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In Bali, acts of devotion create beauty

By Patricia Woeber Modified: February 17, 2010 at 10:34 am •  Published: February 14, 2010
In Bali there's a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility that empowers all walks of life. It forges village life, work and the care of others. No matter what befalls neighbors, they will be taken care of by other members of their villages. This social thread keeps people from falling through the cracks when disasters occur because their families and villages support them mentally, physically and economically.

Another enduring characteristic of village life is the tradition of handing down specialized skills and aesthetics from generation to generation. In each village, the inhabitants focus on a specific trade and become experts in that particular craft, whether it is jewelry, painting, woodwork, stone carving or carpentry.

Celuk, for example, is known for producing gorgeous gold and silver jewelry. Several shops display items, among them Yatra Gallery, where a beautiful variety of reasonably priced items are on sale.

In Lodtunduh, a painting village, my guide, Agung, took me to Semar Kuning, a cooperative with a half-dozen connected galleries displaying 200 painters' works, which are hung from floor to ceiling. Paintings range from traditional village and country scenes (rice paddies, jungles, tropical birds) to modern designs influenced by European expatriates who settled on the island in the 1930s. The galleries were aquiver with tourists acquiring huge colorful canvases. I bought the work of Gede — two black-and-white scenes of Balinese people tending rice terraces — just $30 each.

As part of my AsiaLuxe holiday package, Agung and the driver took me on a day's tour. We drove through Batubulan, a stone-carving village that displayed its wares along the sidewalks. Huge statues stood tightly packed along the main road. They included groups of Hindu gods and goddesses that included Shiva, Ganesha the elephant god, guardian spirits, and large and small Buddhas.

Ninety-five percent of Balinese people are Hindu, and they express their deep religious beliefs through art that flourishes everywhere. Ferocious-looking brightly painted stone Hindu guardian spirits defend temple gates and courtyards, while carvings of flowers and plants adorn the walls. Every village has a temple, and some have several.

In Mas, the temple complex sported exquisite stone flowers carved in banners across the walls. The village is also known for its woodcarvers. In a shop, men sat on mats carving statues as they stabilized these items with their bare feet. Large statues of Hindu gods, elephant Ganeshas and sacred animals filled the shelves. I bought an ebony elephant for $30.

It is gratifying to find that a real Bali still exists with inhabitants dedicated to aesthetic considerations and emotional values relating to their art: carvings, masks, puppets, paintings and dance. Production of art is a ritual behavior founded on religion. Items are expected to show qualities such as "radiance" or "having a soul."

These qualities are attributed to the structure of religion, society, work ethic and organization. The islanders' lives revolve around sequences of religious rituals and sacrifices intended for ancestors, gods, spirits and demons, and all deserve ornamentation. For ceremonies and temple events, villagers fashion tall, complex structures filled with fruit for women to carry on their heads.

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