National Geographic: Bali - Masterpiece of the Gods

Year:
1991
2,540 Views


It has been called Morning of the World

Heaven on Earth

and The Last Paradise

Born of the fiery volcanic eruptions

Bali is one of the chain of islands

that stretches between Southeast of

Asia and Australia

On this isolated dot of land

an extraordinary civilization developed

which remains unique on earth

Here, vibrant religious beliefs find

expression in music

dance, art and rituals created to

please the gods

and placate and demons of

the spirit realm

Admiring visitors have long feared

this culture was doomed

But the Balinese select what they desire

from the outside world

while clinging to their age-old ways

Everything remains centered on a

religion practiced only here...

and life itself continues to be lived

as a dance of devotion

Rooted in cults of ancient magic

fostered by rites of a mystical religion

it is a pageant constantly recreated

by its artists

Bali, masterpiece of the gods

In the beginning there was nothing

All was emptiness

Then, say the old manuscripts

a turtle floating on the ocean

was created

and resting upon it

the island of Bali

High in the skies

were the flaming heavens of the ancestors

and over all, the realm of the gods

The depths were inhabited by demons

of the underworld

In the middle world dwelt the people

Early migrations added Malaysian

and Polynesian bloodlines to the

indigenous population

As the centuries passed

people and ideas swept in from India

China, and Java

Separated from Java by a strait of

just two miles

this speck of land 90 miles wide

is the only remaining stronghold of the

Hindu faith in the Indonesian archipelago

In Denpasar, the capital

the traditional and the new collide

head-on

Unquestionably the city is changing

as it attempts to deal with

congestion pollution

and overpopulation-problems common to

urban areas everywhere

But the people adapt skillfully

While utilizing material objects

and technology from the modern world

they hold fast to the powerful traditions

that give meaning to their lives

Some 1200 years ago

Hindu thought first fired the Balinese

imagination

The flames of belief were fanned as

successive tides of Hindu influence

washed over Bali from Java and India

From its precepts

the Balinese fashioned their

unique religion Agama Hindu

According to its teachings

the priestly class is the highest of

Bali's four castes

The high priest of Kamenuh begins

each day reciting magic formulas

accompanied by ritual gestures

to prepare holy water

It is used in such profusion

that the Balinese fondly call Agama Hindu

"the religion of holy water."

For the Balinese life is only apart of

a never ending cycle of death

and rebirth onto the same family

one step in the soul's long process of

evolution

Every newborn comes into this world

directly from heaven and is

therefore, treated with the reverence

due a god

The high priest and his priestess wife

officiate at the rite that marks

the 105th day of a baby's life

Until today

the baby was still so close to heaven

that she belonged to the deities

She was not yet a human beings

she did not even have a name

A temple priest purifies her

and magic symbols are inscribed on the

petals of a flower to protect her

While bound to the spiritual realm

she was never allowed to touch

the impure earth

Now, her feet touch the ground

for the first time

Relatives take gifts

symbolic of riches

from a vessel filled with holy water

and put them on her

This ceremony symbolizes the beginning

of the human struggle

The baby is now her mother's child

Rice is the divine gift that sustains

life on earth

About half the island's population

make their livelihood farming

the sculpted rice terraces

they call "steps of the gods"

Embraced by the ice fields

are thousands of villages

and hamlets where most of Bali's

two-and-a-half million people live

In these tightly-knit communities

every married man is obliged to belong

to the village ward

or banjar,

and work for the common good

Like generations of their ancestors

before them

Ketut Kantor and his cousin

Made Tubuh, were born

in the village of Batuan

They live and work side by side

Mrs. Kantor was born here too

she met her future husband

when she was six years old

When they married

she moved into his family compound

Behind its enclosing wall

the compound is laid out according to

a prescribed pattern

By night its open pavilions

are used for sleeping

by day for family activities

The villages of Batuan is renowned

for its artists

Mr. Kantor observes

"In Batuan

most people participate in the arts

Without art, people would not be normal"

Each person must have a feeling for art

painting, dance, even working in

the rice fields"

Fifty years ago

the renowned American anthropologist

Margaret Mead noted

that the arts are part and parcel of the

daily life of the Balinese

as much as the village community

or the irrigation system

The compound is a little universe

complete with everything from a family

shrine to a fruit

and vegetable garden

Bananas and other fruits, coffee

and vanilla are grown here

Little is wasted

Long ago I studied weaving

with my mother

I began when I was about eight years old

Some of the things I weave

are given to my children to wear

to the temple

I very much enjoy making offerings

because since I was a child

I was attracted to the decorations

Making them is not really work

Our belief in God makes it pleasurable

Mr. Tubuh's daughter, Deni

has come from her home next door to help

Soon she will move here

she and the Kantors' eldest son plan

to marry

Everyday the woman place offerings

throughout the compound to appease

the gods and spirits

These, made of rice dough are specially

prepared for a temple celebration

After school village boys congregate

at the Kantors' home to learn to dance

In Bali

children dance like American youngsters

play baseball

Kantor has been dancing at religious

festivals since he was a boy

His sons are accomplished dancers, too

But today they play gamelan

the shimmering music of gongs

metallophones, cymbals, and drums

that accompanies all religious

and theatrical events

Mr. Kantor's father

the late Nyoman Kakul

was one of the most famous

Balinese dancers of his day

He also taught dance to many of the

royal families

Recalling historic battles

the baris dance emulates

the fierce poses

and frightening expressions of

the warrior

Teaching dance

Kantor fulfills his obligation

to his community

and his father's legacy

A system of water temples high

in the mountains

coordinates rice farming for the

entire island

The farmers are organized into subaks

age-old cooperatives that insure

even the lowest terraces receive their

share of water

Mr. Kantor's father bought rice paddies

with money he earned touring world

capitals in a Balinese dance troupe

My father taught me how to read the fields

use the cows

and the best time to plant

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