Indonesia is well known for being the largest Muslim country in the world but Bali is dominated by people of the Hindu religion. During the 13th century a Hindu empire controlled both the island of Java and Bali but with the arrival of Islam, the Javanese aristocracy and its priests and artisans were eventually forced to give way and 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 island covers 2,243 square miles (5,808 square kilometers), an area slightly larger than the state of Delaware. Balinese society is divided into four castes, or social classes: Brahmana, Satria, Wesia, and Sudra. When starting a conversation with a person of high social status, one bows. With children and people lower on the social ladder, one simply nods. The Balinese speak an Austronesian language whose closest relative is Sasak, the language of Lombok. Although now they increasingly use Latin letters, their traditional script was a distinct version of the Javanese alphabet. The Balinese language has a system of politeness levels. The High (tinggi) language is spoken only to Brahmana priests. The Middle (madia) or Refined (halus) level is used when addressing people of high social status, older people, or one's parents. The Low (rendah) or Ordinary (biasa) level serves for talking to those one considers of equal or inferior status.
Our initial destination in Bali was Ubud a remarkable town in the middle of the island of Bali. For more than a century, it has been the island's centre for fine arts, dance and music. Once a haven for backpackers, artists and bohemians, the backpackers now mostly head for the beaches of Kuta leaving a more upscale town for art collectors and connoisseurs. Ubud is arguably the best place to use as a base if you're visiting Bali; if you're looking for culture, comfort, nature and inspiration. Ubud is surrounded by most of the things that bring people to Bali -- scenic rice fields, small villages, art and craft communities, ancient temples, palaces, rivers, cheap accommodation and unique luxury hotels. And it's central location makes it easy to get from Ubud to the mountains, beaches, and major towns.
Ubud is noted as one of the more traditional towns in terms of maintaining the tenets and manifold observances of Agama Hindu Bali. Everywhere you look, every single day, you will see ceremony, ritual and sacred offerings. All of this is carried out in Ubud with a level of devout attention and meticulous care that is rarely exceeded elsewhere. This applies equally to the young generation as it does to their parents and grandparents. A common sight around Ubud are traditional walled compounds (Uma) inhabited by a group of brothers and their respective families. Within it, grouped around a central courtyard, are separate buildings for cooking, storing rice, keeping pigs, and sleeping. Each compound has a shrine (Sanggah). A thatched pavilion (Bale) serves for meetings and ceremonies. A walled-in pavilion (Bale Daja) stores family heirlooms. Traditionally rivers serve for toilet and bathing functions.
The Balinese eat their meals individually, quickly, and at no fixed times, snacking very frequently. Everyday food consists of rice and vegetable side dishes, sometimes with a bit of chicken, fish, tofu (bean curd), or tempeh (fermented bean curd), and seasoned with chili sauce (sambel) made fresh daily. Many dishes require basa genep, a standard spice mixture composed of sea salt, pepper, chili, garlic, shrimp paste, ginger, and other ingredients.
|The traditional performing arts of the Balinese are an essential part of religious ceremonies, as well as entertainment. The numerous types of Balinese musical ensembles are variants of the gamelan orchestra, for which Indonesia is famous. It consists of drums, flutes, and bronze instruments (or substitutes of iron or bamboo). A vast array of dances are performed. The most famous include the Baris dance, depicting warriors; the Legong dance, depicting dueling princesses; and the Barong, in which a mythical lion, symbol of the good, combats an evil witch. Several types of drama are practiced. These include the wayang kulit shadow play, and various forms of masked and unmasked theater (topeng, wayang wong, and gambuh). The Kecak Dance or Monkey Chant contrary to popular belief is not traditional at all but was created in 1930 by Wayan Limbak worked with German painter Walter Spiesand is based upon movements and themes in the traditional sanghyang exorcism ritual and portions of the Ramayana. Limbak, a trained Balinese dancer who lived to the age of 106 helped popularize Kecak and shape Bali's image as an exotic cultural paradise by taking his dance troupe around the world.|