INTRODUCTION TO HINDUISM IN BALI
Although the majority of the Indonesian population is predominantly Muslim, on the island of Bali 90% of its islanders identify as Hindu. Hinduism landed on the island having journeyed from India in 5th Century CE, and there it fused with elements of Balinese spirituality, including local animism, Pitru Paksha (ancestor worship) and Bodhisattava (reverence for Buddhist saints). This combination makes Hinduism in Bali unique. For example, Balinese Hinduism embraces and reframes the Hindu principle of dharma – that there is order in the cosmos. Balinese Hindus divide the cosmos into three layers, the highest level is heaven (suarga) the home of the gods. Next is the human world, buwah. Beneath this, is bhur¸a type of hell where demons live and people’s spirits are punished for misdeeds on Earth. They believe that this tiered division is mirrored in the human body (head, body, feet). There are three levels of Balinese Hindu priests: Pendanda (High Priests): Members of the Brahma warna Pemangku (Temple Priests): Usually of the Sudra warna Balian (Medium/Healers) There are a total of 13 Balinese ceremonies concerned with life from conception until, but not including, death. Each has four elements to the rituals: placation of evil spirits, purification with holy water, wafting of essence and prayer.
As seen in other world religions, where water plays an important and symbolic role in religious ritual, ceremony and worship, Bali is no exception. Water plays a vital role in Balinese life. As an island surrounded by the through-flow of water travelling from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, Balinese spirituality has a strong cultural and religious connection with water. Often referred to as the island of ‘Holy Water’, Bali has a myriad of sacred springs and a complex, irrigation system which navigates through the island’s temples. These temples hold the spring water that has become intrinsic to Balinese purification ceremonies and religious practice.
The Balinese call their flavour of the Hindu religion Agama Tirta: ‘The Religion of the Holy Water’. There is even a hierarchy of water in their language: yeh is everyday water, tirta is Holy Water and Amerta is the term for water that is said to have powers that can cure the terminally ill. Water represents a circle of life and death; it symbolises wholeness and is believed to act as a medium for spiritual regeneration. It is therefore, intrinsic to every Balinese ceremony. The Balinese believe that tirta is the doorway to God – all offerings, ceremonies or person must be purified by tirta, otherwise they cannot receive god’s blessing.
Nothing epitomises the significance of water more in Bali than the island’s notable Temple of Holy Water known as Pura Tirta Empul (translating roughly as Pure Holy Water/Spring). Located in the village of Tampaksiring, the temple is over one thousand years old. Locals will tell of the legend that the sacred spring was created by the god Indra; its water infused with curative properties for spiritual cleansing. The Balinese have continued going ever since.
The Ritual of Pura Tirta Empul
As we enter Pura Tirta Empul, we can hear the flow of water freefalling from ancient fountains and the murmurs of Balinese tongues across the open, sacred site. Our feet bare, we wander across the Jaba Pura patio, ready to embrace the ritual of Melukat, to physically, emotionally and spiritually cleanse our bodies. As we pass through the threshold into the Jaba tengah, the incense that perfumes the air encircles us, and we find ourselves standing before the elongated, rectangular pool paved with embroidered stone. Golden orange koi fish move slowly in the water’s body. A row of fourteen fountain heads aligned, engraved and moulded by worshipping Balinese hands hundreds of years ago, feeds into the pool. Today’s flower offerings, held together by tooth-picked banana leaves, lay upon one another at each fountain head. Each has meaning, a prayer and a purpose. Furthest away is the fountain of Wisdom, where the ritual will come to its end.
It is here that Nyman Jana, one of the temple’s Archakas, greets us. He wears white, wrapped around his torso and head, his hands and feet are left bare. For the following hour, he is our spiritual guide who leads us through the traditional ritual unique to Pura Tirta Empul. He tells us of legends; how the Lord of Paradise, the Sun Deity Bhatara Indra, came to this site in 220 BC and used the land to give birth to yoga and the holy spring water. We discover an inscription written during the rule of Warmadewa, it dates the founding of the temple to 926 AD. Nyman Jana tells us how the temple’s original name ‘Tirta Ri air hampul’ (the water or holy pool which emerged from the land) reflects the spiritual importance of the location. The temple lies in between the surrounding mountains, and it is here, where they intersect that, he says, the sacred water is so pure it can cleanse and heal the spirit.
In order to begin, we drape fabric around our bodies in preparation for immersion in the sacred water. However, before entering we must offer Sajen: a meditative form of prayer to Bhatara Indra, the Spirit of the Sun, asking for his permission to purify the soul. We also call out to Barong, the king of all Balinese spirits; as the elder spirit, depicted like a lion, he embodies goodness. In prayer we look to him as a protector, we ask of him to rinse the soul and body of negative energy and bad characteristics. Alongside the Spirit of the Sun, they oversee the ritual, guiding the flow of energy and water.Sitting crossed legged on the cold stone; we each place our own offerings before us. As it si believed that the cleansing ritual to purify the soul from negative energy takes energy from the Spirit of the Sun, the offerings are essential. The offering therefore restores balance, and ensures the bad energy carried from our past life (bad karma) is washed away with the Spirit’s blessing. These offerings contain flowers with a kaleidoscope of colours, signifying the variety of shades that colour life. Embedded in the offering, we can also see the rare lotus flower, which the Balinese view as symbolic of the love felt toward the spirits. Nyman Jana also shows us where the roots of the Banyan tree, which grow up across the island’s landscape, lie in the small offering. For the Balinese, the Banyan tree symbolises roots, rule and purification. The tree is not only part of the offering to the spirits, but is also seen as a guardian of temples. With our offerings placed in front of us, we focus and close our eyes, abandoning ourselves to silence by the water’s edge. As the intention of the offering must be delivered through prayer, we each begin our own internal conversation with the Spirit of the Sun, Universe and Rebirth, asking permission to enter the waters. This meditative practice of Prana Yama, re-centres the self through breathing; it helps to situate us in the present and to reminds us that we are alive. We talk with the spirits, revealing our names, where we came from, and each of us decide what we desire to cleanse of the body and soul.
Opening our eyes, focused and clear of mind, we stand up and slowly make our way down the watery steps of the stone-enclosed pool of cool holy water. As we lower ourselves, the cloth that wraps the body absorbs the blessed water, and so we wade through, waist deep, until we are in front of the first fountain. As instructed, before cleansing begins we offer another small internal prayer, and then begin, under each fountain, to wash our face three times. We rinse our mouth in the fountain’s water. We repeat this three times. Then, we place our heads beneath the power of the falling water, opening our eyes so that the water blurs and refreshes our vision. We chant Om. We repeat this three times. The act of drinking water purifies the inside the body and the Throat Chakra, soaking the top of the head cleanses the Crown Chakra, which represents our ability to fully connect to spirituality. The repetition of three is symbolic as each action is to be directed to not only the body, but also the heart and mind. Each spring cleanses the soul deeper and deeper. The guiding words of Nyman Jana lead us, teaching us that the water can cleans all bad promises and bad energy to those who are honest with themselves and with their past. Each Om feels as if the negative energy vibrates out of the soul, we release to the Spirit the bad energy we hold from the present and past life, and as each chakra is purified, from low to high, we clean ourselves of the karma we carry from our first life. We emerge out of the waters, light and awake to the world.
 Translation: Front Courtyard
 Translation: Centre Courtyard
 the temple’s priest responsible for performing temple rituals including puja and aarti
Natasa Cordeaux – Travel Editor
LESSON / HOMEWORK SUGGESTIONS
a). Research one Hindu temple of your choosing. Imagine you are there visiting: what is the history of the place? Which god do you pray to? What rituals take place in this Hindu temple? Is it specific to the geographical region you have chosen? Below are some suggestions of temples you can research, however feel free to choose something a bit different or perhaps from a less traditionally Hindu country. Create your own travel blog post (250-500 words) with your research.
Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
Meenakshi Amman Temple (India)
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple (India)
Tanah Lot (Bali)
Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple of Jaffna (Sri Lanka)
Brihadishwara Temple (India)
The Miracle Springs of Keerimalai (Sri Lanka)
b). Water is an important element, highly regarded within Balinese spirituality – can we think how water is significant in other religions? Is water used for purification? What can it symbolises? If possible, draw on religious scriptures. Write a 100/200 word comparison of Hinduism and one other religion and the use of water in religious ceremony/rituals.
c). Pick a Hindu god/goddess you would dedicate your cleansing ritual too. Research information about them and prepare a 5 minute presentation. Discuss why you choose that particular god, who they are, what rituals/ceremonies are they usually worshipped during?
d). Look up any terms in the above travel blog post which is unfamiliar and find the definitions. E.g. A pujari or archaka is a Hindu temple priest. The word comes from the Sanskrit/Hindi word “Puja” meaning worship. They are responsible for performing temple rituals.
e). Research more about Hindu Chakras. What are the seven chakras and what do they symbolise? Research and describe one type of chakra cleansing ritual performed in a Hindu culture.
f). During the cleansing ritual, the traveller immerses themselves three times under the water of the fountain, washes three times and drinks three times. What is the significance of the number three in Hindu religion?