Living in Bali, we’re blessed daily by the island’s breathtaking vistas, intricate temples, and the heartwarming smiles of locals. But have you ever pondered why Bali is named Bali?

As a long-term Bali expat, I found myself intrigued by this question, and set out to discover the answer.

Our story starts with ancient chronicles and age-old legends.

According to the ‘Purana Balidwipa’, a sacred text from the 15th century, the name ‘Bali’ was derived from the name of a mighty king, ‘Mahabali’. The legend of King Mahabali is deeply rooted in Hindu mythology. He was an asura (a being with powerful abilities) who, due to his benevolent rule and dedication to righteousness, gained the praise of his subjects and even the gods. However, his growing power was seen as a threat by the Devas (gods), which led to the god Vishnu taking an avatar (Vamana), tricking Mahabali, and sending him down to rule the netherworld.

But before Mahabali descended, he made one last request: he wanted to visit his people once every year. The Devas granted this request, and it’s believed that Bali is the place where Mahabali ascends to every year. The people of Bali celebrate his return in a festival called Galungan, marking the victory of Dharma (righteousness) over Adharma (evil).

Why is Bali Named Bali - Pura Besakih Temple | Bali Kit Mount Agung

On the other hand, some argue that the term ‘Bali’ originates from the old Javanese language. In old Javanese, ‘Bali’ translates to ‘offering’, which might reflect the island’s long history of spiritual practices and rituals. Balinese Hinduism, which is the predominant religion on the island, is deeply connected to offerings and sacrifices. These offerings, known locally as ‘canang sari’, are beautifully crafted and offered daily to the gods in a grand display of devotion. It’s common to see these intricate creations adorning temples, homes, and even sidewalks. The prevalence of this ritual across the island could suggest why Bali was thus named.

Moreover, in the Sundanese and Balinese languages, ‘Bali’ also means ‘home‘ or ‘return’, possibly encapsulating the comforting, homecoming feeling experienced by locals and visitors alike when they set foot on this lush, tropical island.

Whether the name comes from the legend of a great king, the spiritual ritual of offerings, or the simple notion of ‘home’, these narratives share a common thread – they all denote a strong sense of culture, community, and spirituality. These are the elements that make Bali more than just a tropical paradise. They make Bali a place where the mundane and the divine intertwine in everyday life, a place where every name and every corner has a story to tell.

Oldest temple in Bali - Why is Bali Named Bali - Pura Besakih Temple | Bali Kit

As expats, we’ve chosen Bali not just for its undeniable beauty, but also for the rich tapestry of culture and history that it offers. Understanding the origins of the island’s name provides a deeper insight into the spiritual heart of Bali and its people. It’s this essence, the vibrant blend of mythology, spirituality, and culture, that truly defines Bali and sets it apart from any other place in the world.

In the end, whether it’s the land of King Mahabali, a tribute to the beautiful spiritual offerings, or our ‘home’, Bali continues to bewitch and enchant us with its profound depth and charm.

And that’s the tale behind the name of our beautiful island home – Bali. Remember, every time you utter ‘Bali’, you’re not just referring to a place; you’re invoking a history, a culture, and a way of life that’s as enchanting as the word itself.


The Bali Guide