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Bali Temple Tradition
Many people have wondered over the recent decades how traditional Balinese culture has been able to maintain its integrity, even the flourish in the last century, while so many other cultures have lost their particular qualities, becoming absorbed in an increasingly homogenous mainstream. We think the answer can be found in the temple ceremonies which enliven and give definition to Balinese life.
The temples themselves are marvelous examples of religious architecture, richly adorned with carving and beautifully situated within their various landscapes. The specific architectural styles change around the island, from the simple isolated shrines at the tops of mountains, to the massive complexes of glittering, carved shrines and pavilions in the heartland, to the mysterious and sometimes frightening temples near the beaches.
As interesting as they are for pure architecture, a closer look shows how they differ from the majority of the world’s religious architecture. Balinese temples mainly serve to create and define space. They are predominantly made up of walls, steps and gateways which enclose courtyards of differing levels where the various shrines and pavilions are located. The temples create spaces and make these spaces sacred, places where people and their gods can meet.
Rarely do the temples call attention to themselves. They are more clearly seen as grand stages where the people invite their gods to descend to be entertained and worshiped. The gods, in turn, speak through spirit mediums to give advice or criticism and to correct what has gone askew within the village or family clan.
To understand Balinese religion by studying the temples would be like trying to understand a play by Shakespeare by studying the stage where it was performed. The temples are surely elegant in themselves, but their real beauty lies in how they are able to facilitate the activities of the ceremonies where the Balinese people reenact their own stories and remind themselves who they are.
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