A brief history of Bali
Java, lava, and the Dutch East India Company have all played their part in the Bali that you'll find today, although, it has to be said, from the opening of Ngurah Rai International Airport in 1970 to Eat Pray Love in 2010, tourism in Bali has also left a substantial imprint.Read more
Sea-faring Austronesians laid claim to Bali prior to a visit by Sri Kesari Warmadewa, a Javanese Buddhist, who became Bali's first king and inscribed his military intentions in Sanskrit and ancient Balinese on the Belanjong pillar in 914AD. The pillar is found down an alley off Jalan Danau Poso Street in Sanur in the southeast of Bali Ė perhaps not to be visited after dark as this area is also well-known as being Sanur's red light district. The inscriptions made on the pillar also tell us of connections to two of Java's most important ancient dynasties: the Mahayana Buddhist Shailendra dynasty, and the central Javanese dynasty of Sanjaya which promoted Hinduism.
With Sri Kesari Warmadewa came the agricultural practices of Java with water channels being forged for rice cultivation on terraced fields in a sustainable water management system known as Subak. Subak is strongly linked to religion and community and each terraced rice paddy features a water temple, known as a Pura, which is managed by priests to ensure the connection between humans, gods and nature Ė a prime example being the rice terraces at Tegalalang and Gianyar.
Buddhism and Hinduism were practised side by side for many more years, although Hinduism would start to become Bali's predominant religion thanks, in part, to the colonisation from the mighty Javanese Majapahit Empire which would last until its demise in 1520.
The third and final wave of Javanese expats, between the 15th and 16th centuries, coincided with the collapse of the Javanese Majapahit Empire as Islam took hold across Indonesia leaving Bali as one of the region's only Hindu strongholds. Bali went on to flourish independently from Java as nine separate Hindu and Buddhist Balinese kingdoms which worked well on a cultural and creative level as well as economically to enforce the island's cultural identity within the rest of the Indonesian archipelago.
However, all good things don't go unnoticed and from the moment Portuguese ships landed on Bali's north shores in 1512, and then again with Dutch traders in 1597, the dawn of colonialism had begun. As the Dutch expanded Indonesian operations, they deliberately set the nine Balinese kingdoms against each other, and would slowly and carefully exploit the situation during the 1800s before finally launching an all out land and sea assault on the south eastern Sanur region in 1906. Thousands of Balinese were killed in battle as, rather than face the humiliation of surrender to the Dutch, they embarked on a mass suicidal ritual known as a Puputan.
Dutch control was momentarily wrested by the Japanese in WWII as the flooded fields of nearby Borneo proved too wet to serve as runways for Japanese fighter planes. Scant resistance in the form of 600 or so Balinese soldiers and Dutch officers did little to stop the Japanese forces landing and capturing the island in 1942. It wouldn't be until the end of the war, in 1945, when the Dutch colonists would return to Bali, although not without a fight as local Balinese freedom fighters now had a wealth of Japanese weaponry at their disposal and they were not averse to using it in battles and Puputan attacks.
Independence from the Dutch came not long after, at the end of 1949, as, along with the rest of Indonesia, the Balinese were left to their own devices. The eruption of Mt Agung in 1963 and the rise of communism were both pivotal points in Bali's history prior to the opening of Ngurah Rai airport in 1970 which increased the onset of Aussie surfers, culture-seeking travelers and the inevitable influx of vacationmakers that you'll find today.