ISKCON in Indonesia

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) | Sampradaya Kesadaran Krishna Indonesia (SAKKHI)

Balinese Hinduism

This is particularly associated with the Balinese people residing on the island and represents a distinct form of Hindu worship incorporating local animism, ancestor worship, and reverence for Buddhist saints.


Hinduism came to Indonesia from India in the fifth century CE. It was gradually replaced by Buddhism, which was the main religion of Sumatra and Java until it in turn was displaced by the coming of Islam from the 14th century CE. However, due to “cultural barriers”, Bali became the only part of Indonesia to remain Hindu.

Markandeya and Agastya Rishis are told to have brought Hinduism to most parts of Indonesia, especially to Bali.


The fundamental principle underlying Hinduism is that there is order in the cosmos, known as dharma. There is also a disordering force, adharma. Hindus seek balance and harmony between these two forces, thus freeing themselves from the never-ending cycle of reincarnation, attaining a state called moksa.

Balinese Hinduism divides the cosmos into three layers. The highest level is heaven, or suarga, the abode of the gods. Next is the world of man, buwah. Below this is hell or bhur, where the demons live and where people's spirits are punished for misdeeds on earth. This tripartite division is mirrored in the human body (head, body and feet) and the shrines found outside Balinese buildings.

Thrice a day, the Balinese chant the Tri Sandhya prayers at 6am, 12pm and 6pm. These mantras and their meaning are in the column on the left-side of this page.


Along with the traditional Hindu gods such as Vishnu and Brahma, Balinese Hindus worship a range of deities unique to their branch of the religion. The supreme god of Balinese Hinduism is Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa. However, this is a relatively recent addition to the pantheon. The name was originally contrived by Christian missionaries as a Balinese language name for the Christian God. It was later adopted by the Balinese to make it clear that their religion had a single supreme god in line with the first principle of the Indonesian state philosophy Pancasila. The empty chair at the top of the padmasana shrine found outside houses and temples is for Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa. God is usually regarded as impersonal, without any attributes, but He exhibits Himself as many Gods. Other gods include Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and gods associated with mountains, lakes and the sea.

Balinese Hinduism  follows Saiva Siddhanta, where the Supreme God (or Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa) is personified as Shiva. Mount Agung, the island's highest peak,  is regarded as a replica of Mount Meru, where Lord Shiva resides. Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa expands into three main Deities (Tri Purusa): Siwa, Sada Siwa (Saguna Brahman) and Parama Siwa (Nirguna Brahman).


Most of the temples in Bali are actually dedicated to the ancestors, not God. Ancestor worship is extremely common in Bali and they are highly respected.


Balinese acknowledges the presence of subtle beings that guard over particular areas. Usually, shrine are made in every establishment for the subtle guardian of every property. Goblin-like creatures with deformed and frightening features are also believed to roam in Bali's streets, crossroads, forests and other areas. Tantric and witchcraft is also practiced by certain classes of society. Respecting these unseen creatures, canang sari is placed in front of entry ways, on crossroads and bridges.


In front of every home (or any other establishment), an offering of canang sari is commonly seen. This is simply flowers and an incense stick but can also include other offerings like cooked rice, coffee, sweets or even a cigarette. Canang refers to the palm-leaf basket and sari refers to the essence of the offering. Canang itself consists of two syllables of ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose) from the ancient Kawi language.

Canang sari has some parts, there are peporosan, ceper, rakaraka, and sampian urasariPeporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime and gambier. Material of peporosan is symbolize the Trimurti, three major God in Hinduism. Shiva symbolized by lime, Vishnu symbolized by betel, and Brahma symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha CandraRaka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction. Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God:

  • White-colored flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara
  • Red-colored flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma
  • Yellow-colored flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadewa
  • Blue or green colored flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Wisnu

Offerings of canang sari with rice and sweets is usually for God while the ones accompanied with coffee or other intoxicants is for the subtle creatures.

Many other offerings like canang sari are offered too at various places and on during occasions.

There are three levels of priests:

  • High priests (pedanda): Members of the Brahmana caste
  • Temple priests (pemangku): Usually of the Sudra caste
  • Mediums/healers (balian)

There are five sacrificial rituals, known as panca yadnya in Balinese Hinduism:

  • dewa yadnya – for gods and deities
  • buta yadnya – for spirits and demons
  • resi yadnya – consecration of clergy
  • manusya yadnya – human life from weddings, childbirth, growing up and starting a family
  • pitra yadnya – for death and reincarnation

Method of Prayer

Daily worship is as stunning a sight as viewing Bali's temples. 

Men wear white kamen (sarongs), saput (an apron-like covering above the sarong), selendang (a cloth belt to tie the lower garments in place), a white shirt and an udeng (a head piece).

Women wear the kebaya (a lace top with kamen below). Hair is usually tied in a bun. The selendang is still present and the kebaya can be in any colour, but usually white, especially on full moon days.

To the pura (temple), men and women wear special pura sandals, footwear they only use to the temple and other sacred places. Footwear is permitted inside the temple compound but is usually taken off when seated to pray.

There are three main pura in every village, each dedicated to one of the Tri Murtis: Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva. There are temples in other sacred sites. The holiest temple and most important is Besakih, the Mother Temple located on the foothills of Mount Agung.

Men and women sit down in rows, usually men with legs crossed and women kneeling. A canang sari with incense stick is placed in front of each. Flower petals in the canang sari is used in the prayer. Incense sticks or dupa represent Agni, the fire-god who purifies and transports the offerings to the Gods. 

After doing some pranayama or breathing, they chant the Gayatri mantra thrice. Afterwards, they raise their hands in a pranama mudra (joined palms) above their foreheads and chant "om àtmà tattwàtmà sùddha màm swàha", a mantra for purifying oneself. They then take some white flower petals in hand from the canang sari and quickly swipe it above the incense stick's smoke to purify it before they place it between their fingers while doing the pranama mudra above their foreheads again. This time, they chant prayers to the Sun god, Aditya or Surya. They then place this flower behind their ears, usually the right. Then they take multi-coloured flowers, or any other particular colour, and do the same chanting to Lord Shiva or the presiding Deity in the particular temple. The flowers is usually then placed behind the head, in the hair bun or tucked in the udeng, head piece. The same is done with multi-coloured flowers to the other assembled gods for benediction and blessings, with flowers placed behind the other ear. Empty hands are then placed above their foreheads, chanting "om Dewa suksma paramà cintyàya nama swàha. Om Sàntih, Sàntih, Sàntih, Om", thanking the Gods. 

Priests then go around with holy water. Holy water is sprinkled on each worshiper thrice, then sipped thrice. Uncooked and chipped rice, moistened in water, is then presented for the worshiper to place on their throat and forehead.


Purnama or the full moon and Tilem or the new moon days are main days of prayer.

The most important festival is Galungan, a celebration of the triumph of dharma over adharma. It is calculated according to the 210-day Balinese pawukon calendar and takes place on the Wednesday (Buda) of the eleventh week (Dunggulan). According to tradition, the spirits of the dead descend form heaven, to return ten days later on Kuningan.

Nyepi, or the Day of Silence, makes the start of the Balinese Saka year, and is marked on the first day of the 10th month, Kedasa. It usually falls in March. On this day, Bali is closed down for a day. Everyone, locals and visitors, are locked in their homes, no lights are to switched on, no sounds, no flights or boats in or out of the island and all TV and Radio stations don't broadcast from 6am to 6am the next day.

Watugunung, the last day of the pawukon calendar, is devoted to Saraswati, goddess of learning. Although it is devoted to books, reading is not allowed. The fourth day of the year is called Pagerwesi, meaning "iron fence". It commemorates a battle between good and evil and the importance of guru.