Travels

Bali Through the Ages

Bali is a tropical island, eight degrees south of the Equator, in the heart of the Indonesian archipelago. Because of its rich history, culture and arts – dances, sculptures and paintings – beautiful beaches, nature and tropical climate, Bali is thought to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Due to its many temples and pagodas it’s also known as “The Island of the thousand temples”. Its capital is Denpasar and its moto “Bali Dwipa Jaya” – “The Island of success Bali”.

The island is 153 kilometers long and 112 km wide, giving a total area of 5633 km2. Its highest point is Mount Agung (3 142 m), which is actually an active volcano; last known to erupt in March 1963. The main cities on the island are Singaradja – a port in the west part and of course the capital Denpasar. The city of Ubud, west of Denpasar, is considered as the cultural center of Bali with its many art shops, museums and galleries.

As compared to the Islamic Indonesia, Bali stands out with its ethnos, culture and religion. The population of the island is around three million, ninety three percent of which are Hindi and the rest are Muslim. The interesting fact is that, unlike India, the cow is not a sacred animal here. The most important economic feature in Bali is the agriculture and rice in particular but a substantial number of the people are also fishermen. The cities of Kuta, Sanur, Djibaran, Seminiak and the renovated Nusa Dua are important tourist attractions.

The people of Bali are descendants of tribes, which come to the Indonesian archipelago from Asia around 25th century BC. Around the 1st century BC the Hindi come from India and mark the end of the prehistoric era. In 5th century AC an independent Buddhist kingdom is established on the island until the 11th century AC when Bali is conquered by the Hindi kingdom of Madjapahit from the island of Java through a royal marriage between the king of Bali Udajana and the princess of east Java Mahendradata. This union joined Hinduism and Budhism, mixing in the primitive animistic beliefs and personifications of ancestors by deities.

Europeans first discover Bali in 1597 when the Portuguese ship of the Dutch adventurer Cornelius de Houtman anchored on the shores of Bukit. After several consecutive wars (1846-1849) the Dutch finally conquer the island. During World War II it’s invaded by Japan and becomes part of the Republic of East Indonesia, later known as United Indonesia. In 1965 the supporters of the communist party are brutally murdered after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government. On October 12th 2002 a terrorist attack kills 202 people, mostly tourists in the town of Kuta.

Today, Bali is known for its Bali dances, scluptures, paintings and wood carving. The Hindu New Year, curiously, is in the spring, and is called “Nyepi”. It’s marked with silence and everyone, including tourists, remain at their homes or hotels. The Bali people believe that the left hand is impure so they use only their right for major things like eating, waving or giving/receiving things. The most widely used languages on the island are Bali and Indonesian, although most of sculpturestion speaks English because of the many tourists. After all, Bali received the Best Island Travel and Leisure award for 2010 given out by the US magazine Travel and Leisure

Two Temples, Two Reasons to Further Religious Tourism in Bali

Religious tourism is one of the major reasons why Bali is continuously receiving a growing number of international arrivals – making Bali hotels definitely busy with thronging backpackers who came to visit the religious sites in the island. There are so many temples in Bali which are hailed not only because of its religious value, but also due to its splendid architectural designs.

One of the most interesting temple in Bali is the Mother Temple of Besakih. Located in the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung, it is hailed as the most important temple in Indonesia. It is a sacred place for worshipers but is a major spectacle for mere tourists.

Stories say that the Mother Temple of Besakih was built during the 14th century. It is the holiest among the temples of Agama Hindu Dharma in the island. It is also hailed as miraculous because during the Mount Agung eruption in 1963, the temple was inexplicably spared by the flowing lava – leaving it safe and standing strong.

The Mother Temple of Besakih consists of a vast complex made up of 22 temples settled on an area fronting a breathtaking mountain view. During early mornings, it produces a spectacular view as its spires seemingly illuminate – reflecting the rays of the rising sun. The temple also has numerous courtyards and brick gateways which lead to the main structure in the complex, the Pura Penataran Agung.

It is indeed a magnificent temple and is undeniably an interesting destination for religious tourists and mere sightseers. But if there is another temple in Bali which could compete with the beauty of the Mother Temple of Besakih and drive tourists off the comfort of their Bali luxury hotels, it would be the Tanah Lot.

The Purah Tanah Lot is a sea temple and is also one of the most significant religious structures in Indonesia. Sitting gloriously in a large rocky island formed by the waves and winds off the shores of the beautiful Denpasar Beach, it is also known as the ‘Temple of Land in the Middle of the Sea.’

Legends say that the Purah Tanah Lot was founded by Nirartha, a 16th century priest who is one of the last priests to come to Bali from Java. Now, it is believed that it is being guarded by the poisonous sea snakes residing in the caves beneath the whole structure.

Only the terraces of the temple are accessible and from it, and a very breathtaking view of the sunset can be obtained. It soothes the souls and calms the tired minds. The view of the vast ocean actually compensates to the fact that tourists cannot enter the main temple. And even though some parts of the rock in which the Purah Tanah Lot stands are already artificial, this beautiful attraction still exudes the same charm that it did years ago.

The Mother Temple of Besakih and the Purah Tanah Lot are only two of the beautiful attractions in Bali. So foreigners need not to think twice.

Bali History and Culture

While there is debate about Bali’s prehistoric history, there is ample proof of a well developed Megalithic culture. Nevertheless, good documentation about Balinese culture does not begin to emerge until the 8th or 9th century A.D. At this point the Balinese had already begun to practice various forms of Buddhism imported from India and there is evidence of Hindu influences as well. From the 10th to 11th century, Hinduism continued to merge with local customs. Through intermarriage, Javanese culture began to permeate royal court life and later spread to the villages.

The Hindu Majapahit Empire of Java conquered Bali in the 14th century. (The Majapahit imposed a caste system on Bali with themselves on top and the original inhabitants of the island on the bottom.) By the beginning of the 16th century Bali became a sanctuary for Hindus forced out of an increasingly Islamicized Java. As the Majapahit Empire crumbled, there was a huge influx into Bali of Javanese noblemen and craftsmen.

Indonesia’s wealth in spices, precious stones, gold and other exotic items have attracted traders for centuries. The islands in the Indonesian Archipelago were natural way stations on the trade routes between the Middle East, India and China. The Balinese were never an active seafaring people. It was the Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Malays, Javanese and Bunganese who plied the trade routes. Later came the Portuguese, English and Dutch.

Bali has no naturally protected harbors and the coastline is notoriously perilous. Many coastal villages profited routinely by plundering shipwrecks. One such incident provoked the Dutch invasion of 1906, which was relatively late in their 300 years of colonial rule in Indonesia. Despite the bloody conquest, Balinese culture was relatively undisturbed for most of the years of Dutch occupation, partly because Singaraja, in the north of the island, was the only place that ships could anchor in relative safety and travel in the interior of the island was difficult. Ships from all over South East Asia stopped to exchange goods in Singaraja but for the most part, before the advent of airplanes, only the inhabitants of the north end of the island were directly exposed to foreign influences. Nevertheless, the Dutch did exploit the island vigorously, siphoning off essential resources through an efficient and clever system that used the local aristocracy to do their bidding. After the Dutch, Bali endured an era of Japanese occupation during World War Two and then became part of an independent Indonesia. Under Presidents Sukarno and Suharto political loyalties continued to shift the balance of power. Technically the aristocracy and the Brahmins (priestly caste) no longer “rule” but in practice they still enjoy a large measure of power and privilege.

The arrival, in the last few decades, of tourists, export industries and technology, have had many easily observed effects. The Balinese usually dress in Western cloths, they send faxes, roar down the streets on motorbikes and watch TV. But such changes can be misleading.

Beneath the Surface

Balinese reality is vastly more inclusive than Western consciousness allows. The Balinese have a word, “sekala,” for things which you can perceive with your sense of vision, hearing, smell or touch. There is another word, “niskala”, for “that which cannot be sensed directly, but which can only be felt within.” In the West, we only recognize sekala phenomena as “real”, but in Bali they make no distinction between the two.

Mystical forces, both malevolent and benevolent, occupy a central role in Balinese life. The principal Hindu-Balinese rituals and ceremonies are concerned with maintaining the balance between positive and negative forces. Demons and witches, called leyaks, are not creatures of fairy tales but dangerous and common menaces against which everyone must be on guard at all times. Objects and places which are considered inanimate in the West may be charged with mystical power and therefore very much alive to the Balinese. For this reason, they make offerings to many objects, including the tools used to make silver beads and the building in which the silversmiths work. Directions, numbers and dates can be charged with “kasaktian,” which means “magical power.” Every activity must be carried out with careful consideration and the Balinese often consult religious authorities for propitious dates for important events. The Balinese also accept dual realities, something may be true, but not true, and in certain circumstances they reject linear time.

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