Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The Paradise of Bali


What & Where is Bali?
Source : Bali Tourism Board


Bali: An Overview
Bali is an island of incredible mystery, beauty, enchantment, culture, hospitality, variety, and serenity; who wouldn't fall under its irresistible spell?Bali's spectacular beaches, volcanoes, lakes, temples, and terraced rice fields -- combined with its deeply artistic roots and its legendary hospitality -- have made it one of the most visited places on earth. The religion and culture of Bali are unique in the world, and the Balinese have preserved their traditions in spite of the island's growing tourist industry.

While many destinations offer beautiful scenery, few have the variety of Bali, and none has its unique art, culture, and natural hospitality.

Geography
Located 8 degrees south of the equator in the midst of the 8,000 islands of the Indonesian archipelago, Bali measures approximately 140 km by 80 km and has an area of 5,620 square kilometers. Immediately east of Java, Bali is the first of the Sunda Islands. Its mountain range consists mostly of dormant and active volcanoes, with the highest, the active volcano Mount Gunung Agung, reaching 3,142 meters. Stretched to the south and north of these volcanoes, Bali's fertile agricultural lands produce abundant crops of rice.

The thinly populated West is the only non-cultivated area and includes Bali's National Park, a deeply forested area with many varieties of plants and birds. The eastern and northeastern slopes of Gunung Agung are arid, as is the extreme south of the island. The climate of most of the island is hot and humid, with an average temperature of 28 Celcius, but the higher altitudes can be quite cool. The rainy season lasts from October to March, and the humidity fluctuates between 75% and 80% depending on the season. Winds tend to blow from the West during the rainy season and from the East during the 'dry' season.

Balinese Life
The strong cultural identity of Bali is based on a combination of closely related elements that include its unique religion, its language, its castes, its community life, and its art.

Although the official language is Indonesian, Balinese remains the everyday language of the people of the island.

The ancient caste system -- still alive but no longer of any official or formal significance -- divides the Balinese into four distinct castes: Priests ('Brahmana'), Rulers ('Ksatria'), Warriors ('Wesia'), and commoners ('Sudra'). Unlike India, Balinese Hinduism has no 'untouchable' caste. Ninety percent of Balinese are commoners, while the remaining ten percent are divided among the three higher castes.

Numerous ceremonies mark the progression of life in Bali, starting, of course, with birth. Children are treated with respect and gentleness; corporal punishment is rare. In adulthood, marriage becomes compulsory and represents the individual's official entry into the community as an adult. Subsequently, participation in the meetings of the Banjar (village association that manages village affairs) becomes obligatory.

The management of the all-important water supply falls under another essential community organization called the Subak, to which each village landowner belongs. Bali's irrigation system, unique in the world, is managed by these associations, which ensure the fair distribution of water and carry out the traditional ceremonial rites to the gods of agriculture.

No discussion of Bali is complete without mentioning Bali's native inhabitants, the so-called 'Bali Aga'. They are the descendants of the first known inhabitants of Bali, and their customs are of prehistoric origin -- long before the arrival of Hinduism. Now their culture represents a unique combination of their animistic origins and Balinese Hinduism. There are only a few villages of Bali Aga left; the two best known are Tenganan in Karangasem and Trunyan in Kintamani, Bangli.

History
It is believed that Bali's first inhabitants came from China at the beginning of the Iron Age, around 3,000 BC. Some Buddhist inscriptions date from the 9th century AD; it was only in the 11th century that Hindu influence from Java began to make its mark on the island. The 13th century saw the emergence of the Majapahit dynasty that ruled over Java and Bali for the next three centuries.

At the end of this era, chased by the arrival of Islam, the Javanese aristocracy and its priests and artisans fled to Bali. Bali then entered an intense period of cultural development, the main traits of which are to be found today in the caste system, the rituals, and certain artistic styles.

The first Dutch seamen landed in Bali in 1597. Starting in 1800 in the north of Bali, the Dutch began a long and troubled campaign to colonize the island. Their efforts climaxed with the collective suicide of 14 September 1906, when 4,000 Balinese killed themselves rather than capitulate. Dutch colonization lasted until World War II, when they were ousted by Japanese forces.

The Japanese occupation lasted from 1942 to 1945. 0n 17 August 1945, Sukarno, the first President of the Republic of Indonesia, proclaimed independence. After the end of World War II, however, the Dutch tried to re-assert their colonial control over Bali and Indonesia. At the battle of Marga (Bali) in 1946, the Dutch faced a group of 94 Balinese soldiers led by Lt. Col. I Gusti Ngurah Rai, all of whom died refusing to surrender. In 1949, the Dutch finally relinquished their claims on Indonesia.

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