When you are in Bali, you can’t help but notice all the different temples. Bali is called the Island of a thousand temples for a reason. There are literally temples everywhere you look, on every corner of the street, in every family compound, on every boarder of each village and so on. There are big ones and smaller ones, temples for the whole village, small family temples and main temples for every Balinese from all over the island.
When you are volunteering at Volunteer Programs Bali, it means you get to know the local culture as well. This happens through many ways, one of them being the fact you live with a local family. We like to give our volunteers the true Balinese experience, and this includes living arrangements, but also cultural activities such as going to the temple. During your placement it is a guarantee that you will enter a temple. Whether it is a visit to one of the big temples in Bali, or you got invited to go to a local ceremony with the homestay family or with VP Bali.
But what do you need to go when going to the temple? How to dress, how to behave? We’ve created a little guide for you with the most important aspects you need to be aware of when going to a Balinese temple.
- Dress code
When going to the temple it is very important that you are dressed properly. Women wear a very colorful kebaya (a traditional blouse-dress often made from lace), a sarong (a length of fabric wrapped around the waist) and a selendang (a scarf to put around the waist). These three items are always color matched and women follow the recent trends and fashion regarding color and model. Men also wear a sarong, a longer one and a shorter one on top of that. They wear a white blouse or shirt and a head band called ‘udeng’.
During the orientation program we will show our volunteers how to wear the sarong. If you don’t have a kebaya, a white t-shirt will do as well, as long as elbows are covered.
- Where to sit/stand
When you are inside the temple, it is very important to know that you are never ever allowed to stand higher than the priest. You can recognize the priest as he is wearing an all-white outfit and he sits in between all the offerings, saying prayers and mantra’s as well as using the temple bell. You are allowed to walk everywhere in the temple, going around and see all the shrines and statues. But do note that you are never taking a higher step which makes you stand higher than the priest.
- Taking pictures?
Yes, bring your camera! Going to a Balinese ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience and you should definitely document it. Pictures of yourself and your friends dressed as real Balinese but also take pictures of the colorful offerings, statues, flowers and shrines. That being said; before you take out your camera, just make sure it is a good moment to take pictures. We suggest you to ask the person who invited you for permission to take pictures. Also, don’t take close up pictures of people while they are praying as this can come over very disrespectful. Keep in mind that also for taking pictures, you are never allowed to stand higher than the priest, even if that would give you a perfect spot for the perfect shot.
- Extra rule for women
This one is especially for the girls; don’t be surprised or offended when a Balinese asks you whether you are having your period before entering a temple. At large public temples there are even signs outside the temple saying that women on their period are not allowed to enter. This might come across very rude, as we are not used to questions like these in our home country. But in Bali it is a normal question, as it is very important that women who are menstruating are staying outside the temple premises. The Balinese believe that women on their period are ‘dirty’, as they are bleeding. Therefore, they are not allowed to enter any sacred grounds as it would make the whole temple ‘dirty’. If you get invited for a ceremony and you are on your period, don’t be shy to just say you are not allowed to go in, and the Balinese will understand.
- Joining the prayers
For the Balinese going to a temple means going to pray. There are many reasons for a ceremony at a temple, it can be a temple’s birthday, an auspicious day such as full moon or new moon or another special day on the Balinese calendar. Depending on the ceremony, it can get very busy at the temple. Many Balinese want to go in and pray at the same time. If you are attending a ceremony, you are more than welcome to join the prayers as well. Just make sure you are joining a Balinese person who can explain you what to do and where to sit. People sit in rows on the ground in the temple, all facing the offerings. Women can sit crossed legged, legs to the side or on your knees. Men usually sit crossed legged. Everyone has their own little basket with flowers and incense in front of them.
The prayer is led by the priest, and the Balinese usually pray 5 times. The first time is without flowers, the second, third and fourth time is with flowers and the last time again without flowers. You hold the flowers between your fingers and you have your hands in prayer positions in front of your head. If you are not sure, just look at your Balinese neighbor and follow their lead. After praying, everyone receives holy water and some rice to put on your forehead. Once again, make sure to follow the lead of your neighbor.
With these steps you are ready to go to a temple! Enjoy!