Hotel in Bali

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Paintings of Bali

In the 19th century, when Westerners were hoisting their countries' flags on foreign lands, they were also unconsciously integrating their own cultures with the arts of the subjugated people.

A fresh look was given to art pieces that were previously classed as "primitive" or "decadent". Viewed with a fresh perspective, native works of art were now given attention by aficionados.

Chinese brush paintings, Indian statues, Japanese prints and African masks became objets d'art that were highly appreciated. Colonialism thus simultaneously exploited and opened the world, creting a modern global culture. Western influence on Balinese paintings did not stop at the stage of appreciation and appropriation. In the 1920's and 30's, a group of western artistis came to stay in Bali, exerting their influence in the production of Balinese paintings.

The two most prominent in the group of expatriates were Walter Spies, a German musician-cum-painter, who later became an authority on Balinese culture; and Rudolf Bonnet, the Dutch portrait painter. These two painters practically started a period of renaissance in Balinese art that was to be called Pita Maha (1935). They distributed paper to the local artists, advised them on how to represent anatomy and depth, and opened up new markets in Europe for Balinese paintings.

However, and contraty to what some Balinese would like us to believe, the art of painting in Bali never received the same attention as bestowed to its theater and dances. Even though many exhibitions were held, Balinese painting was never put on a par with Chinese paiting or even Persian miniatures. It was considered a minor art.

This mis-recognition can be traced to cultural and historical bias: to the westerners of the time, Bali was too multi-facetted-blending "pasific" structures of belief, and Indian faith, Chinese decorative techniques and a Javanese historical background to be ever granted the status of a "great tradition".

Much of Balinese painting was also recent as it lacked the label of a bona fide "ancient culture". But aesthetic expectations and prejudices may also have played a major role: the blunt symbolism of the "primitive arts", the use of flat color surfaces in Javanese prints, and the sover synthetism of Far-Eastern drawing undoubtedly appealed more to Westerners than the complex, overburdened narrative of Balinese painting. It can thus be asserted that the full recognition of Balinese paiting was impeded by the Westerner's inability to accept the validity of the aesthetic principles underlying it.

What are these principles? And did they transform themselves in the course of time?

When one looks at a Balinese painting, the first striking thing is its concept of space, which is totally alien to the Western/modern eyes. A Western-or even a Far-Eastern painting - is always centered around one or several central "subjects", forms or/and color surfaces.

There is a focus, a "descrimination" between the elements of representation. The canvas appears "unequally" occupied, and the onlooker can thus visually "grasp" the theme right away if the work is figurative, or appreciate its composition intuitively if it is abstract. Balinese space in painting strikes out as totally different: The surface of the canvas is "full" to the point that nothing stands out, either thematically or "visually". To Western-ers, this is beyond "apperciation"as they are "blinded" by the accumulation of element overfills the surface.

The original model of this "full space" characteristic is found in Balinese classical painting and in its modern "derivative" of Kamasan. The narrative is told in the lower part of the painting, while its upper part is covered with clouds and godly characters. Such a dense occupation of the canvas mirrors a mystic world whose "invisible" (niskala) elements are as important as the "visible" (sekala) ones. This may well explain the resilience of this notion of "full space".

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Balinese Architecture

The Balinese base their traditional architecture on the Hindu theory of balance among Man, God and Nature. Man, seen as "Bhwana Alit" (microcosm or Small World), is expected to insert him self into his natural environment in a way which conforms to the order of the "Bhawana Agung" (mascrocosm or Large World).

According to the "Asta Kosala Kosali" manuscript, all architecture structures should thus reproduce the tripartite order of both the world and the human body. Every building and compound should have a head, a body and a lower body(genitalia, bowels and legs), corresponding to the gods, humans and demons.

The large, open Balinese temple have thus and inner sanctum, where are located the main puppet sized shrines, a middle yard for dances and "human level" ceremonies and a lower yard which is located the kitchen and where relatively impure rituals such as cock fighting take place. Similarly in the individual family compounds, the family temple is the head of the building while its body consists of the living quarters and the kitchen and lavatory are its bowels and genitalia respectively.

But Bali is no longer an agrarian society. Tourism is bringing in twice as much as agriculture and the population is relocating to the coastal areas and along the main roads, upsetting the old agrarian patterns. Tourism itself is eating up ever-larger chunks of the island. The consequences can be easily guessed: land is too scarce to allow for the preservation of the old harmony.

Attempts have been made to answer the challenge. The principle of cosmic harmony between Man, Nature and God has been made the semi-official ideology of the island-under the name of Tri Hita Karana (the three causes of happiness). Regarding tourism development policy, the regional government has tried with some success to enforce "design specifications" reflecting the Balinese concept of architecture. the construction permits of the hotels in the Nusa Dua Resort have thus all been delivered under the scrutiny of a design committee and on the condition that they display the tripartite structure. The result is sometimes surprising. The discotheque in Club Med, an obvious genitalia component, is located next to the kitchen, the resort's bowels, and very far indeed from the shrine, its head, which is located in the purest part of the compound.

Joke asede, this Balinese concern with harmony has undoubtedly contributed to the creation of a genuinely modern, yet "indigenous" type of tourism architecture. Most of the hotels of Nusa Dua will go down in history as landmarks of post-traditional architecture.

Not everything is well for the state of Bali's architectural form. Though much has been planned for the future, almost nothing has been done to preserve the architecture of the past.

More affluent now, the Balinese pull down old buildings to replace them with new ones whenever they can. Instead of the airy traditional family compound with its central yard and open living quarters under verandahs, more often than not there are now cramped rows of buildings of an undefinable style. Things are still worse with large structures. When the Balinese repair temples, gates and village halls, they often pull down invaluable architectural treasures and teplace them with similar concrete structures. The tripartite structure might have been kept intact, and thus be in accordance with the vaunted "Tri Hita Karana", but the damage is done.

Is it too lage to save Balinese traditional architecture? We hope not. The main obstacles to the conservation of the architectural heritage are cultural. Not only does the "Tri Hita Karana" ideology ignore conservation, but it also tends to soothe the minds of the Balinese. Being repeatedly told, mantra-like, that their culture is based on the principle of harmony, many Balinese refuse to even consider that this harmony is threatened. Very few are really aware of the need to preserve their architectural heritage. Accustomed to seeing themselves through the eyes of others-the tourists - they often insiston the observation of dance, which is going to change anyway, but pay little attention to architecture, which normally has a much longer life-span. Isn't it significant that Bali has a yearly Arts Festival, while next to nothing is done for its monuments?

other obstacles to architectural conservation are social. House are privately owned, and temples are owned and rules collectively by congregations whose members like the cheap style o Gianyar because it is official. Furthermore, they fell they own their temples and that no one should interfere. Imposing a conservation policy on these groups is risky and requires time. When, for example, the Indonesian government and UNESCO tried several years ago to protect "Mother Temples" of besakih, most Balinese protested as they saw it as threat to their religious liberties. A good intention was misunderstood, perhaps fo lack of information.

Whatever the obstacles, there must be ways to protect Bali's architectural treasures. Isn't it time to set up a Heritage Foundation.?

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Botanical Gardens

Way up in the central mountains which reach gradually but surely up to the skies, lies a popular yet quiet mountain hideaway Bedugul. Tucked into the long settled rim of an old volcanic creater and on the edge of a large serene volcanic lake, this cool, slow-paced village is a world away from the hustle and bustle and the heat and humidity.

At 1500 meters above sea level, Bedugul contrasts greatly with the lowland plains of Bali in term of architecture, customs, dress, crops, and general vegetation. And at the heart of this mountain hideaway is the beautiful Botanical Garden, Bali of Eden.

An idylic location

Travelers will often pass through Bedugul on their way to the northern coast when they sometimes drive to the coastal beach towns of Singaraja and Lovina.
Other travellers also choose to come to Bedugul as an alternative to the easrtern mountain areas, such as Kintamani and Penelokan, which are heavily frequented by tourists. Either way, visitors are often surprised at what they find at this unusual location.

Coming from the south, you literally ascend to the peak of the crater before descending into the village valley, and as you descend into the valley the complete scenic panorama opens up vefore you. The lake is dotted with small hotels and lodges offering a meditative mountain experience. A beautiful old temple juts out into the water of the lake adn becomes a significant feature of the lake's serenity.

Origin of the Gardens

Located on the side of tapak hill and reaching out of Candikuning village, the Gardens was first estavlished in 1959 as abranch of the National Botanic Gardens Association of Indonesia. This garden retreat was actually the first Batanic Gardens set up by the Association as a purely Indonesian initiative, but is now one of four Indonesian Botanic Gardens found around the archipelago.

The Gardens initially housed a range of conifers stretching over 50ha of land, but its development was affected by the military coup of 1965, and development did not resume again until 1970. By 1976 the Gardens covered 129.2Ha.

Since its humble beginnings, this area has grown tremendously in beauty and in popularity. The Gardens now include 154.5ha, and displays a collection of plants from eastern Indonesia's seasonally wet-dry montane. The high altitude and high moisture levels of the mountains make it an ideal habitat for the diverse range of plants. With over 1180 species rapresented from over 545 genera and 150 families (approximately 14,500 plant specimens in total), there is no shortage of unique samples to explore.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dance and Drama

Adding to the beauty and wealth of the Balinese culture is its dance, which is performed during temple festival and in ceremonies of the cycle of life and death. Dances are so much a part of Balinese daily rituals that the performances that tourists see in hotels and restaurants are just a fraction of the wealth of Balinese Dance.

Though the origin of the Balinese dance harks back long before any written history, inscriptions from the ninth century named the wayang (puppet theatre) and topeng (mask dance) as the main entertainment of the day. Even gamelan music had already been performed in the Dong Son broze culture of the first meillennium BC. Apart from the trance dances that are indigenous, much of the Balinese dance heritage actually originates from java.

History of the Balinese Dance

in the 14th century, the defeat of Bali by Majapahit led to the creation of mini-principalities and courts. As a result, a blend of Javanese court and peasant culture was created in Bali. The present day accompanying narrative for dance and drama is to a large extent based on court stories from Pre-Majapahit Java.

Dance & religion

Balinese dance is inseparable from religion. A small offering of food and flowers must precende even dances for tourists. Before performing, many dancers pray at their family shrines, appealing for holy "taksu" (inspiration) from the gods.
In this rural tradition, the people say that peace and harmony depend on protection by the gods and ancestors. Dance in this context may fulfil a number of specific functions:

1)as a channel for visiting gods or demonic gods, the dancers acting as a sort of living repository, these trance dances include the Sang Hyang Dedari, with little girls in trance, and the Sang Hyang Jaran, a fire dance;

2)as a welcome for visiting gods, such as the pendet, rejang and sutri dances;

3)as entertainment for visiting gods, such as the topeng and the wayang.

The Dances fo Bali

The kecak

"cak-cak-cak". the obsessive sound of a choir from beyond the dust of ages suddely rises between the lofty trees. Darkness looms over the stage.

Hundreds of bare-breasted men sit in a circle around the flickering light of an oil lamp chandelier. "Cak-Cak". they start dancing to the rhythmic sound of their own voices, their hands raised to the sky and bodies shaking in unison. This is the unique Kecak, perhaps the most popular of all Balinese dances.

The Barong

The Barong is the magical protector of Balinese villages. As "lord of the forest" with fantastic fanged mask and long mane, he is teh opponent of Rangda the witch, who rules over the spirits of darkness, in the never ending fight between good and evil. During the Galungan Kuningan festivals, the Barong (there are many types, including barong ket, barong macan, and barong bangkal) wanders from door to door (nglawang) cleansing the territory of evil influences.

the topeng mask

This mask dance relates the tales of Balinese and Javanese ancestors returning temporarily to inhabit the mask. Nowadays, the main stories, with their princes and clowns, are preceded by a set of solo mask dances for men- the "topeng keras", or dance of the "strong warrior", the "topeng tua" - a fantastic dance showing the advance of old age in the king's old counsellor, and the "topeng dalem". showing the king in all his glory with enough clowns to fill a circus.

Pendet & Penyembrama

These dances are performed to welcome visiting gods, who are presented with offerings of flowers nowadays tourist are also showered with flowers.

The Kebyar

The renewal of the arts during the 30's saw a surge in dance creativity, producing dances that are still the most popular in bali: short but spectacular non-narrative dances inspired by the dynamism of the gong kebyar, a gamelan orchestra originating from Northern Bali. The most famous are the kebyar duduk and kebyar trompong. these two dances were created by Mario, a balinese dance genius from this century. They are displays of suppleness an virtuosity, particularly the kebyar trompong, with the dancer playing the trompong instrument while dancing.

The Joged

The joged Bumbung is one of the few exclusively secular dance of Bali in which the brightly-dressed dancer invites men form the crowd to dance with her in apretence of seduction. The music is made with bumbung (bamboo) instruments. This dance is very popular with tourists.

The dance begins with a long opening sequence by the female dancer. then, long shawly in her hand, she selects a man from the audience by either pointing with her fan or touching his waist. He (the pengibing) comes on stage to hoots from the audience, and is expected to be as adept at teasing as the women dancer. The better he is, the louder the cheers and roars from the crowd. He may try to pinch her, dance hip to hop with her, or even behave like an angry lover and try to hit her.

The Legong Kraton

The dynamic Legong Dance is the epitome of classical female Balinese dancing. A court dance, it was created in the 18th century in the circles of the principality of Sukawati. Now including a variety of modern "free cration" (tari lepas), the legong is usually the first dance tought to beginners. Months of training are needed to master the perfect mix of posture (tangkep), movements and mimicry. Three dancers in glittering costumes - one condong lady-in-waiting and two princesses whole roles change according to the narrative - usually perform it. The ancient legong used to have a storytellers accompaniment, but these days they are only dance performances.

The Gambuh

The gambuh is teh oldest classical dance in Bali, probably introduced at the time of the majapahit culture. At a hauntingly show tempo, the gambuh dance drama tells episodes from the story of Panji's search for his beloved in the kingdoms of Eastern Java. Now retained in only a few villages (notably Batuan and Pedungan), the gambuh combines the best of both female and male Balinese dancing. An unusual feature.

The Wayang

The wayang puppet show is perhaps the most famous show in Balinese theatre, albeit the most difficult to understand. Basically an epic narrative, it is the key to Bali's unique world of myths, symbols and religious beliefs.

The puppet master, or dalang, tells his story by projecting the shadows of the puppets he manipulates behind a white screen and a large lamp. He plays several characters at once, shifting from Old-Javanese to High-Balinese, singing and hitting a box to mark the rhythm. A good dalang is a one-man-show, being in turns smart, funny and melancholic.

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Bali Arts Festival

Every year on the 14th of june at two o'clock in the afternoon, the inception is a festival is heralded with the rhythmic sounds of Balinese kendangs, drums and cenceng cymbals. Hundreds of men, dressed in the battle costumes of Majapahit wariors, strike these instruments with both hands. they advance in line, accompanied by women garbed like princesses and ladies in waiting.

then come Ramayan dancers, Calonarang performers, and a long row of exquistitely dressed women carring tall, meru-shaped offerings. And such a procession goes on hour after hour, group after group, regency after regency.

Welcome to the opening of the 20th Bali arts festifal. The brainchild of the Academy of Arts Denpasar (STSI), the festival is a one-month fantasia of dance, music, exhibition and culture.

According to research conducted by the STSI Academy of Arts, Bali has more than 6,000 seka or organizations involved in one way or another is the field of the arts. Most of them are for the purpose of performing of dance and music in religion. Almost every banjar or every village has its own Gong Kebyar gamelan orchestra, or at least its Gong Beleganjur. There is abottomless pool of cultural latent from which people and groups compete each year for the privilege of presenting their show to the city crowds of Denpasar.

The festival takes places in a huge "Art Center" located in the heart of the city of Denpasar. This art center contains a huge 6000-seat amphitheater for the performing of large-scale "sendratari" ballets, but there are also a series of smaller venues adapted to the intimate atmosphere of traditional dance and theater. These building were built according to the Balinese concepts of architecture. The Ksirarnawa amphitheater thus has a huge split-gate as one sees only in the biggest Balinese temple.

While remaining extraordinary resilient, Balinese culture is opening to the world, albeit in a Balinese way: it is the world that is becoming "Balinese".

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Traditional Villages and Customs

As Bali is becoming increasingly modern, one has to visit its villages and attend some of its festivals to feel its soul and heart.

The Balinese village pays tribute to Man's harmony with nature. Every thirty meters or so, one will seen the same proud brick gate with the same lintel decoration. Hidden behind the mud walls will be the same red tiles of the family pavilions, located thirty meters away, with their thatched puppet houses functioning as the family temple (sanggah/merajan). Under the sahde of the tall coconut trees will be the imposing figure of a waringin.

The Balinese desa (village) is typically host to a set of three village temples. Instead of being closed, roofed structures, the temples are open spaces, demarcated only by wall and carved gates, with trees alongside thatched shrines in their inside: the gods thus enter the village as Nature itself.

In Bali has two sets of island-wide festivals which correspond to the "new years" of the two Balinese calendars: the nyepi of the lunar-solar Saka year and the galungan of the 210-day Pawukon calendar.

The Day of Silence

in more than one way, Bali is the exact opposite of the West. While Westerners usher in the New Year in revelry, the Balinese day of Silence, which falls on the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox, and opens a new year of the saka Hindu era which began in 78 A.D.

On nyepi day, which starts with sunrise, don't expect to be able to do anything. You will have to stay in your hotel. No traffic is allowed, not only of cars, but also of people, who have to stay in their individual houses. Light is kept to a minimum, radio tuned down, and no one works, of course. Even love making, this fate is set in motion by "action". Man is in the midst of a samsara cycle of incarnations, each of which is determined by the quality of his actions (karma) in his former existence. His "ideal" is thus to put the system to rest, I.e.., to control one's actions, and thus to subdue one's "demons". Only in Such a way can Man Hope to achieve "deliverance" from his cycles of life (moksa) and eventually merge with oneness of the Void, the Ultimate Silence of Surya.

The Galungan Festival

Among the many holidays in the Balinese 210-day calendar, the most prominent are undoubtedly those of Galungan and Kuningan; the former on the Wednesday of teh Dungulan week and the latter on the Saturday on the KUningan week. Due to their frequency - roughly once every seven Gregorian months-these festivals are not celebrated as national holiday but don't try to do anything between penampahan Galungan (the day for the slaughter of the pigs that precedes Galungan) and Manis Galungan, the day fllowing it or on the Friday perceding Kuningan; every-thing is closed. People go back to their village of origin to present offerings to their ancestors and villages temples.

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Cycle of Life

balinese-wedding ceremony
According to Hindu religious beliefs, after death, a soul passes into another body, the sourl is in torment. Consequently, the soul is always seeking to free itself from incarnation so that is can attain enlightenment or moksa. Once enlightenment is achieved, both the body and soul can join their cosmic equivalents for ever. Therefore, when continue with the cycle of life through incarnations.

The religious rites which are performed to accompany a soul through its journey in the cycle of life incorporate such cosmic nations. The intervening journey between life and death is given high importance in Balinese rituals. Such rituals consist of the human rites (manusia yadnya), the rites of the dead (pitra yadnya), rites of the gods or temple rites (dewa yadnya), rites of demonic forces (buta yadnya) and ordainment rites (rsi yadnya).

Balinese believe that the mountains are the abodes of the gods, deified ancestors and souls which did not attain moksa. The gods and deified ancestors will descend occasionally to earth during temple ceremonies to partake of offerings and to enjoy entertainment.

When souls are ready to re-incarnate on earth, they will come from the mountains above or straight from hell. That is why the mountains is revered as the Holy Place.

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