Bali has become synonymous with Shangrila – the last paradise on earth. Holluwood movies, exotic cigars, restaurants, wines and a super deluxe line of chandeliers have all borne the name – conveying a feeling of the wondrous so often associated with the siland’s culture. The flinging of “fable island” Bali apithets has indeed been so promiscuous as to arouse no uncertain fears in the minds of paradise seekers. Has the world’s most glamours traditional culture lost some of its glitter?
Bali’s rapid entry into the 20th century and the subsequent tourist invasion of the 1960 – 80s have unfortunate parallels in other tropical idylls, where the usual result has been a loss of cultural identity and native charm. But history shows that Bali has resisted major cultural invasions in the past, essentially by integrating and adapting foreign and flexible living traditions.
The polyglot nature of Balinese art, with Indian, Hindu – Javanese, Chinese, Islamic and European influences all in evidence, is a striking example of the Balinese ability to digest and absorb – a fan here, a gold arabesque there, new deities everywhere – and to reject those elements not compatible with their sophisticated, conservative, integrated way of life.
A popular misconceotion among foreigners is that the Balinese arts have lost uch of their lustre – that gamelans are rusting in their pavilions and dancers have left the stage for a job on the juice blender. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In many ways, Bali’s currently undergoing a cultural renaissance, with bigger and brighter temple festivals, ancient artforms being revived and more musical ensembles active than ever before in the island’s history.
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