Spend a day in Bali and you’ll quickly see the role spirituality plays in every facet of daily life, from the small offerings of flowers and incense scattered in the street to miniature temples in every home.
In fact, prayer and faith is so central to life that it’s little wonder Bali has earned its famous moniker as the island of a thousand temples. That’s why a temple visit is a must on every traveller’s itinerary. The chance to see locals practicing their faith, and to marvel at the stunning architecture, offers a great insight into local culture. But how can you ensure you visit in a respectful and courteous manner? As travellers, it might be confusing, which is why we’ve put together this handy 8-step guide to Balinese temple etiquette.
1. Wear a sarong
Like many places of worship, dressing modestly is an easy way to show respect. That’s why both men and women are required to wear sarongs that cover their legs below the knee when visiting Hindu and Buddhist temples. The good news is if you don’t own a sarong, or don’t want to buy one, a sarong is typically included in the ticket price at most temples – especially at those popular with travellers. If you’re planning to visit temples that are more off the beaten track, pick up a cheap sarong at the local markets to carry in your day pack.
2. Cover your shoulders and back
When visiting temples, it’s also essential to keep your shoulders and back covered. Singlets and tank tops are a no-go but, if the weather is especially hot, you can always take a light shirt or other covering (like another sarong – a good excuse to buy two!) to wear when you’re at the temple and then remove it afterwards.
3. Avoid pointing your feet at the altar
Feet are generally viewed as unclean in Balinese culture, which means pointing your dirty hooves at the altar is considered poor form. Men will typically sit with their legs crossed while women will kneel in prayer. Watching where you point your feet while seated is one thing, but it is also considered disrespectful to raise your feet too high, so resist the urge to perfect your favourite yoga poses while at temple.
4. Respect areas of worship
Balinese temples are incredible works of architecture, but they’re also places of prayer. This is why the inner sanctum of most temples will usually be closed off to travellers. Be mindful of unintentionally blocking entrances to prayer spaces, being loud in quiet places where others may be trying to pray, and respect signs designating areas for praying only. Although praying spaces are usually off limits, you might be lucky to have a priest (manku) invite you into the inner sanctum.
5. Be positive
A large part of the Hindu and Buddhist faith centres around positive energies, that the good thoughts and actions you put out in the world will eventually return to you (often referred to as ‘karma’). When visiting a temple, try to keep your thoughts and language positive.
6. Special rules for women
One of the more confronting rules of etiquette for some travellers visiting temples include those that apply to women. More specifically, women who are menstruating at the time of their visit are not permitted to enter the temple. This custom is rooted in the ancient belief that menstruating women were ‘impure’ and the prohibition against unsanctified blood on sacred grounds. While most Balinese are respectful of privacy, don’t be surprised if a local asks you directly whether you are menstruating. Similarly, women who are more than seven months pregnant or have given birth within six weeks of visiting are advised not to enter a temple.
7. Leave the drone behind
It’s a sign of the times that most temples now display a sign asking travellers not to use drones. If you’ve seen one in action then you’ll know how they hover around like giant mosquitos, distracting travellers and locals in prayer with their incessant buzzing. To properly enjoy the tranquil serenity of Bali’s temples, leave the drone packed away.
8. Pay due respect
One good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t do it at a common place of worship at home, don’t do it when travelling abroad. Some examples include not sitting or climbing on spiritual monuments like walls or statues, not getting in the way of religious processions, and being courteous when taking photos. Public displays of affection, such as kissing your partner, while in the temple is also frowned upon.
Now that you’ve got the basics on etiquette, you just need to find a temple! Jump on one of our Bali tours for an off-the-beaten-track adventure that leaves the beach resorts far behind.