Bali Beyond Beaches: Of Hinduism and Arty Villages Of Batu Bulan

Balinese home

The clouds cleared and I saw a gorgeous fringed coastline with teal coloured waters.It was my first visit to Bali.

Balinese coastline
First views from the sky

The third destination of Eat, Pray, Love was going to be ticked and the pseudo version of Elizabeth Gilbert in me was super excited as the Garuda Indonesia plane touched down Denpasar airport. With a welcome of Frangipani flowers and scenes of Mahabharata flashed crossed streets, I knew this would be a destination I would cherish. Gunk, our guide grinned as she explained how Bali got it’s name.

 

Gatotkach statue Bali
Mahabharata on the streets of Bali

 

Bali came from ‘Bali’ or ‘offering’ and according to a legend, Sage Markande came to the island with 400 followers, of which half died because of evil spirits that inhabited the island. On penance, Sage Markande made an offering (Bali) to ward away the spirits and enter the island.

The storyteller that she is, Gunk gave a dramatic pause and welcomed us to the land of the thousand islands, Bali.

 

Hindu temples bali
The Chandi temple in Bali

 

A plethora of diverse landscapes:

When I thought of Bali, I always thought of picture perfect beaches with crystal waters and powdery sands. But I was determined to unearth a Bali beyond beaches and it did not disappoint. It gave me an abundance of diversities in landscapes: 

Where in the morning, the roaring waves welcomed me wholeheartedly in Kuta beach, in the noon I had a rendezvous with terraced rice fields and in the evening lush, green coffee plantations wooed me.

While there were diverse landscapes on one hand, there were also uncanny similarities with the Indian culture.

Stark similarities: 

Snippets of Hinduism were on display at every corner on the streets of Bali, be it temples or bells or tiny offerings outside homes and shops.

 

Balinese temples
A hindu temple in Bali

 

I felt strangely at home, unlike when in other international trips (where even the clouds seem foreign!). Maybe it was because I found Arjuna staring at me from the other side of the road or because I saw the Bhima’s son Gatotkach engaged in a fierce battle in stone.

 

bali hindu influence
Arjuna statue in Bali

 

95 % of the Balinese population is Hindu and my initial impressions were, “Oh my god, this is so similar”. Be it the statues of Ganesha that greet you at every nook or the fact that the Balinese believe in the concept of Karma and reincarnation.

 

Each Balinese house has a temple for ancestors outside their homes. Some extremely elaborate, some fairly simple but all based on the same principle of worshipping ancestors before any other supreme power.

 

Balinese traditions
Ancestral temples in Bali

 

Another similarity is the belief in the Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva). The Balinese believe that Brahma is the soul, Vishnu is the word and Shiva is your mind. 

When Mr. Nanang narrates about the types of priests and how one section of priests are fortune tellers, I earnestly wish I could meet one. ( Remember Ketut Liyer , the Balinese medicine man in Eat, Pray, Love?)

He then tells us about spiritual tours in Bali and how each volcano is considered to be an abode of a Hindu God. But my mind is swinging in a pendulum, to visit a fortune teller or not?

My Bali explorations begun with village hopping. Khursheed and me were accompanied by Mr. Nanang who kept us enthralled with Balinese folklore and facts.

Here are some of my best village experiences: 

Paintings on cloth: The Art of Batik

 

Batik designs bali
Art in motion

 

When I entered the Sari Amerta Batik centre in the village of Batu Bulan, (translates into Moon stone), the first thing that greeted me was the cluster of women working meticulously on pieces of cloth. On a closer inspection, I found them making designs on a white cloth with molten wax on both the sides.

 

 

The Batik process is very intriguing: The artists first copy the designs on the white cloth and cover them with wax. Then they fill these designs with ornaments and small dots. Colours are then added slowly in certain parts of the design. The cloth is then dyed and certain parts of the waxed design are scraped with a knife. Post this the entire wax is omitted by inserting the cloth in boiling water and then the cloth is dyed again and certain parts are reworked upon with ornaments.

 

 

I watched the ladies painting traditional designs on the cloth with traditional colours of brown, blue and light yellow and marvelled at the impeccable skill of expressing through this unique art form.

Inside the shop were a plethora of items for sale: from Batik paintings, to paper cards, to stoles, to ties, bags with batik print and what not.

Shopping tip: Some of the items are really worth a buy: these include small coin purses, unique shaped bags and Batik coasters and table mats ranging from USD 2 to USD 5 (Thank me later!) The quality of products in these centres is good and even if you get cheaper alternatives in the market, you’d love to spend a tad bit more on the quality here.

Stone statues made of Volcanic ash:

 

Stone sculptures made of Volcanic stone
A storehouse of stone sculptures

 

The next stop was visiting the stone ware shops in Batu Bulan.There are countless carves stone statues in a line and I curiously ask the shop owner whether these are antique or freshly made. All are freshly made. I wonder for whom. Pat comes the reply, most of these exquisite statues are exported to foreign countries: USA, UK, France, Australia in shipping containers.

Each statue weighs on 100 kg on an average and most of these are made either from limestone or volcanic ash. The grey , volcanic rock known as paras is pumice like and grainy, known to age very quickly. Most of the guardian statues in Balinese temples are sourced from these workshops in Batu Bulan.

 

 

I see an artist painstakingly chipping away a statue, as the owner shows me a serene statue of Goddess Saraswati (The Hindu goddess of learning) on display.

 

 

As I exit, it is an eerie feeling to be with all the statues, some aged, some ageing, some waiting anxiously to be whisked away and some simply content with where they are.

 

Stone statues in Batu Bulan
Art in stone

 

Silver and Goldsmiths of Celuk:

This was one place I looked forward to. To see delicate silver ornaments being carved carefully from blocks of silver that came from Sumatra and Java islands.

 

silver jewellery in Celuk , Bali
The intricate process of making silver jewellery

 

In tiny homes in Celuk, live several families of local goldsmiths who make silver and gold ornaments since centuries, boasting their knowledge of blending precious metals with the use of fire.

 

silver ware of Celuk Gianyar Bali
Metal and fire

 

I watch the ladies, fully focused as they minutely worked on the smallest of the small piece to bring forth a master piece.

 

Celuk silver shops Bali
A silversmith at work

 

I joke with Mr. Nanang that to be able to buy all that fancy gold I will definitely have to do a spiritual tour and mediate over a volcano. He laughs, but I am in awe. Of the simplicity of these ladies, how simple they are who make ‘things’ worth a million dollars!

The Woodwork and antique doors!

Further ahead on the road to Tegaltamu, beyond the carved stone temples of the Gianyar regency, I saw several shops selling wooden antiques. There were showrooms and showrooms but what caught my eye was something else.

 

balinese doors
A door exhibition

 

Doors!! Yes, carved and painted doors, a variety of them, stacked away in corners behind the showrooms (almost abandoned). I walked through the empty godowns, indulging in my favourite activity  – Door clicking, till I found a warehouse where doors were being actually carved out of wood.

 

 

Batu Bulan is a treasure of art and craft: from stone work to carved wooden antiques to arty textiles to precious jewellery.

The best part about this village is that you can actually SEE the process, interact with the artists and not just buy.

Next time you visit Bali and want to immerse yourself in a cultural extravaganza, take a village tour in Batu Bulan, in the Gianyar regency in Bali and watch these artists create magic with their hands.

 

 

None of them force you to buy and that is perhaps the best thing. They will welcome you, answer your queries, show you around and make you understand the art form from the scratch and if you turn away without buying ( Not everyone can buy gold!), they will smile and see you off.

 

Batik centre Gianyar regency Bali
Gleeful smiles at the batik centre

 

That is another striking similarity about the Balinese culture with the Indian culture: the concept of Guest is God is practiced with great fervour and my village tour in Gianyar just reinforced it.

 

bali music
The traditional musicians of Bali

 

Visiting Bali as a first timer felt like meeting India’s long lost cousin that sailed away to a far off land and yet maintained it’s character. There were instances when I truly felt at home, with all those resemblances with the Hindu culture and traditions. The number of times I heard the mentions of Ramayana and Mahabharata in a day, were higher than I would ever hear them back in India. I was instantly fond of this place and was certain that this wasn’t going to be my only visit. Certainly not. And No, I did not need a fortune teller to tell me that.

 

balinese Hindu culture
Inside a temple complex in Bali

 

Stay tuned for the next blog post on Bali : It features the cleanest village of the world, a visit to the fuming volcano Agung and other East Bali explorations.

Disclaimer:  I was invited by Indonesia Tourism and Garuda Indonesia India for this trip to #wonderfullindonesia .

 

Bali beyond beaches

88 thoughts on “Bali Beyond Beaches: Of Hinduism and Arty Villages Of Batu Bulan

  1. I also have my plans of visiting Bali! and it is true that I wanted to see the beaches as it is really worth the trip. However, your post was on point as well when you say Bali is more and beyond the beaches 🙂
    I loved the carving of the doors, the details were so delicate and precise. Would want to see this all too.

  2. Bali follows a very vedic form of Hinduism – something that we lost way back in India. I visited many temples, specially the water temples in Bali and I need to do a detailed tour of Bali to know more about them. The Ramayana performance at Ubud is something that made me think – why the hell we do not have it in India, or at least in Ayodhya.

  3. I never knew that was where Bali gets its name. That’s such an interesting fun fact. I was in Bali two years ago and I’m heading back again in December, but I’ve never focused on the beaches. I’m all about the beautiful villages + cities. The culture is amazing. I love the jewelry shop you visited. That’s so beautiful!

    1. That is all thanks to Gunk! 🙂 So glad to hear you loved the Bali beyond the beaches and those pretty villages! 🙂 The jewellery shop at Celuk was indeed beautiful! Seeing the process made my day!

    1. Thanks Arvind! Yes, thankfully things are back to normal after the volcano scare and now tourism is back! Bali is beautiful and one visit isn’t enough!

  4. Exquisite artforms! While I have always known Bali as one of the last remaining Hindu area in SE Asia, finally glad to see one post focusing on it. I guess western bloggers don’t look at it this way.
    Shopping is not my thing but I am sure those designs in batik centre will surely give shopping goals to many others.

  5. I know what you mean by feeling at home – Bali is probably the only city outside of India that I have been to, that has so many temples and signs of Hindu deities in every corner. In fact, there are more temples and statues of Hindu gods and goddesses in Bali than anywhere else in India. I loved their architecture, some of them were so stunning!

  6. I love the Island of the Gods Divy and really dig you diving into the cultural and spiritual angle. The place bleeds spirituality. Neat too how the name of the island vibes with “Offering”. Can this be more fitting? I have traveled there many times, spending over a year in Bali, collectively. I always think about the temple offerings and fragrant incense I smell whenever we land on the Island of the Gods.

    Fab post!

    Ryan

    1. Thank you Ryan:) Glad you liked it! I will take a moment and thank you for your generous comments on my posts! 🙂 That is very sweet of you:) So lucky you are to have spent so much time in Bali!

  7. This is a perfectly timed post for me as I am set to visit Bali for the first time in February. Can’t wait to explore the island. It was great to get a little more insight into the local culture, rather than just the touristy part of the island. I love the abundance of sculptures, art work, and craftsmen, and the inherent spirituality of the place.

  8. Reading your post gave me a feeling of Deja Vu. I remember exiting the airport, seeing the large statue depicting a scene from mahabharat and thinking…oh wow, these guys are more ‘hindus’ than us! While the culture and crafts have similarities, I found that Balinese people are much more relaxed, smiling and inviting.

  9. Such a different post of Bali out of all what i have read recently. Very well written and descriptive. I would love to explore all of this and i must say each pic in this post shares one story behind it. Thanks for sharing.

  10. For some reason, the aspect of Bali that most fascinates me is the architecture. I would love to spend time in exploring traditional Bali houses, and studying their building techniques, including the decorative doors and carvings that make it all so unique.

  11. What a fantastic article! Thanks for sharing aspects of Bali that you don’t normally see featured on blogs. It’s reminded me how much I enjoyed off-the-beaten-track Bali 🙂

  12. Bali is truly an amazing destination and experience. I loved how there was so much to see and do. it’s picturesque and the crafts are amazing.

  13. Bali beyond Beaches is the perfect title for the post. It has so much similarity with India.
    Bali has been on our head from long but the thought of it being too touristy kept us away from it, till day. The village Batu Bulan looks like an artistic hub and I am surely going to love it, so now got a reason to visit it too.

  14. This is such an amazing post. Bali’s Hindusim is beautiful and that’s the first thing that I fell in love with while I was there. I saw a lot of colourful ceremonies there and loved how the locals cleaned up after themselves and left literally no trace of those ceremonies.

  15. Haha!!! Guess what, laying down in the hospital bed, I was watching Eat, Pray, Love… What’s better medicine to get out of hospital than a nice travel movie!!!!
    These ancestral temples, remind me so much of Kerala temples!

  16. I’ve been to Bali 2 times now, and always look for something beyond the beaches. That’s so interesting about the Hindu religious background, I knew it was Hindu, but know nothing more about the facts you wrote about. A lovely island, and such nice people too!

  17. wow what a great post. remember I was asking about what “else” to do in Bali. LIke sure everyone goes for surfing, beaches and parties (yes me too) but this time around, I do want to explore “more”. This is perfect, I have bookmarked this and would love to visit this lovely batu bulan village. Great stuff girl.

  18. Bali is on top of my travel bucket list for like, forever. Of course the beautiful beaches are interesting to experience, but meeting local people and getting to know their art is so much more moving and life changing. We’ll probably go to Bali next year, so I’m super happy I bumped into your great post!

  19. I really like the idea of village hopping. You know in the Leonardo di Caprio movie “The Beach” – he says ” I feel like we all try to do something different but then all wind up doing the same thing” ? Well, I see these kind of experiences (village hopping) as the best way to avoid the norm and get right in there mixing it up with the locals. Balie indeed looks so colorful, I am considering it for my next long term stay for when I leave Thailand!

  20. I am literally jaw-dropped reading your story abour Bali. This is also my dream destination and i wish to visit it with my Amore. It would be lovely to immersed with their ways of life to understand them more.

  21. I was just reading Eat. Pray. Love a while ago. WHile I haven’t reached the chapter on Bali, it’s been mentioned several times. As an Asian culture enthusiast, I would love to explore Indian and Indonesian religions and arts.

  22. Divyakshi, you have a very special way if storytelling. Absolutely brilliant write-up. Having visited Bali, I actually explored it much better through your words.

  23. I want to see this side of Bali. It’s one thing to see the beaches and the beauty they have but it’s another thing to see the inside of the city and what it has to offer. I can’t wait for our eventual visit to Bali. High on our list.

  24. Wonderful post. As always, the pictures are amazing. You always take great pains to explain the stories behind the pictures, and that’s why your followers love your posts.

    I’m gonna make that trip to Bali someday in the future. Will keep your tips and information handy.

    Very insightful post! Blog On Girl!

    Cheers,
    CRD

  25. I am most intrigued by the Hinduism followed in Bali. It seems so much like what we practice in India and yet so different! I loved your unsusual story. As always your pictures are amazing!

  26. I have read articles on Bali before, but your post and photographs show many items and places on Bali I have never seen or read about! Great job. Those doors…love them! I am intrigued and love to learn about different religions, Hinduism being one of them. Thank you!

  27. I am so glad that you discovered the other side of Bali. I loved the way you have captured the culture here. It is very fascinating to discover how similar it is to India. Loved your pictures Divsi, especially of the Batik village. Cheers

  28. Bali’s beaches are real paradise to me. And the architecture there is so amazing. I also love those beautiful handmade souvenirs. Gotta add Bali to my must-visit list. Thanks for your sharing

  29. Loved reading this fresh perspective of Bali. A Bali far removed from exotic beaches and resorts. A Bali that seems so close to home and our own culture. The statues of characters and scenes from the Mahabharata on the streets of Bali look really fascinating. The culture, art, architecture and sculpture all seem to stem from the same DNA as Indian culture.

  30. I had always had a belief that Bali would have much more to its glory beyond the picture perfect beaches the popular temples. But I’m really glad you wrote about all the wonderful art and culture that define Bali. Being a crafts lover, as I go through your words and see the beautiful pictures, I am already imagining myself spending endless hours interacting and watching the artisans at work in the villages of Bali. Lovely writing Divyakshi.

  31. Beautiful. I have not heard of this batik centre (though know about the art) or the Batu Bulan. Bali does suddenly grip your senses, since you see a world so similar to yours. I remember being to Lombok and Bali back in 2012, and this was the same thought I had as to how tales of mahabharata and ramayana evoke a sense of pride amidst people, to the point of having offerings and a temple in each house of brahma, shiva and vishnu. Would you know how these tales travelled? I am curious to understand the link. Been trying to read up on Indonesia and visit some musuems in Jakarta to understand how this was ingrained into their culture so deeply because Hinduism is not propagated through conquests and wars.

    And yes, after your post, I had the opportunity to use Garuda a few days back and they are a super cool airline. Mid-air wifi, great seating and the airline feels very premium. Would love to travel Garuda again.

  32. Being a Hindu, it has always interested me to see how the Hindu culture is thriving in some of these nations like Bali. I sure intend to visit the temples and the cultural centers when I happen to go to Bali, not just exploring the beaches. And that is when I am going to refer back to your post. It’s very rich with all the information of the temples and places of worship and cultural arts that one might be interested to visit when in Bali.

  33. Wow, I really didn’t know that there’s more in Bali than just a stunning beach. I find Bali now as an interesting destination after reading your blog post. I would love to try all of them, especially carving the doors, I find it very interesting.

  34. Loved learning how Bali got its name, a great way to introduce all the beautiful places. Photographs really bring it alive. I love the photos of silver makers in particular. And how fascinating to see so much Indian hindu symbols, I hadn’t realised Hinduism was main religion here at all.

  35. Loved the bit on Batik. Such gorgeous stuff and what intricately done work 🙂 This post brings Bali back on the list for me (after I struck it off because it has seemed too commonplace 😛 )

Leave a Reply