Nusa Dua (Bali): The
stylised figures from Hindu mythology and gnomes, fanged demons
and animals, some towering, some not so: exquisitely crafted stone
sculptures are as much a part of this Indonesian island - where
Balinese Hindus comprise the majority of the island's population
in this Muslim-majority nation - as the famed sun, sand and sea
Interestingly, many of the sculptures are covered in sarongs. Set
amid the green fronds, the figures are wearing blue and white
checked sarongs, dressed up much like the gods in some parts of
From street corners to city squares, from hotel lobbies to
sweeping driveways, the sculptures are part of the landscape,
making Bali in many senses like an open air culture gallery, with
aesthetics the leitmotif of everyday life.
Amongst the most spectacular perhaps is the chariot scene from the
Mahabharata, of Krishna and Arjun and horses straining at the
mouth. The elaborately recreated scene greets you soon after you
drive out of the airport as part of the media entourage of Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Hindu connect
Traders and missionaries came into the archipelago of Indonesia
from India, China, Arabia and Europe, bringing along with them
their cultures and religion. Over the centuries, the influences
amalgamated and assimilated into the fabric of society.
And nowhere is the Indian connection as evident as in Bali, where
the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are integral parts of the
folklore and where Hindus are a major part of the population in
this Muslim majority country. The guide tells you that she begins
her day with the Gayatri Mantra and that today is the day of
Saraswati puja. The stylized figures of the gods and goddesses,
the dance dramas drawn from the epics and the small offerings at
roadsides are further evidence of the civilisational reach.
At quite another level is the giant hoarding of India Incredible
with a Kathakali dancer near Nusa Dua, a cluster of hotels,
restaurants and shops. Inviting the tourists to come and take a
look at India too?
Suits and sarongs
You know that this is not the place for work when the receptionist
informs you that newspapers are unlikely to come in before 10 a.m.
The towering palms, the sandy beaches and the gentle sea breeze
are invitation to drop the stresses of everyday life and just soak
in the atmosphere. Alas that is not to be with Bali hosting the
ASEAN and the East Asia Summit as well as several heads of state,
ministers, officials and their security retinue.
Traffic halts for VIP movement, there is repeated frisking and
holiday makers find themselves caught in all the frenzied
activity. The suits sit uneasily with the sarongs and beachwear.
Hotels have put up signs warning their guests that they might be
inconvenienced and their movements curtailed.
And terror still casts a shadow. Bali was subjected to terror
attacks in 2002 and 2005, and local recall only too clearly the
(Minu Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)