Over the past year I have travelled to Bali on a number of occasions for both pleasure and work, and with each visit a little more of my heart and soul stays behind on this green tropical island paradise waiting for my next return. I was never really that keen to travel to Bali in the past; my pre-conceived ideas had been largely influenced by the negative media attention this “hot destination” often receives in Australia. Whether it be a volcano erupting, scooter accident, terrorist attack. or young Australian party-goers getting up to mischief while on holiday, the shadow side of Bali tourism remains the focus for hype-hungry media – with consequences often detrimental to the tourism industry that the island has become so reliant on.
Yet for many years pilgrims from all over the world have been flocking to Bali to experience the spirit and culture. I was curious and decided it was finally time I went to see firsthand what all the hype was about. After seeking an inexpensive and close overseas getaway to recharge our parenting batteries, my husband and I decided to join the flock and fly to the island paradise. From the moment my feet hit the ground I was engulfed with the chaos & humidity that is Bali – and I was captivated.
Bali is a province of Indonesia located between Java and Lombok. Approximately 90% of the island’s 4 million or so inhabitants make up Indonesia’s Hindu minority. It is the only part of Indonesia to remain predominantly Hindu after the main islands, Java and Sumatra, and the mainland gave way to the spread of Islam from the fourteenth century CE. As a result, Balinese Hinduism is quite unique with the majority of Balinese holding onto their beliefs and practices tightly. The form of Hinduism practiced in Bali has its own distinct flavor that incorporates local animism and ancestor worship that was prominent among the island’s very early inhabitants: the Austronesian people who originally migrated from Southeast Asia and Oceania as early as 2000 BCE. Later, as Indians and Chinese traded and migrated to Bali, Indian Hinduism and Buddhism took hold and a form of Balinese Hinduism was born. While the Balinese worship the traditional gods you find in Indian Hinduism, such as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, Balinese adherents also worship other unique deities.
In Bali the traditional philosophy for life is ‘Tri Hita Karana” or the three causes of well-being which are: harmony among people (Pawongan), harmony with nature or environment (Palemahan), and harmony with God (Parahyangan). Three times a day, every day, sun worship (Trikala Sandhya) is performed across the whole island. There would not be one traveler to Bali who has not witnessed these offerings that are placed in streets and outside homes and businesses. This triple aspect of life has been a common shared motif across many religions and traditions since the earliest of times. The mutually shared belief system and strict adherence to tradition in Bali creates a sense of cohesion along with a strong sense of national identity, which has made way for major modern developments in culture, economy, and, notably, the arts, resulting in a rich and vibrant culture that is distinct from any other (Vickers, 1995).
It was the proliferation of the arts that I noticed first. Creativity in all its forms manifested in everything, everywhere; permeating every aspect of daily and spiritual life. From the stone and wood carvers who carry on age old traditions, to the painting studios that line street after street, to the women weaving offering baskets and creating traditional fabrics and garments for ceremonial wear, and the daily offerings of incense, flowers and food dedicated by locals, one cannot escape the saturation of art and ritual which is intrinsic to their culture and identity.
As an artist and art teacher who has traveled abundantly, I was immediately overwhelmed with inspiration and curiosity. I often teach my students how to tap into creative flow, how to find creativity within and express it, yet here it is as an everyday natural occurrence everywhere you turn, accessible and widely celebrated. If I tried to teach my concept of creativity to a Balinese they may laugh (or not), for creativity in all its forms is a way of life for them and essential for the passing down of skills, stories, myths and traditions both cultural and familial.
Entire villages are known for their stone or wood workings, the area of Ubud, which is where I spend my time, is known for its painting studios, and there are literally dozens of them side by side lining the streets. I imagine if that were to happen in my community, competition would be rife for Western culture has us working against each other, rather than with each other. For the Balinese, wealth and success are measured in terms of blessings, relationship to family, and the divine and adherence to tradition, not by money.
There are many reasons why I have become so captivated with Bali but it is by far their sense of community and family, and their rich traditions and rituals. It is not hard to see why so many people from all over the world fall in love with this sacred place and why it has become such a mecca for healers, artists, therapists, and all manner of travelers. While mass tourism has undoubtedly increased the standard of living for many Balinese, and had led the island flourish in some ways, there are downsides to this as well. But you can, if you choose, set out to explore the island beyond the boundaries of the primary tourist spots, experience the real culture of Bali, and be blessed by its inescapable spirit.
*These are my personal reflections and experiences on travelling to Bali, in no way do I set out to be an expert on their history culture, religion or art practice, nor do I set out to speak for all who visit the island.
Jassy is a contemporary artist and Intentional Creativity Coach with a BA in Ancient History. She has the spirit of adventure running through her veins having painted and travelled her way around many parts of the world. Jassy endeavors to bring her love of art, history and travel together to offer unique creative tours that are designed to inspire and awaken your senses. Whatever your creative aspiration, soaking up the sites, sounds and delights of far off places is a sure way to fill your cup of inspiration. Her next tour dates are Bali heART Retreat March 18-25, 2018 and ‘Returning’ a journey back in time through Greece, September 13-22, 2018. You can read more about her art courses and retreat here: www.earthcirclestudios.com and view her contemporary artworks here: www.jassy.com.au
Vickers, A., 1995. Travelling to Bali: Four Hundred Years of Journeys, Oxford, London: Oxford Press.