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Here are some common courtesies that you can observe in order to not offend the Balinese in their temples of worship. Unfortunately, far too many tourists ignore the basic practices of common decency and give unnecessary offence for understandable reasons that are easily avoidable. Here are 10 simple rules to follow when visiting a Balinese temple.
1. Cover your bare legs and shoulders.
The easiest way to conform is to take a sarong with you when visiting a temple and wear a t-shirt that covers your shoulders. If you don’t have a sarong, many temples will provide one for a nominal fee. This isn’t a money-making exercise, the locals are simply trying to help you observe the basic courtesies.
2. Modest clothing is respected.
While this shouldn’t have to be said, it’s worth noting that entering a temple wearing a bikini or shirtless is very offensive.
3. Take off your shoes.
Not only is this an act of respect but also one of simple hygiene. Don’t go tramping through a temple tracking mud and dirt on your shoes, sandals or even dirty feet.
4. Be careful where you point your feet.
Be mindful of the way you position your feet when sitting inside a temple. Your feet should never face the holy objects or shrines. Sit cross-legged or kneel with your feet facing backwards.
5. Respect the ceremonies.
All Balinese temples are used for daily worship and ceremonies. If you find one with people conducting a ceremony try and be as least disruptive as possible. They are not there for your entertainment — they are worshipping or celebrating according to local customs and observances. Ask before taking photographs.
6. Speak quietly.
It is the decent thing to do to respect the place of worship of others not to make unnecessary noise or talk loudly among yourselves, no matter how excited you may be finding yourself in such remarkable surroundings.
7. Don’t sit higher than a priest.
If you do find yourself at a temple where a ceremony is occurring where a priest (to use a common term) is sitting, don’t try and get a better vantage point by trying to sit on the steps or elevated position above them.
8. Don’t use flash photography.
This is an increasing problem the world over, so try not to become part of the problem. You may think that flash photography in low-light conditions may help you get the perfect shot, but really you are just degrading the artefacts (it’s not just your flash, it’s the thousands of flashes that harm) or taking away from the other guests (and you are a guest) who are enjoying the experience.
9. Turn your phone notifications off.
I have been inside temples just after dawn, with a handful of Balinese praying, when the electronic pinging of some inconsiderate tourist’s phone has interrupted a spiritual event. There is nothing quite like listening to the rhythmic ting of a priest leading the chanting at a ceremony — only to hear someone’s ringtone shatter the moment. Please, turn your phone off.
10. A note on local customs.
Local custom doesn’t allow pregnant women, women who have given birth in the previous 6 weeks, or women who are menstruating into temples. Please understand that this is not my personal opinion — I am simply relaying the local customs so you are aware — whether you agree or not is up to your own conscience and values.
11. Watching street processions.
Don’t be afraid of admiring the ceremonies that you will hopefully encounter while holidaying in Bali. There are always processions through the streets (even in the busy tourist areas) for funerals, weddings and spiritual observances. Having a large group of bystanders for a public procession is a mark of respect and gives honour to those involved, so join in by watching — and yes, taking photos is perfectly acceptable as long as you not being intrusive.
If you think this list needs additions, better explanations, or there is something I have missed or you disagree with, feel free to leave a comment at the end.
There is nothing wrong with watching public displays of communal spiritual worship and is a mark of respect just by watching. For public processions, the bigger the crowd, the more honour for the recipients!