Architectural Orientation and Layout in Bali: A Fusion of the Local Ideas and the Introduced Indian Vastu-Shastra Ideas

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At around the beginning of the Common Era, ancient Indian culture and religions began to spread to the regions of Southeast Asia. Due to the introduce of Islam in later times, only in some of these regions the cultural and religious characteristics from the former Indian influence have survived into the present. Bali is notably one of these regions. On this island, many customs relevant to Hindu thought are still extensively followed today. The Hinduism in Bali owes much to the Javanese influence in history, especially after the Majapahit conquest in the 14th century. In such a context, is it possible to find the Indian influence on Balinese architecture? Or in other words, has the so-called Vastu-Shastra, or the Indian theories of architecture, which is closely related to Hindu thought, ever been assimilated into Balinese architectural tradition? As we can see, the nine-square plan, on which a typical Balinese house compound is usually based, is quite similar to the grid-pattern mandalas used in Vastu-Shastra practice. Other Vastu-Shastra ideas, such as the proportion of the site, the reverence for the northeast direction, the clockwise order, etc., also have their Balinese versions. Conversely, some Balinese architectural ideas of orientation and layout seemingly can only be understood and explained according to the local topographic features of Bali, for example, mountains and the sea. The most significant idea is the spatial scheme of the so-called kaja-kelod and kangin-kaud. Kaja and kelod mean "toward the mountains" and "toward the sea" respectively; while kangin and kaud denote east and west respectively. This spatial scheme is undoubtedly the most crucial and fundamental determinant of architectural orientation and layout in Bali, which is applied to villages, houses, and other types of buildings. Such a spatial scheme appears to have nothing or little to do with the Indian Vastu-Shastra theories. Does it represent a local idea which had already been existing in Bali before the spreading of Hinduism into this island? Regarding the various Balinese architectural ideas of orientation and layout, do they represent a fusion of the already existing local ideas and the introduced ideas derived from Vastu-Shastra? Can we differentiated between the two kinds of ideas that might have been coexisting for centuries? This paper attempts to discuss and answer these questions mentioned above by comparing the architectural ideas followed in the Hindu Balinese tradition with those in the non-Hindu Bali Aga tradition as well as those in the Indian Vastu-Shastra tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
JournalNusantara: An International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec 1


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