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Balinese Traditional Art

Contrary to the rest of Indonesia, which is Muslim, Bali is Hindu. Hinduism was introduced to Bali in the 5th century, and around 1500 most Balinese were Hindus. The Balinese Hinduism is a synthesis of the island’s original tribal religion and Javanese Hinduism, where the worship of Shiva, who is both a fertility god and the great destroyer, is central.

The Hindus in Bali live in a world, where everything has its place. It is based upon the contrast between Kaja and Kelod. Kaja represents the direction towards the mountain, where the gods live, and Kelod represents the direction towards the sea, where the demons and evil belong. In between these two opposing forces lives mankind. This conception is also reflected in the structure of the temples. They are composed of three courtyards representing each of the three areas.

The Balinese worship many gods. But in reality they regard all the gods as different aspects of one supreme god called Sanghyang Widi Wasa: In the shape of Ris Dewi Sri it is a fertility god and attached to the mountain, and in the shape of Dewa Baruna it is the destroyer and attached to the sea.

The Balinese do not make representations of their gods. In many temples there is a sanctuary with three empty seats for Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. The Balinese imagine that they sit here during the ceremony.

One of the Balinese people’s ways of visualising the religious practice is the shadow play (Wayang Kalit) and through the many dances directed against demoniacal forces. The dancers carry masks and costumes identifying them as a fabled, lion-like creature, Barong, who is capable of driving out evil spirits, or as Ranga, evil itself.

The Balinese woodcarving art consists of reliefs and freestanding figures and mainly depicts demons, heroes and local deities. Pavilions are often decorated with a garuda – the golden eagle that Vishnu rides – or with a winged lion – a singha. Both figures are considered to be auspicious. Other popular wooden sculptures are the monkey hero Hanuman from the great Hindu epic Ramayana, and small Sri figures that protect the rice harvest.

The paintings are tapestry-like cartoons, which are often used for decorating temples. They depict scenes from the legends, or they are religious calendars with motifs from the holy Wuku year’s cycle of 210 lucky and unlucky days. On the temple walls hang narrow cloth hangings (Ider-Ider), which can be painted with religious and mythological scenes.

Holstebro Kunstmuseum’s collection of Balinese traditional art is a gift from the artists, the married couple Agnete Therkildsen and Ejler Bille, who since the 1970s stayed in Bali several times.