Bali culture Hindu, Buddhist, Hindu-Javanese

On Bali a culture developed of a unique character: Hindu, Buddhist, Hindu-Javanese and ancient Balinese elements merged to form a 'unity in diversity'. Little is known about the first contact with Indian civilization on Bali, as is also the case in Sumatra and Java. Although Chinese references exist, dating from the first half of the 6th century, which presumably relate to Bali, it is not until the 8th century that we have more accurate information.

To the south of Pèdjèng clay tablets have been found with a Buddhist sacred text in a script probably dating from the 8th century. But the first documents bearing a date do not appear until the 10th century; at that time Indian civilization must have already been in existence here for some centuries. A significant find is a document carved in stone dealing with the foundation of the bathing-place Tirta Empul, dating from the year 962, written in the language common on Bali at that time. But from 989 onwards documents appear which indicate a gradual Javanization of the island.

As has already been pointed out in the chapter on the spreading of Indian culture, the first clearly established union between the dynasty of Mataram (which had then withdrawn to eastern Java) and the ruling prince of Bali was brought about at the end of the 10th century. This prince, Udayana, married the Javanese princess Mahéndradatta; in 1010 their son Airlangga was crowned king of Mataram and both kingdoms were united under his sceptre.

After his death Bali came under the sovereignty of the kingdom of Kediri, but remained fairly independent under the rule of Airlangga's descendants. But as a result of the close dynastic link between the two islands, Bali became flooded with Javanese culture. This is shown, for instance, by the style of the cliff tjandis of Tampaksiring, dating from the 11th century, as well as the type of characters used in inscriptions, which largely correspond to the architecture and script of eastern Java at the time of the Kediri dynasty.

It is remarkable that these tjandis are not free-standing buildings, but are hewn out of steep cliffs, so that each stands in a recess of its own. Next to these recesses a hermitage was also built into the cliff.

This above mentioned political independence continued until Kertanagara, the most powerful prince of the Singhasari dynasty, acceded to the throne. In 1284 he took the last descendant of Airlangga to rule in Bali to Java as a prisoner, and governed Bali from there. Kertanagara was murdered in 1292, and Bali adroitly utilized the opportunity provided by the political dissension in eastern Java to regain its liberty. But it was once again subjected when Gadjah Mada raised the Madjapahit dynasty to a new summit of power. He ordered the Javanese to establish a settlement on Bali, thus ensuring that Java's influence upon this refractory island should be permanent. The consequences of this measure were to prove more far-reaching than its auctor intellectualis could foresee: when the mighty kingdom of Madjapahit collapsed and many valuable art treasures were lost in Java, eastern Javanese culture was able to maintain itself on Bali. As has been mentioned earlier, many literary works which appeared in eastern Java were re-discovered on Bali.

In the events of later years the Kingdom of Gèlgèl now emerges. Its rise must be dated to the 14th century. Attempts to extend its authority over neighbouring areas, the Hindu Balambangan and the island of Lombok to the east of Bali, finally bore fruit, but in 1651 this kingdom broke up into several small districts as a result of intrigue and internal dissensions. Balambangan retained its link with Bali until 1772, whilst Lombok remained subject to the Balinese until 1894. The loss of the above-mentioned territories was the result of Dutch expansion. After several unsuccessful attempts between 1846 and 1849, which led only to the conquest of the northern part of the island, Bali finally fell into Dutch hands in 1908.

From this brief historical sketch it can be seen that up to the latter half of the 10th century Bali was directly exposed to Indian culture; that in the subsequent period Java's influence is clearly discernible; and that after the decline of the kingdom of Majapahit Bali developed along independent cultural lines.

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