The island of Bali, part of Indonesia, is a tropical paradise for the holiday-maker. The Island of Peace, they call it. It is part of the Indonesian archipelago, a collection of thousands of islands, but it is also much more than that, with an extraordinarly strong artistic and religious tradition that gives it a unique and remarkable cultural identity.
The visitor is struck by the immense numbers of statues, shrines and temples, as well as the friendly nature of the people. Everywhere there is evidence of the strength of their traditions, from the huge monuments in the middle of the roundabouts, to the streets where shop after shop sells carvings in stone or wood, to the shrines that clutter the smallest gardens (and sometimes even the roofs of flats).
A little history
To understand why Bali is so special you need to know a little about its past. In the 5th century A.D. it was an independent and thriving Buddhist kingdom. Six centuries later a Royal marriage with a Hindu princess from neighbouring Java led to the importation of Hindu beliefs, which fused with Buddhism to create the rather unique beliefs that have survived to present day.
A few centuries later and the Muslim religion swept through the rest of Indonesia. Bali became a refuge for the fleeing Hindus, and in particular for all the artists, carvers, musicians, dancers, and stood out alone against the new beliefs that took over the rest of the archipelago.
The arts were greatly patronised by the kings and nobles, but this patronage ended with Dutch colonial rule which saw thousands of the Balinese nobility committing mass suicide - known as puputan - rather than submit to European rule. But Bali's new masters quickly recognised the deep artistic tradition, encouraged it and introduced Western styles and methods. Dutch rule came to a sudden end with the Japanese invasion during the Second World War, and afterwards Bali became a province of an independent Indonesia.
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