Island of the Gods
The rich and diverse culture of Bali plays out at all levels of life, from the exquisite flower-petal offerings placed everywhere, to the processions of joyfully garbed locals shutting down major roads as they march to one of the myriad temple ceremonies, to the otherworldly traditional music and dance performed island-wide. Almost everything has spiritual meaning. The middle of Bali is dominated by the dramatic volcanoes of the central mountains and hillside temples such as Pura Luhur Batukau (one of the island’s estimated 10,000 temples), while the tallest peak, Gunung Agung, is the island’s spiritual centre.
When Islam triumphed over Hinduism in Java (16th century), Bali became a refuge for many Hindu nobles, priests, and intellectuals. Today it is the only remaining stronghold of Hinduism in the archipelago, and Balinese life is centred on religion—a blend of Hinduism (especially that of the Shaivite sect), Buddhism, Malay ancestor cult, and animistic and magical beliefs and practices. Places of worship are numerous and widespread, and there is a firm belief in reincarnation. Caste is observed, though less strictly than is the case in India, because the great majority of the population belongs to the Sudra, the lowest caste. The nobility is divided into priests (Brahman), the military and ruling royalty (Kshatriya), and the merchants (Vaishya). Some Muslims and Chinese live in northern and western Bali, and there are a few Christians. The Balinese language is distinct from that of eastern Java, but the upper-class form contains many Javanese and Sanskrit words.