“Bali” Island Paradise

Posted: June 5, 2011 in Sarana Prasarana

Bali was inhabited by about 2000 BC by Austronesian peoples who migrated originally from Taiwan through Maritime Southeast Asia. Culturally and linguistically, the Balinese are thus closely related to the peoples of the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines, and Oceania. Stone tools dating from this time have been found near the village of Cekik in the island’s west.

In ancient Bali, nine Hindu sects existed, namely Pasupata, Bhairawa, Siwa Shidanta, Waisnawa, Bodha, Brahma, Resi, Sora and Ganapatya. Each sect revered a specific deity as its personal Godhead.

Balinese culture was strongly influenced by Indian and Chinese, and particularly Hindu culture, beginning around the 1st century AD. The name Bali dwipa (“Bali island”) has been discovered from various inscriptions, including the Blanjong pillar inscription written by Sri Kesari Warmadewa in 914 AD and mentioning “Walidwipa”. It was during this time that the complex irrigation system subak was developed to grow rice. Some religious and cultural traditions still in existence today can be traced back to this period. The Hindu Majapahit Empire (1293–1520 AD) on eastern Java founded a Balinese colony in 1343. When the empire declined, there was an exodus of intellectuals, artists, priests, and musicians from Java to Bali in the 15th century.

 
Tanah Lot, one of the major temples in Bali

The first European contact with Bali is thought to have been made in 1585 when a Portuguese ship foundered off the Bukit Peninsula and left a few Portuguese in the service of Dewa Agung. In 1597 the Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman arrived at Bali and, with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, the stage was set for colonial control two and a half centuries later when Dutch control expanded across the Indonesian archipelago throughout the second half of the nineteenth century (see Dutch East Indies). Dutch political and economic control over Bali began in the 1840s on the island’s north coast, when the Dutch pitted various distrustful Balinese realms against each other. In the late 1890s, struggles between Balinese kingdoms in the island’s south were exploited by the Dutch to increase their control.

The Dutch mounted large naval and ground assaults at the Sanur region in 1906 and were met by the thousands of members of the royal family and their followers who fought against the superior Dutch force in a suicidal puputan defensive assault rather than face the humiliation of surrender. Despite Dutch demands for surrender, an estimated 1,000 Balinese marched to their death against the invaders. In the Dutch intervention in Bali (1908), a similar massacre occurred in the face of a Dutch assault in Klungkung. Afterwards the Dutch governors were able to exercise administrative control over the island, but local control over religion and culture generally remained intact. Dutch rule over Bali came later and was never as well established as in other parts of Indonesia such as Java and Maluku.

In the 1930s, anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and artists Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies, and musicologist Colin McPhee created a western image of Bali as “an enchanted land of aesthetes at peace with themselves and nature”, and western tourism first developed on the island.

Balinese dancers show for tourists, Ubud.

Imperial Japan occupied Bali during World War II, during which time a Balinese military officer, Gusti Ngurah Rai, formed a Balinese ‘freedom army’. The lack of institutional changes from the time of Dutch rule however, and the harshness of war requisitions made Japanese rule little better than the Dutch one. Following Japan’s Pacific surrender in August 1945, the Dutch promptly returned to Indonesia, including Bali, immediately to reinstate their pre-war colonial administration. This was resisted by the Balinese rebels now using Japanese weapons. On 20 November 1946, the Battle of Marga was fought in Tabanan in central Bali. Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai, by then 29 years old, finally rallied his forces in east Bali at Marga Rana, where they made a suicide attack on the heavily armed Dutch. The Balinese battalion was entirely wiped out, breaking the last thread of Balinese military resistance. In 1946 the Dutch constituted Bali as one of the 13 administrative districts of the newly proclaimed State of East Indonesia, a rival state to the Republic of Indonesia which was proclaimed and headed by Sukarno and Hatta. Bali was included in the “Republic of the United States of Indonesia” when the Netherlands recognised Indonesian independence on 29 December 1949.

The 1963 eruption of Mount Agung killed thousands, created economic havoc and forced many displaced Balinese to be transmigrated to other parts of Indonesia. Mirroring the widening of social divisions across Indonesia in the 1950s and early 1960s, Bali saw conflict between supporters of the traditional caste system, and those rejecting these traditional values.

The island of Bali lies 3.2 km (2 mi) east of Java, and is approximately 8 degrees south of the equator. Bali and Java are separated by the Bali Strait. East to west, the island is approximately 153 km (95 mi) wide and spans approximately 112 km (69 mi) north to south; its land area is 5,632 km².

Bali’s central mountains include several peaks over 3,000 metres in elevation. The highest is Mount Agung (3,142 m), known as the “mother mountain” which is an active volcano. Mountains range from centre to the eastern side, with Mount Agung the easternmost peak. Bali’s volcanic nature has contributed to its exceptional fertility and its tall mountain ranges provide the high rainfall that supports the highly productive agriculture sector. South of the mountains is a broad steadily descending area where most of Bali’s large rice crop is grown. The northern side of the mountains slopes more steeply to the sea and is the main coffee producing area of the island, along with rice, vegetables and cattle. The longest river, Ayung River, flows approximately 75 km.

The island is surrounded by coral reefs. Beaches in the south tend to have white sand while those in the north and west have black sand. Bali has no major waterways, although the Ho River is navigable by small sampan boats. Black sand beaches between Pasut and Klatingdukuh are being developed for tourism, but apart from the seaside temple of Tanah Lot, they are not yet used for significant tourism.

The largest city is the provincial capital, Denpasar, near the southern coast. Its population is around 491,500(2002). Bali’s second-largest city is the old colonial capital, Singaraja, which is located on the north coast and is home to around 100,000 people. Other important cities include the beach resort, Kuta, which is practically part of Denpasar’s urban area; and Ubud, which is north of Denpasar, and is known as the island’s cultural centre.

Three small islands lie to the immediate south east and all are administratively part of the Klungkung regency of Bali: Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. These islands are separated from Bali by the Badung Strait.

To the east, the Lombok Strait separates Bali from Lombok and marks the biogeographical division between the fauna of the Indomalayan ecozone and the distinctly different fauna of Australasia. The transition is known as the Wallace Line, named after Alfred Russel Wallace, who first proposed a transition zone between these two major biomes. When sea levels dropped during the Pleistocene ice age, Bali was connected to Java and Sumatra and to the mainland of Asia and shared the Asian fauna, but the deep water of the Lombok Strait continued to keep Lombok and the Lesser Sunda archipelago isolated.

The Mother Temple of Besakih, one of Bali’s most significant Hindu temples.

A religious procession

Unlike most of Muslim-majority Indonesia, about 93.18% of Bali’s population adheres to Balinese Hinduism, formed as a combination of existing local beliefs and Hindu influences from mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia. Minority religions include Islam (4.79%), Christianity (1.38%), and Buddhism (0.64%). These figures do not include immigrants from other parts of Indonesia.

When Islam surpassed Hinduism in Java (16th century), Bali became a refuge for many Hindus. Balinese Hinduism is an amalgam in which gods and demigods are worshipped together with Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, indigenous agricultural deities and sacred places. Religion as it is practiced in Bali is a composite belief system that embraces not only theology, philosophy, and mythology, but ancestor worship, animism and magic. It pervades nearly every aspect of traditional life. Caste is observed, though less strictly than in India. With an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines, Bali is known as the “Island of a Thousand Puras”, or “Island of the Gods”.

Balinese Hinduism has roots in Indian Hinduism and in Buddhism, and adopted the animistic traditions of the indigenous people. This influence strengthened the belief that the gods and goddesses are present in all things. Every element of nature, therefore, possesses its own power, which reflects the power of the gods. A rock, tree, dagger, or woven cloth is a potential home for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil. Balinese Hinduism is deeply interwoven with art and ritual. Ritualizing states of self-control are a notable feature of religious expression among the people, who for this reason have become famous for their graceful and decorous behavior.

Apart from the majority of Balinese Hindus, there also exist Chinese immigrants whose traditions have melded with that of the locals. As a result, these Sino-Balinese not only embrace their original religion, which is a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but also find a way to harmonize it with the local traditions. Hence, it is not uncommon to find local Sino-Balinese during the local temple’s odalan. Moreover, Balinese Hindu priests are invited to perform rites alongside a Chinese priest in the event of the death of a Sino-Balinese. Nevertheless, the Sino-Balinese claim to embrace Buddhism for administrative purposes, such as their Identity Cards.

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