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Religions in Bali

The Balinese are Hindu yet their religion is very different from that of the Indian variety. They do have a caste system, but there are no untouchables and occupation is not governed by caste.

In fact, the only thing that reflects the caste system is the language which has three tiers; 95% of all the Balinese are Hindu Dharma, and speak low or everyday Balinese with each other; Middle Balinese is used for talking to strangers, at formal occasions and to people of the higher Ksatriya caste; High Balinese is used when talking to the highest class, the Brahmana, or to a Pedanda (priest).

It may sound complicated, but most of the words at the low and medium levels are the same, whereas High Balinese is a mixture of Middle Balinese and Kawi, the ancient Javanese language.

The Balinese worship the Hindu trinity Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, who are seen as manifestations of the Supreme Gog Sanghyang Widhi. Other Indian gods like Ganesha (the elephant-headed god) also often appear, but more commonly, one will see shrines to the many gods and spirits that are uniquely Balinese.

Balinese believe strongly in magic and the power of spirits and much of their religion is based upon this. They believe that good spirits dwell in the mountains and that the seas are home to demons and ogres.

Most villages have at least three main temples; one, the Pura Puseh or 'temple of origin', faces the mountains and is dedicated to the village founders. Another, the Pura Desa, or village temple, is normally found in the centre and is dedicated to the welfare of the village. The last, the Pura Dalem, is aligned with the sea and is dedicated to the spirits of the dead. Aside from these 'village' temples, almost every house has its own shrine and you can also find monuments dedicated to the spirits of agriculture, art and all other aspects of life.

There are some temples, Pura Besakih for example, on the slopes of Mount Agung, that are considered especially important and people from all over Bali travel to worship there.

Offerings play a significant role in Balinese life as they appease the spirits and thus bring prosperity and good health to the family. Every day small offering trays (canang sari) containing symbolic food, flowers, cigarettes and money, are placed on shrines, in temples, outside houses and shops, and even at dangerous crossroads.

Festivals are another great occasion for appeasing the gods. The women bear huge, beautifully arranged, pyramids of food, fruit and flowers on their heads while the men conduct a blood sacrifice through a cockfight. There are traditional dances and music and the gods are invited to come down to join in the festivities.

The festivals are usually very exciting occasions and well worth observing, if you are in the area. A crucial thing to remember if you wish to join in celebrations or enter a temple, is there are a number of rules that have to be respected such as: Always wear a sarong and sash; Do not walk in front of people praying; Do not use a flash camera or push your camera into the priest's face; Never sit higher than the priest or the offerings; At ceremonies, do not get in the way of the attendees - however important that photographic opportunity is; Women are not allowed to enter temples during menstruation.

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