By Jeremy Khalil on July 22, 2015


Guests of InterContinental Bali Resort can enrich their stay and delve into the Balinese culture with the help of the Resort’s unique brand concept ‘In the Know.’ The resort’s savvy ‘In the Know’ team is proud to offer insider destination tips such as a visit to a traditional Balinese house compound, which will provide a fascinating insight into the island’s vernacular architecture.

Balinese architecture has a cosmic significance that is much more important than physical material. This cosmic order is made up of three parts – the world of Gods, the world of humans and the world of demons – and is practically applied with a system of orientation determined by the direction of Gunung Agung – the sacred mountain and dwelling place of the Hindu Gods. The revered direction towards the mountain, and God, is called kaja. The less sacred and even impure, seaward direction, away from the holy mountain, is called kelod. The second-most sacred direction, east, from which the sun rises, is called kangin. Everyone sleeps with his or her head towards either kaja or kangin.

Each Balinese compound, within its confining walls, typically houses two or three generations of families. The entrance, called angkul angkul, is often a high pillared portico with solid, carved wooden doors; behind it is the aling aling, a short screen wall designed to deflect troublesome and malign influences because evil spirits have great difficulty in turning corners.


Inside the compound, the open-sided raised pavilions all face inward, forming a circle around the inner courtyard; the residents spend most of their time on the shady verandahs of the main buildings. Analogous to the human body the compound has a head, the family temple, always positioned within its own walled yard in the kaja or mountain side of the compound, which is northeast in southern Bali. The torso of the body is the courtyard; complete with its arms, which are the sleeping and living quarters. The centre of the courtyard – the navel of the body – is considered to be a very sacred place, so in this area a shrine may be constructed, where the family will place offerings to the spirit guardian of the land. The kitchen and rice granary represent the legs and the feet, the gates are the genitals, and the anus is symbolised by the backyard refuge tip, situated ‘downstream’ from the kitchen in the kelod or seaward part of the compound. There may also be an area outside of the compound allocated to pig pens, coconut and fruit trees, and enjoyed by free ranging ducks and chickens. This is where guests might also find the well. This section of land is separated by a low wall, marking the border between the human quarters and the animal quarters.

The occupation of the various pavilions by the family members relates to the different phases of incarnated life. The youth and children’s sleeping quarters is in the bale daja or bale meten. As adults they will move to the pavilion known as the bale dauh, and then with old age to the bale dangin, the ceremonial pavilion nearest to the family temple where their souls will be enshrined after death.

The ceremonial pavilion is the most important pavilion in the compound and is used to celebrate rites of passage. This is where the grandparents sleep, where life rites such as tooth filing and weddings take place, and where lying in state and death rituals occur. Inside is a raised wooden palette set between six, nine or twelve columns, dependent on the financial status of the family. The platform serves as a bed, an altar on which to place offerings, and a seat for the priest. Normally built of wood and brick with a thatched or tiled roof and open on two sides, this may be the only building in the compound that is still constructed in the traditional style.

The only closed space is the sleeping pavilion or bale meten, which may be a large eight-post structure on a high base. This is the procreation building and a newly married couple can expect to be locked in here for as long as three days. The bale dauh is normally an open pavilion with one bedroom; serving a variety of purposes, it is used as a gathering place and for the reception of guests. The working and guest pavilion, for relatives and children, is known as the bale sakenam and varies in size and number according to family needs.

If guests wish to visit a traditional Balinese house compound, they can arrange this through the concierge at InterContinental Bali Resort.



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