Different from any other island in largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is a pocket of Hindu religion and culture, though Balinese Hinduism is so far removed from the original Indian variety that the casual eye will be hard put to spot any similarities.
Every aspect of Balinese life is suffused with religion, but the most visible signs are the tiny offerings (sesajen) of flowers, glutinous rice and salt in little bamboo leaf trays, found in every Balinese house, restaurant, souvenir stall and airport check-in desk. They are set out and sprinkled with holy water no less then three times a day, before every meal. Balinese dance and music are also fairly famous. As on Java, the gamelan orchestra and wayang kulit (shadow puppet) theater dominate.
barong or "lion dance" a ritual dance depicting the fight between good and evil, with performers wearing fearsome lion-like masks kecak or "monkey dance" Actually invented in the 1930s by early German resident Walter Spies for a movie but a spectacle nonetheless, with up to 250 dancers in circles chanting "Cak-Cak", while a performer in the center acts out a spiritual dance. There are an estimated 20,000 temples (pura) on the island, each of which holds festivals (odalan) at least twice a year and there are many other auspicious days throughout the year, meaning that there are always festivities going on.
There are some large festivals celebrated islandwide, but their dates are determined by two local calendars. The 210-day wuku or Pawukon calendar is completely out of sync with the Western calendar, meaning that it rotates wildly throughout the year.The lunar saka (caka) calendar roughly follows the Western year. Funerals, called pitra yadnya, are another occasion of pomp and ceremony, when the deceased (often several at a time) are ritually cremated in extravagantly colorful rituals.
Galungan (next held on June 27, 2007). A 10-day festival celebrating the death of the tyrant Mayadenawa. Gods and ancestors visit earth and are greeted with gift-laden bamboo poles called penjor lining the streets. The last day of the festival is known as Kuningan.
Nyepi, or Hindu New Year, usually March/April. Nyepi, also known as the Day of Absolute Silence, absolutely everything on the island is shut down and tourists are confined to their hotels (find somewhere with a pool). However if you are in Bali in the weeks preceding Nyepi you will see amazing colourful giants (Ogoh Ogoh) being created by every banjar throughout the island. On Nyepi Eve the Ogoh Ogoh are paraded through the streets, an amazing sight, not to be missed especially in Denpasar.
Nyepi is a very special day to the Balinese as this is the day that they have to fool all evil spirits that no-one is actually on Bali - hence the need for silence. If this can be achieved, then it is believed that the evil spirits will go looking elsewhere for their prey and leave Bali Island alone for another year. Balinese people are very religious and life is full of ritual - Nyepi is one of the most important days in their calendar. Police and security are on hand to make sure that everyone abides by this rule.
Nyepi also serves to remind the Balinese of the need for tolerance and understanding in their everyday life. In fact, Hinduism on Bali is unique because it is woven into and around the original Balinese animistic religion. The two now have become one for the Balinese - a true sign of tolerance and acceptance!
All national public holidays covered in Indonesia also apply, although Ramadan is naturally a much smaller event here than in the country's Muslim regions