Foreign conquerors and visitors may come and go, but Bali’s culture remains. For almost a thousand years, the native Balinese have followed a unique form of Hinduism, now known as Agama Hindu Dharma: a direct descendant of the religion brought to Bali by visiting Hindu gurus.
The rhythms of the Balinese religious calendar dictate island-wide days of obligation, temple-specific feast days, and daily personal rituals that connect every native Balinese to their families, communities, ancestors and gods. The religious needs of the populace ensures the preservation and continued popularity of thousands of temples and altars all around the island, ranging in size from simple family shrines to the “Mother Temple”, the Pura Besakih on Gunung Agung. And you’ll find their myths re-enacted in Balinese dances all over the island.
The strong link between the Balinese and their religion ensures that Bali retains a unique identity among Southeast Asia’s island destinations. Thanks in no small part to its unique culture, Bali has successfully resisted (to some degree) the commercialization and homogenization suffered by islands like Boracay in the Philippines or Phuket in Thailand. Balinese temples, dances, and ceremonies define the Bali tourist experience as much as its beaches or its surfing.
Editor’s Note: This overview of Balinese culture is best seen as a summary, not an in-depth look (Balinese culture is far too involved and complex to be covered in a single article!).
For further reading on Balinese culture, I recommend a very well-written series of articles for beginners, hosted by Murni’s in Ubud. Do read them if you want to go beyond the barest outline that I’ve just presented here.