A complete guide for going to a Balinese temple

When you are in Bali, you can’t help but notice all the different temples. The island is referred to as “the island of Gods” for a reason: there are temples everywhere you look, on every corner of the street, in every family compound, on every border of each village and so on. There are big and smaller temples for the village itself, main temples for every Balinese from all over the island and small family temples.

If you are intrigued by the Balinese culture and would like to visit a temple yourself but do not know how to dress and behave, here is a guide with important aspects to know when entering a Balinese temple.

  1. Dress code

When going to the temple, you must dress appropriately. Women wear a very colourful 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 colour-matched, and women often follow the recent fashion trends regarding colour and models. Men also wear a sarong, but a longer one and another shorter one on top of that. They wear a white blouse or shirt and a headband called ‘udeng’.

If you don’t have a kebaya to wear with a sarong, a white T-shirt will also do as long as your elbows are covered.

  1. Where to sit/stand

When you are inside the temple, knowing that you are never allowed to stand higher than the priest is crucial. You can recognize the priest as he is wearing an all-white outfit, and he sits in between all the offerings, saying prayers and mantras and using the temple bell. You can walk everywhere in the temple, going around and seeing all the shrines and statues. But do note that you are never taking a higher step which makes you stand more elevated than the priest.

  1. Taking pictures?

Yes, bring your camera! Going to a Balinese ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you should document it. Pictures of yourself and your friends dressed in Balinese attire make a fantastic memory but remember to take photos of the colourful offerings, statues, flowers and shrines as well. Before you take out your camera, ensure it is an appropriate time to take pictures. Please ask the person who invited you for permission to take pictures. Also, don’t take close-up shots of people while they are praying, as this can be disrespectful. Remember 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.

  1. Extra rule for women

This one is especially for females; don’t be surprised or offended when a Balinese asks whether you are having your period before entering a temple. At prominent public temples, there are even signs outside the temple saying that women on their period are not allowed to enter. As we are not used to questions like these in our home country, this might come across as very rude. But it is a typical question in Bali, as menstruating women are not allowed inside the temple premises. The Balinese believe that women on their period are ‘dirty’ when bleeding. Therefore, they are not allowed to enter any sacred grounds as it would make the whole temple ‘dirty’. If you get invited to a ceremony and are on your period, don’t be shy to say you are not allowed to go in, and the Balinese will understand.

  1. 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 a full moon or a 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. Just make sure you join a Balinese person who can explain 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, with legs to the side or on their knees. Men usually sit crossed-legged. Everyone has their own little basket with flowers and incense in front of them.

The priest leads the prayer, and the Balinese usually pray five 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 have your hands in prayer positions in front of your head. If you are unsure, look at your Balinese neighbour and follow their lead. After praying, everyone receives holy water and some rice to put on their forehead. Once again, make sure to follow the lead of your neighbour.

You are ready to go to a temple when sticking to these tips! Enjoy!