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Travel & Adventure

In Bali, Acts of Devotion Create Beauty

A painter works on an exotic modern landscape at the Semar Kuning cooperative gallery in the painting village of Lodtunduh on Bali. Photo courtesy of Patricia Woeber.

A painter works on an exotic modern landscape at the Semar Kuning cooperative gallery in the painting village of Lodtunduh on Bali. Photo courtesy of Patricia Woeber.

By Patricia Woeber

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.

Balinese life involves a viable art of shadow plays, music, and dancing to celebrate births and deaths and to illustrate dramatic legends. With the creative energy of a whole village concentrating on a particular skill, high standards of workmanship are produced. Love of craft is evident everywhere.

During a spree at the gift shop in the Amanusa resort, I bought two tightly woven baskets made in the Aga village, which is located east in Tenganan. Aga people were the original inhabitants, predating the current population.

Another day, when I had moved to Ubud in the hills, I visited the Amandari resort, where the restaurant boasts a dramatic ceiling of teak and curved bamboo. The gift shop displayed a honey-mustard sarong, hand-painted with milk chocolate images of stylized flowers, plants, birds, butterflies and bugs. Blame it on the bugs — I was so smitten that they closed the deal for me at $80.

One day I met a street vendor who carried piles of kambens (sarongs) on her head and over her arm. Men and women wear them wrapped from waist to ankle. Her selection of highly patterned colorful batik fabrics was machine-printed on cotton and polyester. I pawed through them eagerly and came home with several pieces to use as tablecloths for $5 each. Silk, woven-textiles and hand-painted pieces are higher-priced.

I acquired a lot of marvelous batik items, gorgeous scarves and dumpling-shaped silk evening purses. But I acquired much more than these “things.” Each piece spoke to me of a valued heritage, of acts of devotion, of creating beauty in service to a profoundly connected society.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Carriers from the United States to Bali include Cathay Pacific, Japan Air Lines, Qantas, China Airlines, Thai Airways, Korean Air, American, Continental and United. I flew on Singapore Airlines from Los Angeles: www.singaporeair.com/lax.

Where to stay: Le Meridien Nirwana Golf and Spa Resort, $190 to $900 per night: www.lemeridien.com/bali.

Travel packages: AisaLuxe Holidays, 800-742-3133.

Where to shop: Ubud’s food market from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. becomes an art market from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For upscale European fashion, visit duty-free shopping malls near Denpasar. Plaza Bali carries numerous famous brands, while local crafts are sold upstairs. DFS Bali mall at Kuta also carries top brands and local wares.

Good to know: Mornings and late afternoons are best to be active because of the midday heat. The island has a tropical monsoon climate with sunshine throughout the year and day temperatures that range from 60 to 90 degrees F.

For general information about events, celebrations, museums and places to visit: www.balidiscovery.com.

Patricia Woeber is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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