reputation as being one of the most beautiful and diverse tourist spots
in Asia, Bali attracts almost three million visitors per year from
Consistently rated as one of the worlds’s most
highly acclaimed island destinations by both Condé Naste and Travel
& Leisure magazines. Bali is a treasure trove of beauty,
and shopping not to be missed! Geographically Bali lies between the
island of Java and Lombok, and is one of more than 17,000 islands that
make up the Indonesia archipelago. Bali is small, stretching
approximately 140 km from east to west and 80 km from north to south.
Slightly off center, and running east to west are s string of volcanic
mountains. The tallest is Gunung Agung, which last erupted in 1963, and
is 3,142 m at its highest point.
Located just 8 degrees south of
the equator, Bali boats a tropical climate with just two seasons (wet
and dry) and an average annual temperature of around 28 degrees
Celsius. The rich volcanic soil and healthy monsoon season make those
islands extremely fertile and a range of crops are grown throughout the
year. The wide and gently sloping southern regions play host to Bali’s
famed rice terraces, among some of the most spectacular in the world.
In the hilly, northern coastal regions, the main produce is coffee,
copra, spices, vegetables, rice and cattle.
The Balinese people
have strong spiritual roots and despite the large influx of tourists
over the years, their culture is still very much alive. The main
religion is Agama Hindu Dharma, which arrived in Bali with the spread
of Hinduism through Sumatra and Java during the 11th century. Although
originally from India, the Balinese religion is a unique bled of Hindu,
Buddhist, Javanese and ancient indigenous beliefs, with customs that
are very different from the traditional form of Hinduism practiced in
India today. With the arrival of Islam in neighboring Java during the
15th century, a large number of courtiers, artists, musicians and
craftsmen fled to Bali, creating an artistic renaissance.
creative, the Balinese have traditionally used their talents for
religious purposes and most of the beautiful work to be seen here has
been inspired by stories from the Ramayana and other Hindu epics. The
incredibly colorful cremation pyres and the everyday offerings to the
Gods, placed inside every home, shop and business are made with an eye
for detail and beauty.The majority of Bali’s 4,200,000 peoples live,
for the most part, in tight village communities with large extended
families. The largest tows are the capital Denpasar, and Singaraja in
the north. The main tourist area is Kuta, situated near the airport.
This small sleepy village became a major attraction during the tourist
boom of the 70’s, because of its famed white sandy beaches, the surf,
and stunning sunsets.
Today, Kuta is a major hustling and
bustling resort town, with hundreds of hotels, bars, restaurants and
shops. Those in search of a little peace and quite tend to head for the
more tranquil resorts areas of Sanur and Candi Dasa, on the east coast,
or Lovina in the north. Nusa Dua, another tourist enclave in the
southern most peninsula of the island, caters to the more up market
crowd and is home to many of the bigger 5 – stars hotels.
Super-exclusive “ 6 – stars “ resorts such as the Four Seasons and Aman
Resorts also the island from Jimbaran Beach to Ubud. Ubud, in the hilly
region of Gianyar, has also blossomed as a tourist attraction and is
now considered to be the artistic and cultural center of Bali.
Although there are no artifacts or record dating back to the Stone Age,
it is believed that the first settlers on Bali migrated from the China
around 2500 B.C. by the bronze ere, around 300 B.C. an advanced culture
developed in Bali. The complex system of irrigation and rice
production, still in use today, was established around this time.
is vague for the first few centuries. A number of Hindu artifacts have
been found dating back to the 1st century yet it appears that the main
religion, around 500 A.D. was predominantly Buddhist in influence. A
Chinese scholar, Yi -Tsing, in 670 A.D. reported, on a trip to India,
that he had visited a Buddhist country called Bali.
until the 11th century that Bali received the first strong influx of
Hindu and Javanese cultures. With the death of his father around 1011
A.D. the Balinese Prince, Airlanggha, moved to East Java and set about
uniting it under one principality. Having succeeded, he then appointed
his brother, Anak Wungsu, as ruler of Bali. During the ensuing period
there was a reciprocation of political and artistic ideas. The old
Javanese traits and customs adopted by the island.
dearth of Airlanggha, in the middle of the 11th century. Bali enjoyed a
period of autonomy. However, this proved to short lived, as in 1284 the
East Javanese King Kertanegara, conquered Bali and ruled over it from
Java. In 1292, Kertanegara was murdered and Bali took the opportunity
to liberate itself once again. However, in 1343, Bali was brought back
under Javanese control by its defeat at hands of Gajah Mada, a General
on the last of the great Hindu – Javanese empires, the Majapahit. With
the spread of Islam throughout Sumatra and Java during the 16th
century, the Majapahit Empire began to collapse and a large exodus of
aristocracy, priests, artist and artisans to Bali ensued.
a while Bali flourished and following centuries were considered the
Golden Age of Bali’s cultural history. The principality of Gelgel, near
Klungkung, became a major center for the Arts, and Bali became the
major power of the region, taking control;of neighboring Lombok and
parts of East Java.
The European Influence
The first Dutch seamen set foot on Bali in 1597, yet it wasn’t until
the 1800’s that the Dutch showed an interest in colonizing the island.
In 1846, having had large areas of Indonesia under their control since
the 1700’s, the Dutch government sent troops into northern Bali. In
1894, the Dutch forces sided with the Sasak people of Lombok to defeat
their Balinese rulers. By 1911, all the Balinese principalities had
either been defeated in battle, or had capitulated, leaving the whole
island under Dutch control.
After World War I, Indonesia
Nationalist sentiment was rising and in 1928, Bahasa Indonesia was
declared the official National Language. During World War II, the Dutch
were expelled by the Japanese, who had occupied Indonesia from 1942 –
1945. After the Japanese defeat, the Dutch tried to regain control of
their former colonies, but on August 17, 1945, Indonesia was declared
independent by its first president, Sukarno. After four years of
fighting and strong criticism from the international community, the
Dutch Government finally ceded and, in 1949, Indonesia was recognized
and an Independent country.
Life in Bali is very communal with the organization of villages,
farming and even the creative arts being decided by the community. The
local government it responsible for school, clinics, hospital and
roads, but all other aspects of life are placed in the hands of two
traditional committees, whose roots in Balinese culture stretch back
The first, Subak, concerns the production of rice
and organizes the complex irrigation system. Everyone who owns a Sawah
(or Padi field) must join their local Subak, which then ensure that
every member gets his fair distribution of irrigation water.
Traditionally, the head of Subak has his Sawah at he very bottom of the
hill, so that the water has to pass through every other Sawah before
reaching his own.
The other community organization is the
Banjar, which arranges all village festival, marriage ceremonies and
cremation, as well as a form of community service known as Gotong
Royong. Most villages have at least one Banjar and all males have
joined one when they marry. Banjar, on average have a membership of
between 50 up to 100 families and each Banjar has its own meeting hall
called the Bale Banjar. As well as being used for regular meeting, the
bale (pavilion) is where the local gamelan orchestras and drama groups
The Balinese are Hindu yes their religion is very different from that
of the Indian variety. They do have a caste system, but there are no
untouchables and occupations are not governed by caste. In fact, the
only thing that reflects the caste system is the language which has
three tiers; 95% of all the Balinese are Hindu Dharma, and speak low or
everyday Balinese with each other, middle Balinese is used for talking
to strangers, at formal occasions or to people of the higher Ksatriya
caste, High Balinese is used when talking to the highest class, the
Brahmana, or to a Pedanda (Hindu Priest). It may sound complicated, but
most of the word at the low and medium levels are the same, whereas
high Balinese is a mixture of Middle Balinese and Kawi, the ancient
The Balinese worship the Hindu Trinity
Brahma, Wisnu and Shiva, who are seen as manifestations of the Supreme
God Sang Hyang Widhi, other Indian Gods like Ganesha (the elephant
headed God) also often appear, but more commonly, one will see shrines
to the many Gods and Spirits that are uniquely Balinese. Balinese
believe strongly in magic and the power of spirits, and much of their
religion is based upon this.
They believe that good spirits
dwell in the mountains and that the seas are home to demons and ogres.
Most villages have at lest three main temples; The Pura Puseh or
“Temple of Origin”, faces the mountains and is dedicated to the village
founders; The Pura Desa or “Village Temple “, which is normally found
in the centre and is dedicated to the welfare of the village; and The
Pura Dalem, aligned with the sea and dedicated to the spirits of the
dead. Aside from these “ Village Temples “, almost every house has its
own shire and you can also find monuments dedicated to the spirits of
agriculture, art and all other aspects of life, some temples, Pura
Besakih for example, on the slopes of Mount Agung, are considered
especially important and people from all over Bali travel to worship
Offerings play a significant role in Balinese life as
they appease the spirits and thus bring prosperity and good health to
the family. Every day small offering trays (Canang Sari) containing
symbolic food, flower, cigarettes and money, are places on shires, in
temples outside houses and shops, and even at dangerous crossroads.
Festivals are other great occasion for appeasing the Gods. The women
bear huge, beautifully arranged, pyramids of food, fruit and flower on
their head while the men might conduct a blood sacrifice through a
cockfight. There are traditional dances and music, the Gods are invited
to come down to join in the festivities. The festivals are usually very
exciting occasions and well worth observing if you are in the areas. A
crucial thing to remember, if you wish to join in celebrations or enter
a temple, is there are a number of rules that have to be respected.