Balinese traditional house

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A bale meten (sleeping pavilion) within a Balinese house compound.

Balinese traditional house refers to the traditional vernacular house of Balinese people in Bali, Indonesia. The Balinese traditional house follows a strict ancient architectural guide which is a product of a blend of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, fused with Austronesian animism, resulting in a house that is "in harmony" with the law of the cosmos of Balinese Hinduism.[1]

Orientation with the universe[edit]

As most traditional houses in Indonesia, spatial orientation and hierarchy are crucial considerations in Balinese architecture. The concept is based on the Hindu dharma principle: every objects in the universe is conceived as having an ideal location; this must be correctly aligned at all time in order to achieve harmony with the universe, and thus moksha – the point of liberation where a human achieves a perfect state of being – can be achieved. The placement of objects in Balinese architecture naturally plays an important role to achieve this.[1]

The principle of Balinese architecture — such as the proper size, location, and alignment of building types — is written in the Asta Kosala Kosali. The Asta Kosala Kosali are eight guidelines for architectural designs originally inscribed in ancient Javanese on a lontar (palm-leaf manuscript). According to the Asta Kosala Kosali, the universe is divided in three: buhr (underworld, realm of the demons), buwah (human realm), and swah (heaven, realm of the gods). This cosmic division is reflected in the geography of Bali: the central mountainous area (especially Mount Agung) is seen as the abode of the gods, while the sea is associated with malevolent spirits; the in between coastal plains and foothills represent the human realm.[1]

This hierarchy of realm is reflected in the Balinese cardinal direction. There are two main cardinal directions of Balinese universe: kaja and kelod. Kaja means "to the mountain" (Mount Agung) and refers to anything that is higher or sacred. Kelod means "to the sea" (abode of the demons) and indicates low and profane places. As most of Bali's population live to the south of Mount Agung, the main cardinal direction corresponds to a north-south axis running between the central mountain range (Mount Agung in particular) and the sea; however this can be different with the northern Bali Aga. The secondary directions of Balinese cardinal direction are kangin (where the sun rises, East) and kauh (where the sun sets, West), in this instance kangin is associated with life, and therefore sacred, while the kauh is identified with death and is considered profane. Thus the northeast (kaja kangin) is regarded as the most auspicious direction where family shrines are built, while the southwest (kelod kauh) is the most impure. This cardinal direction concept plays important roles in organizing many aspect of Balinese culture[2] including a Balinese house layout.[1]

Other orientation concept is also used. The Balinese compass (nawa-sanga) stems from the four cardinal direction, their intermediaries and the central area. Each point is linked to a particular Hindu deity and has symbolic ritual associations, such as corresponding numbers, colors, magical syllables, and mystical attributes.[1]

The symbolism also includes metaphorical representation of the compound and its various structures in terms of the human body. Thus, the family shrine is identified with the head; the sleeping quarters and pavilion for receiving guests, with the arms; the central courtyard with the navel; the hearth with the sexual organs; the kitchen and lumbung with legs and feet; and the refuse pit in the backyard with the anus.[1] The Traditional Balinese House museum in Tabanan is a good example of a typical compound.

The house compound[edit]

A simplest type of Balinese house compound. Legend: 1. Natah 2. Sanggah Kemulan 3. Bale daja or meten 4. Bale dangin or sikepat 5. Bale dauh or tiang sanga 6. Bale delod or sekenam 7. Paon 8. Lumbung 9. a pigsty 10. Lawang 11. Aling-aling 12. Sanggah pengijeng karang

Similar with Javanese houses, Balinese house is built within a compound surrounded by walls of whitewashed mud or brick, depending on the wealth of the owner. Different with the Javanese residential compound however, the Balinese residential compound is dominated with pavilions (bale) which surround a central courtyard (natah). These pavilions acted as rooms in the western equivalent of domestic houses, each pavilions has its own function. Different architectural elements within the compound are laid out according to Balinese conception of the sacred and profane within the cardinal points.[1]

Traditionally, the Balinese house compound appears to lack the adequate provision for sleeping, eating and bathing of the modern Western culture. The sleeping pavilion, which is reserved for the head of the family, is the only pavilion that is enclosed with walls on all four sides. The rest of the pavilions in a Balinese house compound are wall-less, the pavilion where the rest of the family member sleep or perform other activities.

Each pavilion in a Balinese house compound is identified with a certain cardinal direction, body organ, color, and deity; depending on its placement.[3]

When a son of the family marries, his wife usually moves into his compound, so a compound is frequently a place for extended families, each with their own sleeping quarters, but otherwise sharing the facilities. Domestic activities take place outside or in the pavilion. Traditionally there is no bathing facility in a Balinese compound as people take their bath in public bathing pools.[4]

Central courtyard[edit]

The central courtyard (natah), located in the center, is identified metaphorically with the navel. It is basically a packed earth central courtyard which is always kept free of vegetation except for a few ornamental flowers or decorative kamboja trees.[1] It is the symbolic center of the domestic microcosm.


A Balinese house compound contains multiple pavilions (bale). These pavilions are similar to the concept of rooms in Western-style houses: each pavilion has its own function. The Balinese named their pavilions with the number of posts used in their construction. A four-posts pavilion is known as bale sakepat (Balinese "four-post pavilion"), a six-posts is known as bale sakenam ("six-post pavilion"), and so on.[5]} The Balinese also named the pavilion according to its position within the compound: a pavilion in the east (kangin) side of the compound is known as bale dangin ("east pavilion"), and so on.

Pavilions are usually wall-less. They are built over a low plinth. The pavilions are topped with clay pantiles or thatched roof, which is supported by a timber or bamboo frame depending on the wealth of the owner. If walls are erected for the pavilions, they usually acted as a screen to provide privacy and not a load-bearing structure.[3]

The most important pavilion in a Balinese house compound is the pavilion of the head of the household, known as bale daja ("north pavilion"), because it is located on the north (kaja) side of the house compound. It is also known as bale meten (Balinese "sleeping pavilion"). The pavilion is the main sleeping room of the head of the household. It is often the only enclosed or walled pavilion within the house compound, and so it is also used to store family heirlooms. Bale daja is also the only pavilion with a pointed pyramidal roof, others being hip-roofed. Pyramidal roof is considered as sacred, and is only reserved for sacred structure e.g. the family shrines. Being the only place where privacy is available, the bale daja is also used by the newlyweds; during such occasion, the head of the family will move out temporarily.

Other pavilions in a Balinese house compound is the bale sakepat ("four post pavilion") or bale dangin ("east pavilion"), a four-posted pavilion situated in the east side of the house compound. Bale sakepat is traditionally reserved for the head of the other extended families living in the compound (usually brothers) or for holding important ceremonies (e.g. marriage or tooth-filing).[6] The bale tiang sanga ("nine post pavilion") or bale dauh ("west pavilion") is a pavilion for receiving guests, positioned in the west (kauh) side of the compound. The bale sakenam ("six post pavilion") or bale delod ("south pavilion") is a utilitarian pavilion usually used by women to do their activities e.g. weaving; this is located at the south (kelod) side of the compound.[3]

Family shrine[edit]

Several house shrines belonging to a Balinese house compound.

The family shrine area is known as the pamerajan (from praja, "family"). As the most sacred area of the Balinese house compound, the pamerajan is positioned at the most auspicious northeast kaja-kangin corner of a Balinese house compound. This most sacred corner of the Balinese house compound is metaphorically identified with the head.[7] The pamerajan is always enclosed by a stone fence.

The pamerajan contains several shrines dedicated to the ancestor of the family as well as several gods of the Balinese Hindu pantheon. The most important shrine is the sanggah kemulan, which is dedicated to the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. As the most important shrine, the sanggah kemulan is positioned at the northeast kaja-kangin corner of the pamerajan. The sanggah kemulan is shaped like a miniature wooden house raised on pillars, containing three compartments dedicated to each of the Trimurti gods, and standing on a brick or sandstone column. In Balinese Hinduism, Brahma is associated with male ancestors of the household while Vishnu is associated with the female ancestors of the household. When a Balinese man marries, he should build one of these shrines.[8]}

Other shrines in the pamerajan are shrines dedicated to other Hindu gods e.g. sun god Surya, goddess of the rice Sridevi or Ibu Pertiwi, or to Saraswati.[8]

The pamerajan is not the only place for shrines. Other shrines, e.g. the sanggah pengijeng karang ("house-protecting shrine"), is traditionally positioned in the northwest (kaja-kauh) side of the house compound, to the west of the main pavilion.[1]

Utilitarian structures[edit]

Distinctive shaped lumbung (rice barn) of southern Bali.

Utilitarian structures found in a Balinese compound are the kitchen (paon), rice barn (lumbung) and sometimes a pigsty. The utilitarian structures is usually situated in the southeast (kelod-kangin) direction, which is personified with the legs and feet.[1]

The kitchen is typically situated in the southern end of the courtyard, the hearth is identified with sexual organs.[1] The kitchen is situated in a pavilion which is constructed with the simplest structural method. The kitchen is usually built with a gable roof, which is an easier construction method compared with the hip-roof construction.[9]

The lumbung, despite its utilitarian function, has the most elaborate structure in a Balinese house compound. The lumbung is associated with Sridevi, the goddess of rice, a similar phenomenon that can be found all across Indonesia. A Balinese lumbung is used to store rice. It is a stilted wooden structure with its wooden posts standing on foundation stones instead of masonry plinths. A wooden platform is often constructed to be used as a resting platform at night or a workplace by day. On top of this platform is the storage itself, built in a manner of an attic. The storage is roofed with thatched material. The shape of the roof varies place to place; the southern Balinese employs a hull-shaped thatched roof with horseshoe-shaped gable ends for their lumbung. This distinctive lumbung roof has been replicated for many modern bungalow resorts in Bali.[9]

House gates[edit]

Gate houses marks the entrance to a private compound in this Balinese traditional village of Penglipuran.

The house gate (lawang) – the entrance to a compound – is ideally placed at the most inauspicious side of the compound, usually in the west wall towards the south end (kauh-kelod). It is identified with the anus.[1] Sometimes this entrance is flanked with gate shrines (apit lawang). A small screen wall (aling-aling) is built directly behind the opening, screening off the interior and preventing evil spirits to enter the house compound.[1] These house gates can be constructed with a simple alang-alang grass thatch or heavily ornate, the degree of elaboration reflects the economic status of the owner of the house.[6]

Hierarchy of a house compound[edit]

A scene within a Balinese walled residential compound belonged to a common man.

The caste and ranks system in the Balinese Hindu society affected the domestic architecture of the Balinese. The Balinese society is divided into four: the three noble castes (the "triwangsa", which is divided into the royalty and warriors (satriya), the priests (brahmana), and the merchants (wesia)) and the common man (shudra).[10]

The domestic architecture of the lowest caste of the Balinese society, the common man, shows the most basic arrangement of Balinese houses. The house compound of a common man is known as the pekarangan ("enclosure"). This type of compound consists of an open courtyard (natah) which is surrounded by the most basic pavilion e.g. a sleeping pavilion (bale meten or daja), a rice barn, and a kitchen. Like all other buildings in Bali, the main (family) shrine of the compound is positioned in the most auspicious direction, the north-east (kaja-kangin).[10]

The domestic architecture of the triwangsa is principally similar with the common man, but it is more complex in composition, in proportion, and in decoration. The simplest type of the triwangsa house compound is named jero, which is very similar with pekarangan but with a higher decree of decoration. The triwangsa caste is also allowed to build another type of pavilion. A bale gede ("grand pavilion") is a large pavilion supported by 12 posts which is used to entertain guests [1] or for enacting important family rites of passage.[11] A bale dwaja ("standard/flag pavilion") is only entitled to a family from the satriya caste. A bale lembu-gajah ("cow-elephant pavilion") is traditionally reserved for Hindu or Buddhist priest. Other type of bale found in the compound of the member of the triwangsa is the bale bengong ("contemplating pavilion"), a pleasure pavilion used for resting or chatting, usually placed in the middle of a garden ("taman").

Other type of house compound is the griya, a palace-like compound entitled to a Brahman who becomes a priest (pedanda). The griya compound consists of multiple pavilion-surrounded courtyards (natah) instead of a single courtyard like in the pekarangan. These multiple courtyards create its own subdivision within the extensive house compound. The subdivision located in the kaja-kangin-northeast direction is always the most auspicious location where the most important of the family shrines are located.[4]

The Balinese royal family is entitled to live in a puri ("palace"). It is subdivided into multiple courtyards similar with the griya compound. Each of the courtyard-subdivisions corresponds to a specific royal function.

All Balinese house compound, from the most basic to the royal compound, follows the same spatial principle in which the northeast direction of the kaja-kangin is always considered as the most auspicious corner. The consistency of the spatial principle means that all of the Balinese domestic architecture are harmoniously linked with each other.[4]


In Balinese culture, the first day of the construction of a new house compound is a crucial matter. Before construction begins, the prospective house owner will consult an expert to choose the most auspicious day in the Balinese calendar to start construction. Ritual will also be enacted just before construction; offerings are placed in the foundations with the hope that the construction will go smoothly.[1]

The architect (Balinese undagi) follows rules written in the Asta Kosala Kosali. The architect will take a series of measurements from the body of the head of the household. These measurements are recorded on a length of a bamboo, which will serves as a kind of yardstick to create the layout of the house compound. The basic units are a depa (fathom), hasta (cubit), and musti (shaftment). Other variation are depa media (vertical version of depa), sedemak (hand), tampak (width of closed fist, with thumb hid) and lengkat (width between a tip of a thumb and the tip of the forefinger if stretched).[1] The kaja-kangin concept is also used in constructing Balinese buildings. While erecting a pavilion, the post located on the kaja-kangin corner is always the one that is placed more attention to. The kaja-kangin post is the first post to be erected, the other posts follow in a clockwise direction. This construction in clockwise principle can be found all over Indonesia. The kaja-kangin post is also given offerings, which is placed in an offering platform attached near the top of the kaja-kangin post.[4]

Finally, after the completion of a house construction, a final cleansing ritual called the melaspas must be enacted in order to prepare the new house compound for occupation.[1]


Modernization brings changes in the architecture of Balinese traditional house compound. For example, a bale daja ("north pavilion") – the most prestigious pavilion in a compound – traditionally doesn't have a toilet, consist only one door, windows with narrow latticework, and a short overhang; have been found in some modernized compound to be completed with one or more additional uses of a toilet, additional side doors and glass-windows. A modern working space and a room for watching television may also be added into the bale daja or into other bale in the compound. Despite the modern transformation, traditional value system is still highly regarded in practice.[12]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Tjahjono 1998, pp. 36-7.
  2. ^ Nordholt 2010, p. 15.
  3. ^ a b c Davison 2014, p. 15.
  4. ^ a b c d Davison 2014, p. 21.
  5. ^ Davison 2003, p. 16.
  6. ^ a b Auger 2005, p. 29.
  7. ^ Gunawan Tjahjono 1998, pp. 36-7.
  8. ^ a b Davison 2003, p. 14.
  9. ^ a b Davison 2003, p. 17.
  10. ^ a b Davison 2014, pp. 8-9.
  11. ^ Davison 2014, pp. 18.
  12. ^ Oka Saraswati 2005, pp. 35-6.

Works cited[edit]

  • Auger, Timothy, ed. (2005). Eyewitness Travel Guides - Bali & Lombok. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited. ISBN 0751368709.
  • Davison, Julian (2003). Introduction to Balinese Architecture. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing Limited. ISBN 9780794600716.
  • Davison, Julian (August 5, 2014). Balinese Architecture. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781462914227.
  • Tjahjono, Gunawan, ed. (1998). Architecture. Indonesian Heritage. 6. Singapore: Archipelago Press. ISBN 981-3018-30-5.
  • Nordholt, H.G.C. Schulte (2010). The Spell of Power: A History of Balinese Politics, 1650-1940. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 9789004253759.
  • Oka Saraswati, A.A. (2008). "TRANSFORMASI ARSITEKTUR BALE DAJA" [Bale daja architectural transformation]. DIMENSI - Journal of Architecture and Built Environment (in Indonesian). Surabaya: Institute of Research and Community Outreach Petra Christian University. 36 (1). Retrieved 29 October 2015.

External links[edit]