Bali retains its own unique culture, which is probably similar to that of the other islands in the archipelago before the Moslem conversions. Curiously, the Balinese language has no word for 'art' or 'artist.' Art was something everyone did as part of everyday life. Now of course, Bali is something of an 'artists colony' and every other shop in the major tourist areas are galleries.
The traditional crafts of stone sculpture, woodcarving and silversmithing are still very much alive and well represented in the many galleries around the island. But is the dramatic dances that are often at the center of Balinese culture. Balinese classical dancing is comparable to ballet, in that the performances tell a story through music, dance and sometimes song. Story lines are often taken from the Hindu biblical epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Scene from the Kecak dance performance.
On Bali, dancing is still a regular part of Balinese life. Most Balinese dancing is closely related to the classical dancing of other Southeast Asian cultures. There are many similarities between the classical khon dances of Thailand and the Balinese Barong and Legong dances. These are all similar to western ballet, in that they tell a story.
But an absolute "must see" for visitors to Bali is the Kecak dance performance. This is the most unique form of Balinese dance, so be sure to reserve an evening for it. You've probably seen pictures of this dance. Rather than the Gamelan orchestra that is typical of other Balinese dances, as well as most Southeast Asian classical dancing, in the Kecak the only music is provided by a large chorus of bare-chested men and boys sitting in a circle just in front of the audience. This choir provides a constant accompaniment to the story, and even become actors towards the end.
Read more about the Kecak dance here at AsiaForVisitors.
Hindu Temples on Bali
- Besakih Temple Complex
- The most important temple on Bali is the Besakih Complex, often called the "mother temple" of Bali. Located up on the side of the Mount Agung volcano, the complex consists of more than 20 temples.
- Goa Lawah Bat Cave
- On Bali's east coast is the Goa Lawah Bat Cave temple. This temple is important for matters related to the afterlife, and thus is often the site of funerals.
- Tanah Lot
- Among the most photographed temple on Bali is the seaside islet of Tanah Lot. It is popular as a scenic spot at sunset, but get there earlier if you want to avoid the crowds.
- Taman Gili
- The Taman Gili, which translates to "moated garden", is all that remains of the Klungkung royal palace.
- Tirta Gangga
- Northeast Bali can get quite hot and dry compared to the much wetter south, so in 1948 the King of Karangesem, based in nearby Amlapura, started construction of a "water palace" to escape the summer heat.
- Ujung Water Palace
- On the seaside at Ujung, the King of Karangesem built the Ujung Water Palace between 1912 and 1919.
The "original Balinese" are known as the Bali Aga. They have their own distinct culture and village organization. The village of Tenganan is among the best preserved of the Bali Aga villages.
No matter where you go on Bali, if you travel to the interior, you will see the fantastical landscape of rice terraces. These are such an integral part of Balinese culture that they've been mooted as a UNESCO World Heritage site.