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  The Gods of Bali

All The many gods of Bali-Hinduism are merely realizations or manifestations of the holy rays from the one God, Sanghyang Widhi, the omnipotent Supreme Being. In this universal, all-embracing god, all deities and ancestral spirits achieve a higher unity.

Sanghyang Widhi manifests himself to the Balinese in three main forms: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. This three-in-one embodiment is called the Tri Mukti, the Holy Trinity.

The average Balinese does not utter prayers or make offerings directly to Sanghyang Widhi. Not one of the island's temples, altars, or shrines is dedicated to him. Instead, three-seated temple pedestals enshrine the Tri Mukti.

Before a ceremony temple guardians will decorate the pedestal with bright wraps of colored cloth: red for Brahma, white for Shiva, and black for Vishnu. These three powerfully symbolic colors predominate in all religious processions. In the hierarchy of the divine, below Sanghyang Widhi and the Tri Mukti, is a multitude of manifestations named and classified in great detail.

These protective spirits are closely related to nature. God in his power to create the wind is Dewa Bayu, to create rice he is Dewi Sri, to create the ocean Dewa Baruna. God's gender is indicated by Dewa (male) and Dewi (female).

Most Balinese concentrate their worship on Shiva, God's manifestation as destroyer, since it is he who is most often seen and felt by the people through suffering and sickness. The Balinese believe in taking care of the god first who can destroy you, not the god that creates or preserves you.

Appeasing Shiva, as well as the local dewa, will bring prosperity, happiness, and liberation. Though Shiva is often manifested as Surya, the sun, the Balinese are not pagan sun-worshippers. Balinese religious scholars were livid when a full-page ad appeared in Time featuring a group of kecak dancers on the beach, with a cut-line reading "Bali is still full of half-naked sun-worshippers".

Vishnu, connected with the creation of life, is particularly associated with the irrigation systems that nourish the rice fields and is the most important figure in the kampung. Saraswati is the goddess of learning and knowledge. Shiva's consort is Durga, goddess of death, and ruler of demons, ghosts, and witches. Each god or goddess also has a mount or vehicle for transport. Shiva rides the bull Nandi, while Vishnu flies upon Garuda, a mythical bird.

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