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Introduction to Bali
 
Short History The Balinese Religion Etiquette


General Information
Bali has approximately 3,500,000 inhabitants of which probably 80% are Hindu Balinese. The remaining having come from neighboring islands of Java, Lombok, Madura in search of employment.

Bali lies just 8.4° (375km) south of the equator. As such the weather is tropical - consistently hot and sunny. Days are almost universally 12 hours long with sunrise is approximately 6:10 a.m.; sunset at 6:30 p.m. depending on the time of year. The daytime temperature averages between 27° C to 32° C ( 80° F to 90° F) in the southern lowlands (the main tourist venues). Humidity is quite high - a sticky 75% so often times it feels much hotter. Average temperature in the mountains is between 20° C to 25° C (70° F to 80° F). At night the mountains can get downright chilly - so bring a sweater if you plan to overnight there.

Bali’s tropical monsoon climate has two distinct seasons; dry (May to September) and wet (October to April). Monsoon refers to the wind, not the rain. However even in the wet monsoon there’s a better than even chance that it will be sunny for a good part of the day. Weather wise May, June and July are generally considered the best.

A Short History
Bali was first settled by Chinese immigrants sometime around 2500 BC and after working on it for 2,000 years the complex irrigation system that is still the focal point of Balinese agriculture and way of life today was established. Things remained pretty much unchanged until the 11th century. Around 1010 AD a Balinese Prince named Airlangha took over East Java intending to unite it with Bali under his rule. Successful, he subsequently appointed his brother, Anak Wungsu, to rule Bali. As such there was a great deal of commerce between Bali and Java bringing with it an exchange of politics and arts. It was at this time the Bali adopted the Javanese language, Kawi that is still used today.

Airlangha's death brought on several wars waged by Javanese Kings to continue the Javanese control of Bali. Finally in 1343 Bali succumbed to Javanese control when it was defeated by a General by the name of Gajah Mada from the Majapahit Empire, the last Hindu Javanese empire.

When Islam began spreading south from Sumatra into Java in the 16th century, the Majapahit empire collapsed and a large number of aristocrats, priests, and artists fled to Bali. From then until the Dutch arrived in 1597 little changed except the culture continued to be refined - which is where we pick up the story.

The People of Bali
The Balinese were not able to develop and sustain their extremely complex agricultural economy for centuries on end without a very organized community structure. The basis of this community structure is the Subak and the Banjar. Everyone who owns a rice paddy must join the Subak in their village. The Subak controls who will plant rice and when (plantings are staggered so that pestilence is minimized). As well and more importantly the Subak ensures that all farmers receive their fair share of irrigation water since traditionally the head the Subak was the farmer whose field was at the bottom of the hill and water first had to pass through everybody else's field before it was allowed to irrigate his.

The other important community structure, the Banjar, organizes all other aspects of Balinese life (i.e. marriages, cremations, community service, festivals and the like). When a man marries he is expected to join the village Banjar and must participate in community affairs. Meetings are held at a large open air building called the Bale Banjar.

Religion
Although the Balinese are Hindu and worship the Hindu trinity Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, the Balinese religion is very different from the Indian variety. The Balinese do have a caste system but there are no untouchables. The caste system is most evident in the language which has three levels: a low level for commoners, a mid level to address strangers and a high level only used when addressing aristocracy.

The Balinese are an unusual island people in that they have never been sea faring people. They believe that good spirits dwell in the mountains and that the seas are home to demons. Most villages have at least three main temples: one of which is the Pura Puseh or ‘temple of origin’, is dedicated to the village founders and which faces to Mt Agung - home to Pura Besakih the mother temple on Bali. Together with the other two village temples each house may several temples and as well as rice fields, markets etc. etc. etc. Now you can see why Bali is often referred to as the Island of the Gods.

The Balinese are extremely devout and no day goes by without making offerings to the gods. These daily offerings - called Banten are a major part of Balinese life. You will see these offerings nearly everywhere in Bali. Made of flowers, cigarettes, cookies, rice and even sometimes money (the actual items used are not as important as the process of making and offering it to the spirits) these offerings are given to the good spirits in hopes of continued prosperity as well as to the evil spirits as an appeasement.

Simple Etiquette
The Balinese are inclusive by nature and take great pride in their heritage and therefore do not mind visitors observing ceremonies and traditional dances, just as long as you follow a few simple, basic points of etiquette. (After all, how would you like a group of foreign speaking tourists invading your wedding or funeral of a close relative to snap a few photos?). First, dress appropriately - smart casual is appropriate - swim wear is not appropriate. Two, be quiet and respectful. Cameras and camcorders are ok - but do be unobtrusive.

Also do not step in front of anyone to snap a photo and do not sit higher than the local priest presiding over the ceremony. As well, Do Not touch or pat anyone (including children) on the head.

When visiting temples be aware that you should wear long pants or a sarong with a selendang tied around the waist (men and women). Whilst you can take your own every major temple has selendangs to borrow for a small donation. It is extremely bad form (in fact it’s taboo) for women who are menstruating to enter a temple.

Lastly a word about being stuck in traffic. If you do find yourself stuck in traffic for no apparent reason you may have come up on a Balinese procession on the way to temple. Be patient. No amount of honking the car's horn is going to speed things up and it's rude to try and pass.

Tanah Lot at Sunset

Bali Overview

Bali, one of some 13,000 islands comprising the Indonesian Archipelago, had an auspicious start. According to legend, when the world was formed Bali was put afloat on the back of a giant sea turtle with fragrant skies above.

The gods have been generous ever since.

Be advised that the time in Bali is GMT + 8 hours.

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