious beliefs. These dances are usually performed during temple festivals and ceremonies and tell stories of gods and goddesses.

The Balinese dance is one of the most famous art forms in the world. It is a beautiful blend of traditional dance and drama, with intricate movements and colorful costumes. Balinese dance is performed in temples, ceremonies, and festivals, and it is a vital part of Balinese culture.

They are one of the finest and best-known expression of this cultural vitality. There are some 2,000 troupes on the island, which perform in temples, because dance in Bali is linked to the divine and the sacred: many shows are inspired, for example, by the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Under no circumstances miss a performance of legong or kecak (very spectacular): bewitchment guaranteed to the haunting sound of the gamelans (traditional instrument). Another show to discover: the wayang kulit puppets.

Balinese Kecak dance with Legong dancers
Balinese Kecak dance with Legong dancers. Raymonst3, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Music is also an integral part of Balinese culture. Gamelan music, which is a traditional Indonesian ensemble, is played during ceremonies, dances, and other important events. The music is made up of gongs, drums, and other percussion instruments.

Read also: Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar | The Biggest Annual Cultural Event in Bali

The beautiful traditional dance costumes of leak dance
The beautiful traditional dance costumes of leak dance from Bali. Mufidqa91, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The people

The Balinese people are an ethnic group native to the island of Bali in Indonesia. They make up the majority of the island’s population, with over 4 million people identifying as Balinese. Balinese culture is rich and diverse, with a unique blend of Hinduism, animism, and indigenous traditions.

The Balinese people are a vibrant and resilient ethnic group that resides in the Indonesian island province of Bali. Known for their distinct culture, art, and way of life, the Balinese have a rich heritage that has withstood centuries of political, social, and economic changes.

Ethnic group

The Balinese people are an ethnic group native to the island of Bali in Indonesia. They are part of the wider Indonesian-Malay ethnic group and speak Balinese, a distinct Austronesian language.

Despite facing numerous challenges throughout their history, including Dutch colonialism and the devastating effects of natural disasters, the Balinese people have remained resilient and adaptable. They have managed to maintain their cultural traditions and way of life while embracing modernization and technological advancements.

Today, the Balinese people are a thriving community, with a population of over four million people. They continue to preserve their cultural heritage through their art, music, dance, and religious practices

Traditional Lifestyle

Historically, the Balinese people were primarily farmers and fishermen, with a strong connection to the land and sea. Traditional Balinese houses were built using local materials and featured open-air courtyards, reflecting the importance of community and family in Balinese culture.

The Balinese people have a long and complex history that dates back to the prehistoric era. The earliest evidence of human habitation in Bali dates back to around 3000 BC. Over the centuries, the Balinese people have been influenced by various cultures, including Indian, Chinese, and Javanese, which have left their mark on Balinese art, music, religion, and way of life.

Family and Community

Family and community are important aspects of Balinese culture. The Balinese practice a form of Hinduism that emphasizes the importance of community and social harmony. Family members often live together and work together, with older generations passing down traditional skills and knowledge to younger generations.

Bratan Bali Indonesia Balinese-family-after-Puja-01
Bratan, Bali, Indonesia: Balinese family after the Hindu worship service (“puja”) in Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The wet rice grains on the foreheads are called “Bija”, meaning “God has blessed us”.
Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Fashion

Bali has a rich tradition of clothing and textiles, with a variety of styles and fabrics used in traditional Balinese fashion. Some examples of traditional Balinese clothing include:

  • Kebaya: A fitted blouse with a traditional batik or songket sarong worn as a skirt.
  • Sarong: A long piece of fabric wrapped around the waist and worn as a skirt by both men and women.
  • Udeng: A headband worn by men, made from a long piece of cloth that is tied around the head.
  • Songket: A traditional fabric made from silk or cotton, with intricate patterns and designs woven into the material.
  • Endek: A hand-woven fabric made from cotton or silk, with a distinctive pattern of squares and rectangles.
  • Batik: A method of dyeing fabric using wax to create intricate patterns and designs.

Many of these traditional clothing items can still be seen in Balinese culture today, particularly during religious ceremonies and festivals. They can be found in local markets and boutiques throughout Bali, and are often used as inspiration for modern fashion designs.

Art & Culture - Bali Traditional Fashion
One of Bali traditional fashion styles. Puri Lumbung Cottages, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Balinese Architecture

The Balinese architecture is another example of the thriving Balinese community. Balinese temples and buildings are famous for their intricate carvings, statues, and pagodas. The traditional Balinese house, known as a “compound,” is also a beautiful example of Balinese architecture. It is characterized by a blend of Hindu and Buddhist influences, with elements of traditional Javanese architecture as well.

Balinese temples and buildings are adorned with intricate carvings of mythical creatures, gods, and goddesses. The carvings often depict scenes from Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Kori Agung, TMII Bali Pavilion
Kori Agung or Paduraksa, also known as kori is a type of gateway covered with towering roof that can be found in the island of Java and Bali, Indonesia. This architectural feature is commonly found in buildings from the classical Hindu-Buddhist period of Indonesia. Arsonal, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another prominent feature of Balinese architecture is the use of pagodas, which are multi-tiered towers that serve as a symbol of religious and spiritual significance. Pagodas are often found in Balinese temples and are used to house statues of deities.

Water is also an important element in Balinese architecture, and many temples and buildings are built near rivers, lakes, or the ocean. Pools and fountains are often incorporated into temple designs, and water is used in purification ceremonies.

Bedroom 2 villa carissa
The second bedroom at Villa Carissa in Seminyak is adorned with a beautifully crafted wooden Buddha statue and a traditional Balinese wooden headboard. The alang-alang natural roof, made from woven grass, adds a touch of traditional charm, creating an atmosphere of artistic elegance.

Temples and ceremonies

Temples, or “pura” in Balinese, are scattered throughout the island and are a critical aspect of Balinese culture. Bali is also known for its traditional ceremonies and rituals. One of the most important ceremonies is the Galungan, which is a celebration of the victory of good over evil. During this ceremony, families visit temples, decorate their houses with bamboo poles and offerings, and share traditional dishes.

Temples are the other major expression of Balinese cultural vitality. Throughout the year, even every day, ceremonies take place there. Tourists can attend with respect and discretion.

Cremations (in public) or Ngaben in Balinese are among the most amazing ceremonies in the eyes of Westerners. Generally taking place 6 weeks after the death, they take on a certain splendor, as they constitute a crucial rite of passage for the deceased towards the afterlife.

Another surprising ceremony: the filing of teeth, which marks the adolescent’s entry into the adult world. Finally, there are lots of religious festivals throughout the year, bringing villages and temples to life, but also games, such as cockfighting, bird singing or kite flying competitions…

Another important ceremony is the Nyepi, also known as the Day of Silence. On this day, the island comes to a complete stop, with no lights or sounds, and people are encouraged to stay indoors and reflect.

Ngaben di Nusa Penida
Ngaben is a profound and sacred ritual deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of Bali. This ancient ceremony serves as a poignant farewell to those who have passed away, guiding their souls towards a realm of eternal peace. The serene island of Nusa Penida, situated within the Klungkung Regency of Bali, holds Ngaben ceremonies in high regard, reflecting the profound spiritual connections that bind the community together. Imadedana, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most famous temples in Bali include:

  • Pura Besakih: Known as the “Mother Temple,” this complex is the largest and most important temple in Bali, located on the slopes of Mount Agung.
  • Pura Tanah Lot: This temple is situated on a rocky outcrop in the sea and is one of Bali’s most photographed sites.
  • Pura Ulun Danu Beratan: Located on the shores of Lake Beratan, this temple is dedicated to the goddess of water and is renowned for its stunning reflection on the lake’s surface.
  • Pura Luhur Uluwatu: This temple is perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean and is known for its spectacular sunset views and traditional dance performances.

Best Temples in Bali | You need to visit one of them at least once during your stay in Bali

Ceremonies in Bali

Ceremonies, or “upacara” in Balinese, are an integral part of Balinese culture and religion. These rituals are held to honor the gods, ancestors, and spirits, and they can range from small family gatherings to elaborate island-wide festivals.

Some of the most famous ceremonies in Bali include:
  • Galungan: A ten-day festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. This festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and is held every 210 days. Balinese families decorate their homes with “penjor,” tall bamboo poles adorned with offerings and decorations.
  • Nyepi: This is the Balinese Day of Silence, which falls on the day after the new year according to the Balinese calendar. On this day, all activity on the island comes to a complete halt, and the Balinese people spend the day in quiet contemplation.
  • Odalan: This is a temple anniversary celebration held every 210 days. The temple is decorated, and elaborate ceremonies are held to honor the gods and ancestors.
  • Kuningan: This festival marks the end of the Galungan period and is celebrated with offerings, dance performances, and traditional Balinese cuisine.

Visiting temples and witnessing ceremonies in Bali is a unique and awe-inspiring experience. It offers visitors a glimpse into the island’s ancient culture and religious traditions and allows them to participate in the island’s vibrant community celebrations.

Pictorial and culinary arts

Bali is also renowned for its painting, and in particular its naive paintings in an easily recognizable style, combining vegetation, animals and humans.

Balinese cuisine is unique and flavorful, with a mix of spices, herbs, and fresh ingredients. The Balinese dishes such as Babi Guling (suckling pig) and Nasi Goreng (fried rice) are famous all over the world. Balinese cuisine is also known for its use of traditional cooking methods, such as grilling over coconut husks.

Finally, last but not least, Balinese cuisine will delight gourmets: try the traditional babi guling (stuffed suckling pig cooked on a spit), urab and bebek betutu (duck). From warung to trendy designer restaurant, the island offers a very wide range, within reach of all budgets! Read also: Balinese food and specialties | Emblematic dishes not to be missed under any circumstances during your stay

The peaceful and relaxed life in Bali

Nicknamed the Island of the Gods, this Indonesian island is perfectly suited to locals and foreigners eager for cultural heritage, respect for traditions, water sports enthusiasts, scuba diving enthusiasts, adventurers of all kinds as well as retirees in search of calm and tranquility, Bali is intended as much for shopaholics as it is for lovers of relaxation.

Bali Montage
Sunset over Amed beach with Mount Agung in the background, Garuda Wisnu Kencana monument, Tanah Lot temple, view from top of Besakih Temple, scuba diving around Pemuteran, The Rock Bar at Jimbaran Bay, and various traditional Balinese people activities. File:Amed banner sunset.jpg: borntosleepFile:GarudaWisnuKencana head.jpg: SankoFile:Tanah-Lot Bali Indonesia Pura-Tanah-Lot-01.jpg: CccefalonPanorama of Bali from Besakih – Mother temple.jpg: PopaneshFile:Snorkeling Pemuteran Bali 2.jpg: Ennio morriconeFile:The Rock Bar Bali (7188376333).jpg: Simon_seesFile:Balinese Dancer (Imagicity 1248).jpg: Graham CrumpFile:Balinese vrouwen in een processie bij een festival in Ubud, -7 Aug. 2009 a.jpg: Jean-Marie HullotFile:Balinese girl with offering.jpg: John Yavuz Canderivative work: Badpuccini, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traditional philosophy

Tri Hita Karana is a traditional philosophy of life on the island of Bali, Indonesia. The literal translation is roughly the “three causes of well-being” or “three reasons for prosperity.”

The three causes referred to in the principle are as follows:

  • Harmony between humans
  • Harmony with nature or environment
  • Harmony with God
Culture value

By implementing Tri Hita Karana steadily, creatively and dynamically, a harmonious life will be realized which includes the development of a complete human being who is devoted to God Almighty, loves the environment and is in harmony and peace with others.

Sustainable-Development-goal-Kura Kura bali
Illustration of the Tri Hita Karana using the Sustainable Development Goals. Furyanto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Subak, a traditional Balinese irrigation system that has been in use for over a thousand years

Subak, the traditional Balinese irrigation system, has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012, highlighting its importance not only to Bali’s agriculture but also to its cultural heritage. This ancient system, which was developed by Balinese farmers over a thousand years ago, is not only a marvel of engineering but also a prime example of sustainable water management.

Jatiluwih rice terraces
Jatiluwih Rice Terraces with Subak irrigation system. Imacim, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Subak Museum in Tabanan, which showcases the history and importance of Subak and its role in Bali’s agricultural traditions. The museum also offers workshops and training programs to local farmers on sustainable agriculture practices, such as crop diversification and water-saving techniques. Their website (in Indonesian language):

By preserving the Subak system and promoting sustainable agriculture practices, these local sustainability projects in Bali are helping to safeguard Bali’s unique cultural heritage and environment. With the UNESCO recognition, the importance of the Subak system has been highlighted on a global scale, encouraging further efforts to conserve and promote this vital piece of Balinese heritage for generations to come.

Origins of Subak

The exact origins of Subak are not entirely clear, but it is believed to have started in Bali around the 9th century during the era of Bali’s ancient kingdoms. The development of Subak was an innovation by Balinese farmers who faced the challenge of supplying water to their rice paddies, which were located at different elevations and distances from water sources.

Balinese altar at Rice terraces of Gunung Batukaru. Arabsalam, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The farmers developed a system of water management based on the principles of collaboration and cooperation, which became the basis for Subak. Over time, the Subak system evolved to include water temples and irrigation networks that are managed by a democratic organization of farmers known as Subak. Today, Subak remains an integral part of Bali’s agricultural practices and cultural identity, reflecting the island’s history and the ingenuity of its people.

Religion and Festivals

One of the most distinctive aspects of Balinese culture is their unique Hindu religion, which is a blend of Hinduism, Buddhism, and animism. The Balinese believe in a complex system of gods and goddesses, with each deity having a specific role and function in the universe. Balinese religious ceremonies and rituals, which are often accompanied by music, dance, and colorful costumes, are a fundamental part of Balinese culture and identity.

Balinese Hinduism combines elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, and indigenous animism, and is characterized by elaborate rituals and ceremonies. Read also: Religion in Bali: Cultures of Indonesia – Unity in Diversity and Important Days in Bali | Cultural and Events

Offerings in Bali

It is a must in Bali, one of the first things you notice on the whole Island of the Gods. Everywhere in the streets, we see sorts of small baskets filled with flower petals. These small colorful baskets, made of coconut or banana leaves, are called “Canang Sari“.

The Balinese Hindu custom consists of depositing daily offerings everywhere. It is in a way a ritual to give back, to share, what has been given by the Gods…

This ancestral Balinese rite has existed for several centuries and continues to this day. These pretty colorful offerings are not created for the pleasure of tourists. They are an integral part of local culture and beliefs. For the Balinese, these offerings help preserve and maintain balance and peace in the world.

Canang sari
Offerings for prayers in Bali with: flowers, fruits, food, perfume scent. Canang sari is one of the daily offerings made by Balinese Hindus to thank the Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and prayer, as a form of thanking for the peace had given to the world; it is the simplest daily household offering. We will see them in the Balinese temples (pura), on small shrines in houses, and on the ground or as a part of a larger offering. The philosophy behind the offering is self-sacrifice in that they take time and effort to prepare. Canang sari is not offered when there is a death in the community or family. Dennis Sylvester Hurd, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Segehan, the offerings to the Demons

These offerings are simply placed on the ground to appease the demons. Unlike the “Canang Sari” which will always be placed high up to thank a deity.
Indeed, the Balinese think that if they pay homage to the Gods, they must also be careful to satisfy the demons! Belief in evil spirits therefore remains as important as belief in benevolent spirits.

It is therefore to maintain the “balance” of these forces and not to offend them that, every day, they place offerings on the ground.
Segehan can contain spoiled food. Indeed, the demons, very voracious, do not even know the difference with good food, unlike the Gods, who are very delicate! Some will tell you that the Segehan are less pretty than the Canang Sari, a matter of taste…

Demons, named Bhuta and Kala, are monsters. Through the offerings presented, the goal of the Balinese is not to make these demons disappear. Indeed, it is impossible since they are part of the universe. All they want is for them to be happy enough and avoid coming forward, to let the population live in peace.

To sum up, you will have understood it, it is enough to walk in the streets in Bali to find yourself in a completely different universe… Here, approximately 90% of the population is Hindu and, consequently, the occasions for celebrations and processions remain endless for Bali heritage and culture…
You have to come to the Island of the Gods to understand this atmosphere and this very special atmosphere. You will see how rituals and temples punctuate the daily life of the majority of Balinese.

Art & Culture - Segehan
Segehan is one of many kind of offering in Balinese Hindus. Puri Lumbung Cottages, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Temples in Bali, an ancestral cultural heritage.

More than 10,000 Balinese temples, including the very famous Pura Batukaru Temple, located on the southern slope of the mount of the same name, surrounded by lush vegetation, bordering a lake.

According to the inhabitants, it is a Paradise, nothing is more wonderful than getting up early for a visit to the temple in order to start a magnificent day.

The Balinese tradition imposes appropriate clothing for visiting the temples, the body must be covered with a sarong, this makes it possible to keep the body intact. sacred side of the place. Read also: Useful Tips for Visiting Temples in Bali

Balinese Superstitions: A Glimpse into the Beliefs of a Unique Culture

Crafts, arts and shopping in Bali

Balinese art is another important aspect of the island’s culture. The island is known for its intricate wood carvings, which are used to decorate temples, houses, and other buildings. Balinese paintings are also famous for their vibrant colors and intricate designs.

The center of Ubud is the ideal place to discover Balinese art and the wealth of local crafts.
Bamboo work, household furniture, traditional clothing, Sarongs, toys, artistic paintings, everything that Indonesian craftsmanship can produce can be found in the Ubud market.
Visitors take the opportunity to admire the royal palace located a few steps from the center, where the royal family usually resides.

Famous Balinese Paintings: Exploring Bali’s Artistic Heritage

The most interesting works of art are in the Puri Lukisan Museum, which has a remarkable park.

Rattan craftman
Rattan craftman. Wiaskara, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Crafts and Arts in Bali

Bali’s arts and crafts scene is rooted in its rich cultural heritage, and many traditional crafts have been passed down through generations.

Balinese handicrafts are a significant part of Balinese culture. Balinese artisans create beautiful carvings, paintings, and textiles using traditional techniques passed down through generations. Balinese handicrafts are sold in markets and shops all over the island, and they are popular souvenirs for tourists.

Some of the most popular crafts and arts in Bali include:
  • Batik: Batik is a traditional technique of wax-resist dyeing that is used to create beautiful textiles. In Bali, batik is often used to make clothing, bedspreads, and other decorative items.
  • Woodcarving: Balinese woodcarving is known for its intricate designs and attention to detail. The island is home to many talented woodcarvers who create everything from statues to furniture.
  • Silver and Goldsmithing: Bali is known for its beautiful silver and gold jewelry, made using traditional techniques that have been passed down for generations.
  • Painting: Balinese painting is a unique style that blends traditional and modern techniques. Many local artists sell their paintings in galleries and markets throughout the island.

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Shopping in Bali

Shopping in Bali is a unique experience, with many markets and boutiques offering a range of locally made goods.

Some of the best places to shop in Bali include:
  • Ubud Market: This bustling market in the heart of Ubud is known for its colorful textiles, beautiful woodcarvings, and intricate jewelry.
  • Sukawati Art Market: This market is a favorite among locals and tourists alike, offering a range of Balinese crafts and art at reasonable prices.
  • Jalan Raya Seminyak: This street in Seminyak is lined with boutique shops selling everything from high-end fashion to unique souvenirs.
  • Kuta Beachwalk: This shopping complex offers a range of high-end brands and local designers, along with restaurants and cafes.

Read also: Shop till You Drop: Best Places to Go Shopping in Bali

The ancestral culture of rice

In the most mountainous regions of the island, the cultivation of rice is a curiosity, terraces are laid out on the sides of the hills allowing the main agricultural activity of rice. Tourist attraction that fascinates apprentice photographers who park their vehicle as close as possible to the summit and thus enjoy the idyllic setting of the rice fields with the valley in the background.

Bar, cafe and restaurants offer exotic dishes made from rice which among the Balinese is the equal of a goddess very appreciated by the population of Bali.

Battage du riz
Threshing rice and harvest in Bali. Eric Bajart, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bali and its beaches

The most famous beach in Bali is of course Kuta Beach, which is often overcrowded, it is nice to know that a few steps from Kuta Beach is Seminyak Beach, which is less popular and therefore less crowded with tourists.
If you have a vehicle or scooter, Sanur beach, known for offering magnificent sunsets, is half an hour away, for peace and quiet, Nusa Dua beach, for privacy, the beaches near Kuta less accessible but delicious, Seminyak beach is glamorous, water sports enthusiasts will find themselves on the beach of Tanjung Benoa where water activities are numerous.

The Best Beaches in Bali | Most famous beach during your holiday

Traditional Balinese dishes

Balinese gastronomy is particularly rich and varied. The national dish is nasi goreng, made from fried rice with pieces of meat, vegetables and eggs. In bakmi goreng, rice is replaced with fried noodles. Sates are small skewers of meat, grilled over a wood fire.

Read also: Balinese food and specialties | Emblematic dishes not to be missed under any circumstances during your stay

They are usually drizzled with a sauce made from peanuts. We also eat fresh tuna, crab, lobsters, avocado salads, as well as babi gugling [roast suckling pig], bebek betutuh [honey duck] which are the specialties of the island. The fruits are plentiful and tasty: mangoes, pineapples, papayas (which make excellent juices!), guavas and lychees can be found along the busy streets or in the markets.

Nasi campur bebek 2
Duck nasi campur. The Balinese version of this dish may contain grilled tuna, fried tofu, cucumber, spinach, tempeh (fermented soybeans), beef, curried vegetables, corn and chili. Midori, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Balinese clothing

Bali an island full of colors. You will never cease to be in awe of the Balinese wearing their most beautiful traditional outfits to go to religious ceremonies or attend a wedding, for example, etc.

For women, or little girls, the hair is important. The favorite hairstyle is the chignon which is reminiscent of that of the pretty princess Drupadi, the wife of one of the Pandawa brothers, in the Mahabharata. Women who have short hair often add false locks in order to be able to wear it. But it is important that those with sufficient length of hair tie it up and be neatly combed so that the strands of hair do not fall into the temple area and the sanctity of the temple is maintained. And for special events, such as their wedding, their teeth filing, or when they dance, a multitude of gold metal flowers are stuck in the girls’ hair, it’s very pretty, but it’s very heavy!

A long time ago, to dress themselves, women wrapped a long piece of cloth called sabuk all around their bust. It was narrower than the saput, but much longer, measuring more than three meters. Dancers and brides today still wear it, but other women wear kebaya. They are very beautiful long-sleeved shirts, mostly in colored and transparent lace and under corsets. Nowadays the fashion is to have our shirts at elbow length or even shorter). They then wrap around their waist a sarong, it is a piece of cloth about two meters long, usually in printed batik that extends to the ankles. And finally, above, they tie a belt: selendang. The set is very colorful, but still well matched. Children dress like adults, but there are ready-made outfits for them bought in the markets, where the sarong is replaced by a long skirt, which is much more practical!

Until the 1930s Balinese women went to ceremonies topless but this changed because of the Dutch who managed to convince them to cover up

COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Een vrouw draagt offers op het hoofd Bali TMnr 10003317
A woman carries offerings on her head, Bali. Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Weefster Bali TMnr 10014459
Woman weaver (a person who makes fabric by weaving fiber together) in Bali. Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Normally women should be dressed simply and correctly to go to the temple, but in recent years there has been a change in fashion in the traditional outfits of women who wear kebaya with mid-length or very short sleeves. This is starting to bother some who take a dim view of this change considering that it almost becomes a beauty contest to go to the temple and it’s too sexy. For example, at the Shiva temple in my village, it has been forbidden for a few months for women to wear kebaya with sleeves shorter than the elbow.

Colors of the kebaya

As for the colors of the kebaya originally, we expect them to be the color of purity and glory: white which symbolizes purity and yellow which represents triumph and prosperity.

During cremation the Balinese will wear black or dark colored kebaya, the highest castes can sometimes wear white if they wish.

Unfortunately in Bali times are changing and from now on the Balinese do not pay too much attention to the meaning and philosophy of all this. Today it’s more about fashion trends, luxury etc. and sometimes there are differences in social status.

Three Balinese girls wearing kebaya
Three Balinese girls wearing kebaya. Anne-Mette Jensen, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Balinese rites of passage

From its conception until its death, many ceremonies punctuate the life of a Balinese. Existence is a succession of lives and deaths. The newborn (reincarnation of an ancestor) must not touch impure soil before its 42nd day. On his first birthday (oton – 210 days), a ceremony marks his entry into the community. The filing of the teeth then marks the entry into adult life. This ritual is generally performed at puberty, when the front teeth are filed to counter the animal side in humans.

Marriage represents a sacrifice to lower spirits in order to purify the sexual act. Cremation, on the other hand, allows the soul to reincarnate. It is a question of freeing the soul by destroying the carnal envelope which imprisons it. It is the most important ceremony in the cycle of life which gives rise to great celebrations.

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Important days and events in Bali

The Balinese use two traditional calendars. The main one is the Pewukon which regulates a large part of Balinese life. It superimposes various cycles over a period of 210 days. The saka calendar, on the other hand, is inherited from the Indian system. Each month begins after the new moon, which gives rise to great ceremonies.


Every 210 days (one year according to the Pawukon calendar), the whole village comes together to commemorate the founding of the temple (the odalan). It is then the occasion to pay homage to the divinities by offerings and prayers. With more than 20,000 temples in Bali, the opportunities to attend a ceremony are very numerous!

Odalan procession
Odalan temple anniversaty procession. Balinese women dressed in traditional costume on their way to the temple. Midori, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The inhabitants wear the traditional dress and the women carry the offerings on their heads to take them to the temple. The temples are decorated with many flowers and offerings.
After the prayer, water is sprinkled on the faithful and blessed rice is distributed to them. The faithful then apply it to the temples, throat and forehead.

Tanah Lot odalan ritual
The Odalan ritual on Tanah Lot temple. Okkisafire, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Galungan and Kuningan

Every 210 days, Galungan celebrates the creation of the universe. The Balinese believe that the gods and the souls of the ancestors descend to the temples. Bali then comes alive to give rise to countless ceremonies and the festivities culminate ten days later for Kuningan.

On the eve of Galungan, penjor (bamboo arches decorated with coconut leaves) are erected in front of the houses. The altars of domestic temples are dressed in yellow ornaments. Many shops are closed, the administration is idling but the big hotels remain open.

Placing offerings in a temple. Kuningan celebration at end of Galungan festival. Spencer Weart, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Festival dedicated to the goddess of knowledge. The Balinese pay homage to books by sprinkling sacred water. It is the name of the goddess of knowledge. This event is also celebrated every 210 days. As the “patron saint” of schools, she is celebrated primarily by children who pray and bring offerings to the school temple in her honor. The Balinese also pay homage to the goddess and to the books by sprinkling holy water.

Raja Ravi Varma, Goddess Saraswati
Goddess Saraswati, Goddess of knowledge. This print from the Ravi Varma Press derived from a painting by Raja Ravi Varma follows the iconographic description of Saraswati as found in the 50th chapter of the Agni Purana. She is described in the Agni Purana as being attired in white and playing the Veena with two arms and holding an aksha-mala (a string of pearls) and a pustaka (book) in the other hands. Raja Ravi Varma, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Every 35 days, the Balinese make offerings to precious goods such as iron objects (Tumpek Landep), animals (Tumpek Kandang), shadows (Tumpek Wayang), trees (Tumpek Uduh) or musical instruments , masks and other objects used during ceremonies (Tumpek Krulut).


This day is dedicated to spiritual strengthening, called Iron Gate, prayers and offerings are directed to save mankind. This Iron Gate has the meaning of a firm attitude of faith and knowledge possessed by humans, because without science human life will experience darkness.

If they can, the Balinese will go to the big temples such as the Pura Besakih (national temple) or the Pura Jagatnata (large public temple which each kingdom has) or if they cannot go there, they will pray to the evening in their family temple to protect themselves from the negative elements.

Pagerwesi is closely related to Saraswati (day dedicated to the goddess of knowledge) since it is celebrated a few days later. The Balinese mainly honor Shiva on the day of Pagerwesi who transmitted his knowledge during the Sarawati festival. Therefore, it should also be seen that the Balinese also want knowledge to be protected from bad influences and abuse.

Important Days in Bali | Cultural and Events


An important ceremony for us Hindus is Melasti which consists of the purification of the Pratima (representations of all the gods of the village) as well as other Hindu religious symbols which are carried in procession to the sea for those living not far from it. or to the lake for mountain people.

This Melasti ritual is important because it reminds us of the value of life and how important it is and that we need a day to purify ourselves and the universe. So with this ceremony all the components of the universe have a pure spirit so that the world can survive against the threat of evil.

Melasti ceremony

This Melasti ceremony is one of the Bali heritage and culture and takes place 3/4 days before the Balinese New Year: Nyepi it depends on the rules of each village. This day we must dress in our traditional white outfits: symbol of purity.

Many offerings were prepared for this special day as well as a beautiful traditional welcome dance for the gods.

Our advice: go to any beach that day in Bali to observe these processions.

Ritual Melasti - Bali heritage and culture
Melasti ritual is usually carried out to welcome the Nyepi day in Bali. This ritual is carried out in water centers such as lakes, springs and beaches. Imadedana, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


A few days before Nyepi, Melasti is celebrated all over the island. This is the great purification. The Balinese then converge on the sea to purify themselves there. On the eve of Nyepi (New Year of the Saka calendar), all major crossroads receive large offerings that are believed to exorcise evil spirits. In the evening, large processions wander through the streets displaying the ogoh-ogoh. Nyepi is the day of silence, no one has the right to go out in the street or turn on a light.

Ogoh-ogoh statues in front of the Puri Lukisan Museum in Ubud
Ogoh-Ogoh, demonic figures, are paraded in Bali on the eve of Nyepi (Day of Silence). Ngrupuk-Ngrupukan, also known as the Ogoh-Ogoh parade celebrated on the night before Nyepi. MagdaLena7, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

August 17

Bali gathers to celebrate Independence Day. This national holiday is important and allows everyone to remember the hardships they have gone through.

Sources: PinterPandai, CleverlySmart

Photo credit: Mikhsan via Pixabay

Things you should never do in Bali : Essential Travel Tips for a Respectful and Enjoyable Experience

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2 Replies to “Bali Heritage, Culture and Traditions”

  1. What are some of the lesser-known aspects of Bali’s heritage, culture, and traditions that travelers should explore?

    1. While Bali is celebrated for its stunning beaches and vibrant festivals, there are many lesser-known facets of its rich heritage, culture, and traditions waiting to be discovered. One such aspect is the island’s unique system of subak irrigation, recognized by UNESCO as a cultural landscape.

      Travelers can visit traditional rice terraces and irrigation networks in rural villages to learn about this ancient agricultural practice and its significance to Balinese society.

      Additionally, exploring Bali’s lesser-known temples, such as Pura Luhur Batukaru nestled in the lush Tabanan Regency, offers insights into the island’s spiritual beliefs and architectural marvels away from the tourist crowds. Delving into Balinese arts and crafts, such as intricate woodcarving and batik-making, provides an opportunity to appreciate the island’s artistic heritage and skilled craftsmanship.

      By venturing beyond the popular tourist attractions, travelers can uncover the hidden gems of Bali’s heritage, culture, and traditions, gaining a deeper understanding of this enchanting island’s cultural tapestry.

      Please read more about:
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      Best Bali Local Markets | Discovering Balinese Traditional Markets and Must Visit Markets

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