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Brown University

Publication Date

Spring 2013

Program Name

Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change


The small island of Bali has become famous throughout the world as a center of arts and culture. Tourists visit the island in droves each year to collect traditional paintings, carvings, and fabrics, and to watch performances of dances, gamelan, and puppet shows, all of these based in a Shivaite Hindu tradition that has absorbed elements of Buddhism and Islam, as well as bits and pieces from the religions of China and other erstwhile visitors to the island. Bali, a strongly Hindu island in one of the world’s largest Muslim countries, has achieved a worldwide fame perhaps greater than the Indonesian archipelago which houses it, and while its tropical beaches and picturesque volcanoes have something to do with it, much of the international attention focuses on Bali’s perceived wealth of traditional “culture”.

Indeed, the ways in which art and religion are interwoven in contemporary Bali are myriad, and probably unique amid the world’s major religions. Temple ceremonies frequently feature dances or require them for completion, and great performers are said to have taksu, or a sort of divine inspiration that spills over into stage presence. Worshippers in trance will often perform dance moves or entire dances, and nearly all dancers make prayers before a performance. Dance, which serves as the major form of staged drama here, often draws its stories from the great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, featuring deities as characters and sometimes imparting religious lessons. It is hard to talk about art in Bali without talking about religion, or vice versa—one man I met during the course of my fieldwork informed me, over a warung meal outside a temple festival, that they were simply the same thing.


Arts and Humanities | Asian Studies | Civic and Community Engagement | Dance | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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