Bali, Indonesia is an island blessed with idyllic scenery, beautiful crafts and ancient artistic customs prevalent in everyday life.
Since it’s also an international destination for getting tattoos, many people are surprised to learn that tattooing is not part of traditional Balinese culture.
What Are Balinese Tattoos?
Tattoo designs that are recognizable references to Balinese culture. Here’s our definition.
How did Balinese tattoos become a thing?
Some combination of these words might be an accurate answer: globalization, tourism, timing, artistic, spiritual, Balinese, creative, tradition, demand, tattoos are cool.
Here’s what we came up with:
Around the time when Bali’s international airport opened in the late 1960’s, foreign travelers in Bali willing to pay for tattoos would have presented a new economic opportunity for skilled artisans.
Copying traditional Balinese art was likely the original Bali tattoo trend.
Editor’s note: Please correct this if it’s wrong. Here and anywhere! We mean that wholeheartedly.
POPULAR BALINESE TATTOO DESIGNS
Our collection of Balinese tattoos includes…
- a few individual Balinese words and symbols
- popular phrases written in Balinese
- tattoos made from iconic Balinese art which is unique to Bali only
- tattoos of Balinese Hindu Gods, many popularized by Indian art
- tattoo designs based on illustrations of mythological tales that are known beyond Bali and may have originated elsewhere in Indonesia or greater Southeast Asia
Created with either electric tattoo machines or handmade tattoo techniques, Balinese tattoos are now in high demand!
Balinese Om Symbol Tattoos
The Balinese Om (or Ongkara) is the symbol of God, creation and the universe.
The most sacred Hindu symbol in Bali and a display of devotion, you can find the Balinese Om symbol at temples, on entrance ways and on flags which are prevalent for the Galungan holiday.
Its shape is taller and more ornate than the Sanskrit symbol of holy trinity.
Tattoo 1: Bali Om Tattoo by Big Brothers Tattoo Studio | Tattoo 2: Sanskrit om and Balinese om symbol tattoos by Star Angels | Tattoo 3: Ongkara tattoo by Exclusive Ink | Tattoo 4: Balinese om symbol tattoo on woman’s back by Conscious Arts Tattoo | 5: Om symbol mandala by Kings Tattoo Ubud
Balinese Script Tattoos
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Also called Balinese writing, the characters used as letters, numbers and symbols which comprise the Balinese alphabet to write words and sentences in Balinese were derived from Sanskrit.
Balinese language is entirely different from the national language “Bahasa Indonesia” (Indonesian), which uses the English alphabet. Most tourists and expats in Bali defer to learning basic Indonesian and not Balinese for these reasons and more.
Indonesian is easier to learn and more widely used than Balinese language. We’ve included Bahasa in the table for additional comparison and translation clarity.
For some background information about this one, here are snippets from a blogspot post written by agungjayack in 2016, given in English via Google Translate:
Ornaments of Karang Daun, are ideas / concepts from a bunch of leaves of various sizes, then distilated into leaf coral forms, which are combined with tightness, exposure and roughness.
Ornament Karang Batu, is an idea / concept taken from the base of the earth is a stone with various forms, then in the stilir become rock corals which are equipped with tightness and pressure.
Ornament Karang Bentulu, is an idea / concept of giant creatures that have one eye and large, then distilated into bentulu coral forms and combined with tightness, pepatran.
Garuda is the bird-like deity with a strong work ethic and good morals.
From Left: (1) Garuda action figure-style tattoo in progress by Hendro Dewisura (2) Original Garuda x Iron Man color tattoo by Hendro Dewisura (3) Black and gray Garuda leg tattoo by Ibud Nyoman, Balinesia Tattoo (4) Garuda Line Tattoo by Bali Bagus Tattoo 99 (5) Colorful new school Garuda tattoo, Artful Ink Bali (6) Freehand Garuda tattoo by Juxe Ache, Bali Global Tattoo (7) Garuda head tattoo by Pa’udy Bali, Paradise Ink (8) Garuda and Visnu backpiece by Pa’Udy Bali, Paradise Ink (9) Artistic Garuda tattoo by Blur Tattoo (10) Paksi Balinese Garuda tattoo shared by Gustut Ananniti, Ubud 69 Tattoo (11) Balinese Paksi tattoo by Kasna Tattoo 73 (12) Jatayu Balinese tattoo by Imagination Tattoo Bali
Garuda has massive wings extending from a chiseled human abdomen, talons and the beak of an eagle. Garuda is a national symbol for Indonesia and the name of its major airline. You might see different interpretations of him across religions or thanks to artistic license.
In Bali, Garuda is also called Paksi (right??). There is an ambitiously large statue of Garuda and Wisnu in progress at Bali’s GWK Cultural Park, and patung kayu (wood carvings) of Garuda are popular here.
Two other less known Hindu bird figures which make great tattoo designs are Jatayu and Sampati (or Sempati in Indonesian), sons of Arjuna. Jatayu looks a lot like Garuda, while Sampati looks like an eagle – legend has it, these two flew as high as the sun, and Sampati lost his wings as a child in the heroic act of protecting little brother Jatayu from being burned by the sun’s flames).
Naga are serpent spirits and guardians of the immortality elixir.
From Left: (1) Naga Tattoo by Bali Ant (2) Naga Tattoo by Endry Dharma, Star Angels (3) Naga by Sanur Ink Tattoo (4) Naga black and red tattoo by Svara Tattoo (5) Balinese dragon shared by Gustut Ananniti, Ubud 69 Tattoo (6) Balinese dragon tattoo by Gede Sony, Masons Ink
Some illustrations look like snakes while others are more like Chinese-style dragons or ancient sea serpents. Naga are very much associated with water. Slippery creatures, they can exhibit negative characteristics and are known to fight with Garuda (inspiration for a snake vs. eagle tattoo with an oriental twist?).
Nagini is the female form of the word Naga (and the name of Lord Voldemort’s snake in the Harry Potter stories).
Balinese Dancer Tattoos
A Balinese dancer is a beautiful subject for a tattooed portrait.
Left to Right: (1) Legong Dancer by Shotonk Tattoos (2) Balinese Dancer and Barong by Paudy Bali, Paradise Ink (3) Balinese Dancer (artist unknown) (4) Color tattoo of Balinese Dancer, PJS Tattoo (5) Male Balinese Dancer, Also PJS Tattoo (6) Topeng Sidakarya by Tridatu Tattoo (7&8) Also by Tridatu Tattoo (9) Dancer with expressive eyes by Adi Samsara (10) Balinese dancing couple by Lionk
Our favorite tattoos of Balinese dancers capture the detail of the clothing and the performer’s calculated gestures with their eyes and hands which are characteristic of Balinese dances for religious ceremonies and storytelling.
For the sacred Barong dance in Bali, dancers wear masks to become Barong and Rangda in a choreographed battle that represents good versus evil.
Barong Mask Tattoos
Barong is the guardian spirit of Bali.
A very iconic mythical creature with large eyes, Barong is described as looking like a lion, a tiger, a bear or a dragon, and is usually red and gold.
Barong tattoos by:
(1) Ipin Latattu for Indigo Tattoo Parlour in 2017
(2) Nice Art Tattoo
(3) Made at Paradise Ink by Balinese tattoo master Paudy Bali
(4) Jimmy Toge, Two Guns Tattoo Bali
(5) Conscious Arts Tattoo Ubud
(6) Ipin Latattu for Indigo Tattoo Parlour in 2017
(7) Made at Paradise Ink by Balinese tattoo master Paudy Bali
(8) Endry Dharma for Star Angels
Rangda Mask Tattoos
Rangda is an evil Balinese witch spirit with fangs and a long serrated tongue.
The elderly widow is the queen of the Leyaks – demonical cannibalistic flying heads. In some parts of Bali, she is also seen as a protector.
Rangda designs and painted carved masks are often mistaken for Barong.
What is the difference between Barong and Rangda?
Design-wise, Rangda’s tongue is a giveaway. Visually, that’s the most obvious feature by which she can always be recognized (unless she’s disguised in another form).
Barong and Randga Tattoos
Although Barong is Bali’s most popular tattoo design, getting tattoos of Barong and Rangda together has also become common.
The pair makes a great Balinese sleeve composition. #Balance
Side by side or on opposite sides of the body are other placement ideas for opposite tattoos.
Alternatively, you can go for a creative modern tattoo such as a “Barong/Rangda” half-Barong half-Rangda mask.
This clever ambigram tattoo design looks like Barong from one direction and like Rangda from another perspective.
Lord Ganesh (Dewa Ganesha) has the head of an elephant and the body of a man with four arms.
One of the most well known Hindu Gods, Ganesh represents beginnings and is called a “remover of obstacles.”
From Left: (1) Black and grey Ganesha portrait with red accents by Putu Johnet, Gods of Ink (2) Dancing blue Ganesha, Star Angels (3) Ganesha head, Buddy Marley (4) Ganesha with Om Symbol by Eka Sudarma Putra, Seven and Nine Tattoo (5) Ganesha sleeve shared by Bali Shadow Tattoo (6) Young Ganesha by Jim Bim (RIP) (7) Ganesha half sleeve by Goerat Tattoo (8) Ganesh tattoo on chest by Shua Epidemic, Luxury Ink
Hanuman (or Anoman) the Hindu monkey god symbolizes power and devotion.
For whatever reason, Lord Hanuman is not as popular in Bali for tattoo designs compared to Garuda, Ganesh and Barong.
From Left: (1) Lord Hanoman tattoo by Prima, MA TATTOO BALI (2) Hanuman tattoo by Ibud Nyoman, Balinesia Tattoo Studio II (3) Color tattoo by Ubud cultura tattoo shop (4) Old school style tattoo by July Arthaya, Bold and Bright
BALINESE TATTOO STYLE
Balinese designs can be tattooed in ANY style.
We see a lot of tattoos that look like Balinese stone and wood carvings – striking tattoos of Hindu spirits with floral embellishment and heavy shading for dimension and texture.
This tattoo of a wooden Barong mask by Ipin is crazy realistic, we can’t believe he doesn’t do this type of work often.
Owner of GRACE INK BALI, famous Balinese tattooist Pa’udy has worked at many local tattoo studios.
Son Angga now follows in his footsteps working on the team at Grace Ink in downtown Kuta, and he’s not the only Bali tattoo artist learning from Pa’udy (we’ve seen this Garuda backpiece design and other original Pa’udy tattoo art redone again and again).
Balinese tattoos span all tattoo styles from simple line work… to traditional old school tattoos… to artistic colorful sleeves.
That’s the beauty of making up something new and the gift of creative license.
Hope so! Natural beauty, equatorial weather and island idealism lure foreigners to Bali for leisure. But its prevalent art, rich culture and warm hospitality can be credited with bringing out the #blessed hashtag brag, inspiring creative growth, charming visitors into things like getting permanent Balinese tattoos or carving out space in the heart to hold dear a part of Bali years on, even enchanting some travelers to stay indefinitely.
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Puzzled About Placement?
Consider the placement of your Balinese tattoo carefully. This is a topic on which we need more authoritative opinions and evidence before commenting as guides. Sorry!
As you can see, tourists put Balinese tattoos on just about every part of the body. While it seems that’s generally acceptable, we’ve heard that tattoos on feet and left hands imply offense to whatever is portrayed rather than admiration.
Backs seem to be a safe position for Balinese tattoos. That placement doesn’t seem to trigger controversy or impact the meaning of a tattoo. Honoring something with a backpiece makes sense because it’s a huge canvas; although if you’re inclined to tattoos of demons and bad omens, we say put that shit behind you.
Don’t expect all artists and Bali tattoo studio staff to know everything about Balinese tattoos. Many artists come from around Indonesia and other parts of the world.
Wherever you choose to get tattoos in the world, always research your tattoo ideas with various sources before getting inked.
Updates: 18 Aug 2020, 23 Jun 2019, 25 Nov 2017, 15 Aug 2017
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