Each evening before goes to bed, some locals make a simple ritual to protect themselves and their family as they sleep.
In some village somewhere in the jungle, for example, they lock the doors that are the sole entrance and exit, not to deter criminals, but to block something less visible. But more macabre.
Well, it is said that this Hindu-majority island in the world’s most populous Muslim nation is inhabited, by spirits that can infest your home as well as bring misfortune on its occupants.
Unless, that is, something is built according to ancient design rules that intercept them.
And, maybe, stop them.
Some Balinese people fear specific demons or spirits, and they are concerned with the invisible, toxic influence they represent.
Keeping this energy from flowing into a home involves everything from the size, position, layout, and orientation of buildings, as well as the presence of shrines, offerings, and artwork, and even the distinctive walls and gates that surround them.
Bali’s most famous devil is Rangda, queen of the witches, who is engaged in an eternal battle with Barong, a benevolent spirit honored by the island’s popular and colorful barong dances.
History and popular belief apart, a few Balinese design principles are related to feng shui, the Chinese system that organizes interior and exterior spaces to create harmony between humans and their surroundings.
Almost every home is built according to the design principle know as “asta kosala kosali”, which is oriented to the cardinal directions and dictates how each structure within a home compound should be used.
Many Balinese believe humans and their environment are part of one cosmic consciousness, so a precise balance in the design of a home maintains a balance between positive and negative forces.
More simply, according to this principle, If you don’t disturb the others, the others won’t disturb you.
Another design feature that keeps negative energy at bay are the variety of barriers around traditional homes to block the spirits believed to inhabit the island’s jungles, rivers, graveyards, and even crossroads.
These design elements are called “pelinggih penunggun coral” and, although this is an ancient concept, it has remained popular, with many new homes in Bali adopting it.
The first protective layer built into the homes attempts to confuse demons, the next to pacify them, and the last to obstruct them.
Well, imagine you are a demon approaching a Balinese home.
You will meet at first a stone or brick perimeter walls about 1,80 m tall, called “tembok penyengker” that create the impression of a fortress.
If you are a tenacious spirit, yomight locate the sole, narrow entrance to these buildings, called an angkul-angkul, but in front of this gate you’ll find another gift in the form of woven coconut-leaf bowls, called “canang sari”, filled with fresh flower petals, and often placed next to a small Hindu shrine.
Should you be unpacified by the offering and persist to reach the home, you’ll need to ascend a small staircase and pass through the angkul-angkul. If this gate is open, you will collide with a final obstacle, an “aling-aling”, a half-wall placed back from the gateway.
In any case, Bali’s demons can only move in straight lines, so if you reach this point, the aling-aling is impenetrable.
Decorated by intricately carved Hindu deities and motifs, these barriers can also be found in Balinese temples, as well as guesthouses, hotels and restaurants.
Most tourists to Bali see them at some point, usually without recognizing their role.
Moreover, if the island is filled by resorts, hotels, and villas positioned to maximize ocean views, most curious travelers might notice that most local homes actually turn away from those same beautiful vistas.
And this not a coincidence, as in Balinese lore, demons inhabit the underworld, or “kelod”, in the seaward direction, so many locals prefer to built their traditional homes toward “kaja”, the island’s volcanoes, where their ancestors reside.
The urge to pacify spirits and demons extends also to active measures, in the form of ritual offerings and performances, including barong dances or calonarang dramas.
According to popular belief, in local culture the universe and all its contents are made up of one force, sakti, that takes many forms, including humans, volcanoes and invisible spiritual beings.
Rather than being feared of demons, Balinese people respect the threat they represent and they are particularly wary when outside their homes at night, or near certain types of locations, crossroads and graveyards in particular, that containing great supernatural power. Not by chance, often offerings are placed in small shrines at these locations.
Should the shadowy entities that lurk in these sites then stalk a human, their goal is to get home, where design principles can protect them.
After all, according to Balinese people, outside of a Balinese temple, there is no more secure place than a traditional Balinese home!
Images from web – Google Research