Over the past few days, we went to two extremely beautiful temples in Bali: Tanah Lot and Uluwatu. Indonesia’s most prominent religion is Muslim, however the Balinese follow a type of Hinduism. Generally speaking, in Balinese Hinduism the universe is divided into three layers: heaven for the gods, earth for men, and hell for demons and impure spirits. Shrines mirror this as a human body: head, body, and feet.
I find it interesting that so many religions and cultures divide the world into three parts, and how three seems to be such a significant number. In Mexico, I learned that the Aztecs also divided the universe in this way, except the eagle, jaguar, and snake represent the three realms of the universe. In Catholicism, there’s the holy trinity. The list goes on.
Also similar to Catholicism and different from Indian Hinduism, the Balinese believe in one god, or rather the joining of the three manifestations of god. He is called Sang Hyang Widhi, or “all-in-one god” and is a conglomeration of the three gods in Hinduism: Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva. He is more closely related to Brahma out of the three.
The Balinese are quite religious. In front of many houses and establishments you’ll, at the very least, see prayer boxes. Some places will have statues of chairs small and large that are meant for the Sang Hyang Widhi as well as the inscription Om Swastiastu, which means “Oh God, I hope goodness comes from all directions,” written on the front of some homes. “Goodness” also implies prosperity, safety, happiness, etc.
This religion has some seriously beautiful temples that overlook the ocean. Tanah Lot is more of a temple complex with a series of several temples along the coast. The main temple is situated in the ocean and when the tide recedes people can walk up to the island-like structure that is the temple.
This was my second time visiting Tanah Lot, and each time I was blown away by the epic beauty that this complex holds. The views and waves are just breathtaking. There was a special ceremony at the temple, complete with animal sacrifice. Scores of balinese worshippers carried a shrine in procession to the temple – all dressed in traditional garb and with musicians drumming. I walked up after the procession to see a standard Balinese prayer box that had flowers, incense, and rice, but also a decapitated duckling that was still twitching. It was… different.
After watching part of the ceremony, we walked around the temple complex enjoying the views and taking snapshots along the way. Seeing the activity during the day was something very special. Most tourists tend to come in the evening time for the truly spectacular sunsets.
Also in Tanah lot there is a huge neighboring market place, where I got some super cute shorts and got a chance to play with sleeping bats and several luwaks (civets, an animal related to a cat).
Civets are popular for a few things, namely kopi luwak coffee. The animals are feed the coffee fruit and the beans are harvested and brewed for a perfect, smooth cup of coffee. It’s actually pretty good.
The other common product that civets are known for is a musky scent that is produced from the perineal glands of the female. This delicious fragrance is commonly used in perfumes, including the famed Chanel No. 5. In 1998, the company announced it had replaced the cruel production of civet musk for a synthetic substitute.
Anyway, the civets were extremely adorable, playful, and happy to get some attention. The bats instantly wake up when you put a banana by their noses. Then they happily stuffed their cheeks full of banana goodness.
The next temple we visited is called Uluwatu on the southern peninsular part of the island. It overlooks the edge of the earth, at least that’s what it feels like. You can see the horizon off in the distance as well as large, glossy cliffs along the coastline. The turquoise blue waves lick the sides of the mountain allowing spots of greenery to grow upward. It’s a perfectly picaresque view that it’s no wonder that the Balinese call this place holy.
Much of the structures in these temples are sectioned off for worship and tourists are not allowed inside. Although this is disappointing for some interested tourists, it does maintain a higher level of respect and allows the local people to come and pray without the endless camera clicking and chatter.
It’s a privilege to be allowed to view such beautiful terrain and to see how some people in the world worship the universe.
In Asia, it’s quite difficult to ignore religion or even feel disconnected to it. You become a part of it whether or not you want to be. Wherever you go, religion presents itself to you from the kindest corners and allows you to holistically see how to integrate yourself in its grasp, if you so choose. It’s no surprise to me that many, many people religious or not come to Asia seeking some kind of spiritual asylum through Asian religions, yoga, meditation, or a variety of other Asian-influenced approaches to the world.
Regardless of your opinion on the subject matter, at the end of the day, it’s pretty cool.