Many people have visited the tropical island of Bali, one of the world’s better known tourist destinations. Bali is just one island in a long chain of islands known as the Indonesian Archipelago, the fourth largest nation in the world.
Indonesia is made up of 13 677 islands, over 3000 of which are inhabited. Bali is one of the more densely populated islands (almost 5 million people), in an area of only 5 500 sq km (a fraction smaller than Tasmania). Bali lies immediately east of Java, separated by a narrow strait (Bali Strait) less than 3 km wide. It has a number of volcanoes, some still active.
The majority of Indonesia’s population of over 200 million people are Muslim. In contrast, Bali has maintained its Hindu faith. The majority of Bali’s inhabitants are descendants of the great Majapahit kingdom of Java, migrating to Bali around the 16th Century to escape the wave of Islam that was rapidly spreading through central Java.
Bali’s history stretches even further back in time. The cultural heritage of Bali has evolved over a millennium and has fascinated anthropologists and historians for many generations.
At the core of their religion is the belief that the island was given to the Balinese by the gods. Therefore it’s regarded as the sacred duty of all Balinese to pay homage to the gods with festivals, processions and dances. The island is dotted with shrines and temples, the most famous being the temple of Besakih, built in the 11th Century on the slopes of Gunung Agung (Mount Agung).
In addition to religion, family and community obligations play a large part in Balinese life. Within each community there is a fixed social hierarchy based on the Hindu caste system. Each member of the community has a role to play, putting the community as a whole ahead of the individual.
Bali today is a mixture of modern and traditional life. The deeply spiritual faith of the Hindu Balinese is very evident, with an enormous amount of time and energy volunteered in the daily practice of their religion. Nevertheless, a number of old customs have been lost in more recent times. As the standard of living in most parts of Bali continues to advance, an increase in educational standards is leading to a better understanding of the Hindu Bali religion and associated traditions and customs.
The Balinese welcome tourists, despite the differences in attitude and lifestyle, and are generally tolerant and good natured towards what they see as the somewhat peculiar and intrusive mannerisms of tourists. But anyone who shows a willingness to better understand life in Bali (without barging in with blinkers on!) will be a welcome guest in any home.