How Balinese Worship their God

How Balinese Worship their God

By Ketut Suardana
For The Bali Times

To pray in Bali is “sembahyang.” This is originates from Kawi, or old Javanese and is derived from two words, sembah and hyang. Sembah means to respect, beg and bow down. Hyang means divine, God/Shang Hyang Widhi, holy man, ancestors. So to pray means to respect, bow down, surrender ourselves and be obsequious to whom we are dedicating our prayer.

For Balinese Hindus, prayer is an obligation. In the Vedas, the knowledge that refers to prayer is called Upasana. In Sanskrit, Upasana means to serve or worship. The Vedas also refer to high knowledge for spirituality or what is known as a higher consciousness and possession of worldly materials, as the aim of life (Catur Purusha Arta) is called Vijnana. The Vedas also teach people about karma, how to apply it and how it works in life, as well as how to connect to God, through Catur Yoga.

The concepts of Catur Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga are interwoven and described clearly in the Bhagavad-Gita. Bhakti Yoga and Upasana are the more tangible disciplines to follow in order to be one with God. Bhakti Yoga is prayer. The person praying has to believe in the existence of the recipient of his or her prayers and also have to be conscious of their weaknesses. God is the only pure and perfect one to whom we have to beg for hope, safety and prosperity through prayer.

What Medium Do We Need When We Pray?

We need ritual offerings that are called banten (a symbol of the universe). One of the most essential elements of ritual offering is called canang, which means betel nut in Kawi. Traditionally, betel nut was a symbol of giving honor, and as Hinduism developed in Bali, betel nut became one of the important elements in offerings at religious ceremonies and other social activities. In olden days, in Bali and other parts of Indonesia, guests were welcomed with betel nut. The Nitisastra Book says, “Our mouth feels quiet without eating betel nut.”

Flowers symbolize love and sincerity. Sincerity is very important as it helps maintain a balance of spirit, to build consciousness, where people can accept any negative condition prevailing at the time.

Kewangen in Kawi means aromatic. Balinese use kewangen to worship God, holy men, deities and ancestors. It is made from leaves and flowers. Part of the betel leaf, white lime, betel nut, which are the three elements called Porosan, is representative of Tri Murti. The shape of kewangen is like a triangle – the symbol of Ongkara. Balinese use kewangen to worship God – a form of Purusha (soul) and Pradana (body).

Water signifies purity. To purify the body and soul, the other elements used in the offerings/prayers are fire, incense and mantras.

Bagavadgitha IX-26 says: “Whosoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water; that offering of love, of pure of heart, I accept.”

From that quote, priests, Hindu philosophers and religious artists translated and developed the Hindu religious philosophy into rituals – from small, simple offerings to complex ones done on large scale.

The five holy sacrifices are to God, holy men, ancestors, humans and Butha Kala (Panca Yadnya). The Balinese only pray to God, holy men and their ancestors. They do not pray to people but respect the status of kings, priests, parents and teachers. Balinese do not pray to Butha Kala (spirits of nature) but respect them.

In ancient days, the Lord created humanity along with sacrifices and said, “By this shall ye bring forth and this shall be unto you that which will yield the milk of your desires.” (Bhagavad-Gita III-10)

Panca Sembah

The Sutasoma Book says, “Our sins cannot be melted from other people’s sympathy, neither from our own family help. Our sins will be dissolved only from our good karma. With true experience, full and total comprehension of prayer will have a powerful effect on us and our environment.”

Balinese Hindus have three stages of prayer, related to the three embodiments or manifestations of God. They are: Creator/Utpethi, Preserver/Sthiti and Destroyer/Pralina and are otherwise known as the Tri Murti: Brahma, Visnu and Civa.

The Balinese have to follow the ethical code of prayer by way of self-surrender and dedication to God, deities, holy men and ancestors. How they should pray is called Kramaning Sembah. From Kramaning Sembah, Panca Sembah is born. Panca means five and Sembah means to pray.

“On Me fix thy mind; to Me be devoted; worship Me; revere Me; thus having disciplined thyself, with Me as thy goal, to Me shalt thou come.” Bhagavad-Gita IX -34.

Before we do the Panca Sembah, we should begin chanting the Gayatri mantra, the mother of Vedas. It is the most powerful mantra in the Vedas and is chanted to absolve us of our sins from stupidity, desire and karma. There is nothing purer than Gayatri on this planet or in heaven. If a person chants the Gayatri mantra, it is equal to reading all the four books of Catur Vedas (Sama Veda, Rig Veda, Atharwa Veda and Yayur Veda). If a person chants the Gayatri mantra three times a day, it will bring the person closer God/Moksah. Chanting the Gayatri mantra also benefits one’s health, beauty, power, vitality, higher consciousness and magnetic aura. It helps us fulfill our aims in life for acquisition of worldly materials and life liberation (Catur Purusha Artha).

For Panca Sembah, Begin With:


First we pray without flowers. At this stage, the meaning and aim of the prayer is established. It is worship to Nirguna Brahman – the intangible celestial being.

Bagavadgitha XII-7 says: “These whose thoughts are set on Me, I immediately deliver from ocean of death-bound existence, O Partha (Arjuna).”

The prayer to Nirguna Brahman is, “Om atma tatwamatma suddha mam swaha.” It is means, “O God, purify our soul our or spirit from your truth.”


The second worship is to Civa Raditya or to the Sun. At this stage, a white flower is held between the hands to call into being the God of existence, with the manifestation of Nirguna Brahman (Sunia) to become a pure ray. In Latin ray means div and in English divine. Therefore, the Balinese worship the sun to receive the pure divine ray of Civa (Saguna Brahman), the sun being the great witness for the Universe.


The third prayer uses the Kewangen or cone-shaped flowers to worship Bhatara (Krya Guna Brahman). Bhatara is the manifestation of the Divine. The word Bhatara comes from Bhatr, which means power for protection. At this stage, the Balinese pray in a temple that manifests the Divine they are worshipping. For example, a temple in a marketplace would most likely be dedicated to Laksmi, the goddess of prosperity.

The various stages of worship remain cyclic – i.e from Saguna Brahman to Nirguna Brahman and back. It represents the structure of Creation/Utpethi.


The fourth are the prayers made with flowers of different colors, where Balinese worship Bhatara/manifestation of Divine for gifts from God. From the silent and high concentration of prayer, we will be able to reach a state of Stithi – a high level of consciousness with Divinity. It is similar to two needlepoints meeting for a fleeting moment in universal time. This is called Anung Swari.


Fifth is the prayer to put an end to the connection between worshipper and God after the rituals have been completed. This is called Pralina. It is the last prayer which is said without flowers. The Balinese also call this Pralinaning Sembah.

“Likewise, of hymns (I am) Brhatsama, of meters (I am) Gayatri; of monfh (I am) Margasirsa and of seasons (I am) the flower bearer (spring).” Bagavadgitha X-35.

Repeat this stanza from the Gayatri Mantra once every morning and night and it will keep you safe from all harm.

“Om bhur bhvah svah

tat savitur varenyam

bhargo devasya dhimahi

dhiyo yo nah pracodayat”

Semoga damai di bumi, damai di hati, damai di langit

Peace on earth, peace in your heart, peace in the sky

1 Comment

  1. […] it expresses worship to the supreme God, who is known through the daily rising of the sun (an article from The Bali Times says that it expresses worship to the sun itself).  Other colored flowers are used in prayer as […]

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