Balinese Origins – Volcanoes – Civilisation

Balinese Origins – Volcanoes – Civilisation

Creation of the Universe

It is thought that the universe was created by the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago. Two studies using different methods have arrived at broadly the same age. In 2002 Harvey Richter of the University of British Columbia presented evidence of fading star clusters called white dwarfs 7,000 light years away. They are burnt out coals of stars, which were once eight times the size of the sun. After they exhausted their fuel, they collapsed into balls of cooling embers. They will eventually turn cold and wink out of sight. By looking at the faintest and oldest white dwarfs, thought to be the first group of stars that formed in the Milky Way galaxy, the home galaxy for the sun, early in the history of the universe, astronomers can use their known cooling rate to estimate the age of the universe. Richter said that star formation did not begin until about a billion years after the Big Bang.

In 1998 another method was used by the Carnegie Observatories in California arriving at an age of 13 to 14 billion years. They measured the rate at which galaxies are moving apart, an expansion which started with the Big Bang.

It is believed that the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Matter was created from the energy released by the Big Bang.


The alternative Hindu view is that the world began with Divine Oneness or perhaps Divine Nothingness. However, unlike Western religions, there is no certainty about the matter. The Brahman poets in the Rig-Veda wrote courageously of their doubts in the Hymn of Creation:

But, after all, who knows, and who can say
Whence it all came, and how creation happened?
The gods themselves are later than creation,
So who knows truly whence it has arisen?

Whence all creation had its origin,
He, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
He, who surveys it from highest heaven,
He knows – or maybe even he does not know.

(translated by A.L. Basham)

From the Divine Oneness the Supreme Being, Sanghyang Widi Wasa, created the other gods, who in turn created the waters, earth, sky, sun, moon, stars, clouds, planets and wind. Then, at the direction of the Supreme Being, Siwa, in the form of the Divine Teacher, Bhatara Guru, created the world. He created the mountains, rice, trees, people, rain, fire, fishes, birds and animals – in that order. The order of creation indicates Balinese priorities.

So, unlike other religions, creation is not a bringing into being of something from nothing, but rather a dismemberment of the original Oneness. Creation fragmented the unity of nature into countless limited forms. Hindus believe in a cycle of birth and death. The object of a Hindu’s life is to escape this cycle and merge into the Oneness from which the world has been fragmented.

Early Man

Back to the modern Western world of science: there is a debate as to whether early humans evolved in Africa and then moved to the rest of the world, or whether they evolved separately in Africa, Europe and Asia. Genetic research shows that early humans evolved in Africa.

Man-like creatures, that is to say a creature and species separate from animals, but not yet human, archaic human or hominid, originated in Africa about 7 million years ago, when a population of African apes broke up into several groups. One of these groups, an unknown common ancestor, evolved into modern gorillas, a second group into the two modern chimps and a third group into humans.

In 2001 fossil remains were found in Africa, which were older than previous finds by several million years. Sahelanthropus tchadensis, nicknamed Toumail, was between 6 and 7 million years old, found in Chad. Orrorin tugenensis was 6 million years old and Ardipithecus ramidus kardaba was between 5.2 and 5.8 years old. Ardipithecus was more likely to be a member of the human family than Orrorin. Later came Ardipithecus ramidus ramidus at 4.4 million years old and Australopithecus afarensis at 3.75 million years, the most famous example of which is “Lucy”, found in Ethiopia in 1974.

Fossils indicate that the human-like creatures became substantially upright about 4 million years ago. Body size, relative to brain size, increased later about 2.5 million years ago. From this time these proto-humans are known as Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus, and they evolved into each other in that order – probably. It is difficult to be certain whether they are in a direct line or they are branches along the way.

The first confirmed direct ancestor of modern man is Homo erectus, who emerged in Africa about 1.7 million years ago. His brain was barely half the size of ours. In early humans the human brain occupied about 500 cubic centimeters. In Homo erectus it occupied about 900 cubic centimeters. The brain increased again between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago.

Homo erectus was the first species to leave Africa and spread throughout the world. The other creatures stayed in Africa. They were thought to have lived mainly in the lands now known as Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. The remains of an early hominid, given the name Toumail, was found, however, in Chad in the Toros–Menalla area of the Djurab desert in 2002, so they may be more widespread than originally thought. Evidence from animal fossils in the same rock strata shows that his habitat was wooded grassland at that time.

Homo erectus spread beyond Africa, perhaps in search of food, about 2 million years ago and migrated north. Within one million years ago, perhaps, even before that, he had reached the warmer parts of the Old World. There are Homo erectus fossils in Europe. For some the desert of North Africa may have blocked the way and they turned east towards Asia Minor. The journey across Asia may have taken between 10,000 and 200,000 years. It would have been a kind of relay race. Asian skulls, of about 1 million years, are similar to African Homo erectus skulls.

Fossils of Homo erectus have been discovered in Ngandong, Java, where he is known as Java Man, and in Zhoukoudian, near Beijing, where he is known as Beijing Man. Both are believed to be a million years old. Their general appearance and types of stone tools resembled those of Homo erectus in Africa. Some people, called the multi-regionalists, think that Asian Homo erectus evolved further there and became the local Homo sapiens population. Genetic testing has shown, however, that the rival replacement or “Out of Africa” school is correct. Homo erectus was totally replaced by Homo sapiens about 100,000 years ago. No intermediate fossils have been found anywhere outside of Africa.

A recent excavation in Flores, which is east of Bali, has disclosed remains of human habitation dating back more than 800,000 years. His ancestor probably reached China first and then moved down to Southeast Asia. That was during a time when the seas rose and fell many times and Africa, Asia, Europe and America were one big landmass. At that time it was theoretically possible to walk from the south coast of England to Bali. Java and Sumatra were joined to the Asian mainland. The Flores discovery shows that man had learned, by that time, to build watercraft and paddle them out to sea. The nearest island was at least 19 kilometers away, even when sea levels were at their lowest.

In October 2004 it was reported that the fossilized remains of prehistoric hominids, only one meter high, have been found in Western Flores in a cave. They have been given the name Homo Floresiensis. They had dark, scaly skin, making them a breakthrough in evolutionary studies.

Australia and New Guinea

Sea and the lack of sailing ability blocked off Australia and New Guinea from human penetration for a long time – until about 60,000 years ago. The Aboriginees probably came from Southeast Asia and a fair guess is that they travelled from Bali and Lombok. Bali had been inhabited for a million years. Someone must have crossed to Lombok and found that there was food, and that there were no tigers and that it was safe. They then probably moved on to Sumba when the food in Lombok was exhausted.


The earliest evidence of humans in Europe dates to about half a million years ago, about the time that that Flores sea trip was taking place. African and European skulls of this period are similar to ours. A new species had been born, our own, called by our own name, Homo sapiens. It is likely that one of the most important spurs to development was the ability to speak and communicate information. This was enabled by the appearance of a pharynx, which prevents food and air going down the same channel. It developed between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago. Languages were probably in existence 70,000 years ago.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago anatomically similar people to us were in Africa, but not in Europe yet. In Europe there were the Neanderthals, Homo neanderthaensis, cave-men, whose remains have been discovered in Europe and West Asia. They were there between 130,000 and 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthals get their name from the discovery of remains in 1856 by workmen in the Neander valley near Dusseldorf in Germany.

Our ancestors and the Neanderthals may have lived together at the same time, but they were distinct. It is not known if they interbred, but if they did, they did not produce any descendants. There is no known Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA in modern human beings. They reached a dead end and the last one died in southern Spain about 28,000 years ago.

About 50,000 years ago there was another Great Leap Forward, probably caused by a large build up of population and environmental factors. The first modern humans appeared in Europe, the Cro-Magnons, named after the cave site in France where their bones were first found in 1868. They invented representational art, which is found in over 200 caves in France and northern Spain. They had advanced stone technology. The Cro-Magnons totally replaced the Neanderthals and all modern Europeans trace their ancestry to them.


Archaeology, fossils and recently DNA are all providing evidence of man’s remote past. In 1953 two young scientists working in Cambridge, James Watson and Francis Crick, solved the molecular structure of DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, which paved the way. Until then DNA was thought of as unimportant, but it holds the key to the chemical mechanism of heredity. DNA is confined to the chromosomes in the cell nucleus and contains instructions. Every cell has an equal share of the chromosomes in the nucleus. It is the proteins, made up of amino-acids, which carry out the body’s work. They are the enzymes, hormones, collagens, haemoglobins, and antibodies. DNA provides instructions on how to make the proteins. The instructions are the genes, so, for example, there is the keratin gene, which is the protein gene to make hair.

There is one very special gene called mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down the female line. As time passes there are random mutations and by looking at the mutations the age of the gene can be estimated. By this method it can be estimated that the human species is about 150,000 years old. All living human beings, therefore, have a common ancestor, who lived about 150,000 years ago.

Bryan Sykes has described his genetic research in The Seven Daughters of Eve. He shows that 95 per cent. of the 650 million modern Europeans are descended from seven women, living between 45,000 and 10,000 years ago. This is clear through tracing unbroken genetic links. There are 26 other clans of equivalent status throughout the rest of the world. There are, therefore, in total, 33. Out of those 33, 13 are from Africa.


An alternative Hindu view of the creation of Man is that Saraswati, the goddess of poetry, brought humans into existence by the use of writing.

It is interesting the main Western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which post-date Hinduism, also saw creation through the medium of the Word. Genesis says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Ice Age

Bali emerged from the seas in a series of volcanic explosions two to three million years ago.

Over the last 2 million years there have been 17 ice ages. During ice ages much of the ocean’s waters are locked up in glaciers. Land is also locked up – the last ice age covered the north of Wales and Scotland in ice and there was no life there. The South of England was like a polar desert. The last Ice Age started about 25,000 years ago, began to thaw about 15,000 years ago and ended about 8,000 years ago. It caused sea levels to drop hundreds of feet and new islands formed. England and Ireland were separated from Europe and each other, as water flowed into the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the English Channel. Sri Lanka was cut off from India, and the Philippines split from Asia. Taiwan divided from China and eventually New Guinea separated from Australia.

Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Bali had been connected by dry land during the Ice Ages, which enabled men and animals to migrate. After the Ice Age shallow seas formed between the islands and separated them all. Many of those on coastal plains would have drowned or seen their livelihood destroyed. Flood myths permeate many mythologies. It may be that the end of the Ice Age gave rise to these stories.

About 11,000 years ago agriculture was invented in the Middle East and changed human life for ever. It reached Greece about 8,000 years ago and Britain and Scandinavia about 5,500 years ago. In at least nine different parts of the world the domestication of wild crops and animals began. Sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and horses were domesticated in Eurasia about 6,000 years ago. The result was an increase in population, the formation of villages and towns, specialisation of occupations and outbreaks of new epidemics.

Continental Drift

A young German meteorologist, Alfred Wegener, devised the theory of continental drift or plate tectonics in 1912. The theory holds that the surface of the earth consists of seven large plates and many small ones. They are in constant irregular motion, drifting into and under each other. His theory was only accepted in the 1960s.

The present continents are therefore not fixed but are gently moving together or apart. The Himalaya Mountains arose from the pressure of continents slowly colliding into one other.

To the south of Bali is the Indian Ocean. The floor of the Indian Ocean, which is part of the Indian-Australian plate, collided, and then sank beneath the Eurasian plate and this caused an earthquake zone between the two plates. The zone is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) below the surface in the south of Bali. It dips to about 200 kilometers (120 miles) in the north of the island.

Bali sits on a turtle

The alternative explanation for the cause of earthquakes is the Balinese belief that Bali sits on the back of a turtle, the world-turtle, Bedawang Nala, who occasionally stirs and sets off earthquakes. Bedawang is flanked by two dragon-snakes, the Nagas, one of which is green or blue and the other is red. There are many representations of Bedawang and the Nagas in Balinese paintings, carvings, shrines and cremation towers.

The Balinese bang pots and drums during an earthquake to wake up the Nagas, Basuki and Anantaboga, in case they have fallen asleep on the job of holding the earth’s foundations together.

Balinese Volcanoes

The collision of two plates produces continuous seismic activity (earthquakes) and heat. When earthquakes are large, volcanism results, often with the formation of magma or molten rock and gases. The magma or molten rock is under great pressure. Chains of volcanoes form if it is pushed up towards the surface through weak parts.

There is an arc of volcanoes, called the Ring of Fire, encompassing Indonesia, including Java and Bali. The vents of the volcanoes, through which the magma reaches the surface, are plugged by solidified magma. This increases the pressure until there is a series of violent explosions.

Periods between eruptions are unpredictable. Mount Batur, 1,717 meters (5,633 feet), is live and can often be seen smoking and rumbling. It erupted twice in the 20th century and as recently as the 1990s. Mount Agung, the highest mountain in Bali, at 3,142 meters (10,309 feet), exploded dramatically in 1963 and killed over 2,000 people.

Volcanic ash enriches the soil. It also helps that water is plentiful. The Balinese traditionally turn a blind eye to the risk of volcanoes, perhaps blaming themselves for causing the gods to be angry. After an explosion they normally go back and try to continue farming. Life goes on.

Some large volcanoes plug themselves so well that huge magma chambers form. When they do eventually explode, huge vacant holes, like lakes, are the result. These are called calderas after the Spanish word for “kettle”. Mount Batur is an example of a double caldera and is one of the biggest in the world. It has been partly filled by a beautiful lake called Lake Batur, the biggest in Bali, and another volcanic cone.

Lake Batur is the source of an underground network of water channels, which feed into sacred springs on the slopes of Mount Batur. There is a tunnel running through the property, below Murni’s Villa, on the slope to the stream, which forms the western boundary to the property. We believe this comes from Lake Batur and feeds Ubud.

1917 Earthquake

There was a very, very bad earthquake in 1917. Ubud was flattened and the whole of Ubud palace was destroyed. No houses were left standing. Luckily it took place early in the morning when most people were already up and working in the rice fields. This saved a lot of lives.

Indonesian Volcanoes

There are five active volcanoes in Bali, including Batukau, 2,276 meters (7,467 feet) and Abang, 2,152 meters (7,060 feet). According to an expert from the local Department of Meteorology and Geophysics, Bali recorded 52 earthquakes in June 2002, recording an impressive 516 tectonic events in the first six months of 2002.

Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any other country in the world. During the last 10,000 years, at least 132 have been active and 76 eruptions have been recorded (that is to say 17 per cent. of the world’s recorded eruptions).

Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa, to the east of Bali, blew its top in 1815, killing more than 90,000 people. It is said to have created the loudest noise ever heard. It vented so much material into the atmosphere that Europe lost its summer growing season.

Krakatau, which is between Java and Sumatra (not east of Java as the movie said), erupted four times on 27 August 1883 and killed 36,000 people. It is near the Java Trench, an active sub-duction zone. There the oceanic plate beneath the Indian Ocean is moving northward, plunging beneath the continental plate.

Every seismograph in the world recorded that explosion. The shock waves reverberated around the world thirteen times. The northern two-thirds of the island of Krakatau was blown away. The eruption produced tidal waves up to 37 meters high. A dust cloud exploded 80 kilometers (50 miles) into the atmosphere.

By 9 September, it had encircled the earth, causing atmospheric effects that lasted for over a year. It is estimated that over 21,000 cubic meters of debris were ejected. All that was left the next day was a deep 250 meter crater and the remnant of an island.

Indian Ocean Tsunami

Worse than any of the above was the Indian Ocean tsunami. On 26 December 2004 at 0058 hours GMT, 7.58 am local time, a strong earthquake, which had a magnitude of 8.9 on the Richter Scale, occurred off the west coast of Northern Sumatra.

A subsequent tsunami hit South, Southeast Asia, and East Africa causing a large number of deaths and serious, widespread damage to buildings, roads, and power lines.

Several countries bordering the Indian Ocean were affected including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Tanzania, Seychelles, Kenya, and Somalia.

Areas in Indonesia (Aceh province), Sri Lanka (northeast, east, south and southwest coastal areas), India (coastal states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Kerala and the Union Territories of Pondicherry and Andaman and Nicobar), the Maldives (two thirds of Male, including the airport), and parts of Thailand (Phuket, Phi Phi Island, Krabi, and other smaller islands in the vicinity) were hardest hit.


Despite the terrible effects, Bali can thank the volcanoes for her civilisation. Tropical soils tend to be poor because heavy rains wash away the nutrients. Bali, however, has been spared this disadvantage. Continuous eruptions throw fertile ash over the island.

Mountains also cause rainfall. Moisture-laden air rises, cools and then rains. Rain falls on the south of the island. The northern third is in the rain shadow and so is rather arid. So, thanks to the mountains, Bali has fertile soil and good irrigation.

Sacred mountains

Sacred mountains date back to India. Mount Meru was the center of the world, where heaven and hell met. Gods, demons, and men travelled back and forth on Mount Meru.

The islands of Java, Bali and Lombok were not stable according to legend. To stop their wobbling Mount Meru was transferred to Java where it became known as Mount Semeru. It is the highest mountain in Java. Part of the mountain was carried to Bali where it became Mount Agung and part to Lombok where it became Mount Rinjani. The god of Mount Semeru, Pasupati, is the father of the god of Mount Agung and that of Mount Rinjani.

Mountain symbolism appears worldwide. They are reflected in the Egyptian pyramids, the Babylonian ziggurat, and the Tower of Babel. There are sacred mountains in China and Japan.

Mountains are represented in many forms in Bali. The Wayang Kulit shadow play opens with a puppet representing a mountain. Offerings are commonly shaped as mountains. Penjors are in the shape of a mountain. Balinese gates are believed to represent Mount Meru. The outer split gate, candi bentar, represents the two halves of Mount Meru split by Siwa to allow passage. The inner covered gate, normally surmounted by meru roofs, is the reunion, following entry. Another view is that the split gate represents the diversity of God and the covered one his oneness.

Balinese orientation

It is no surprise therefore that mountains have acquired a very deep religious significance for the Balinese. Towards the mountains, kaja, is the most sacred direction; towards the sea, kelod, is the reverse. Every building on the island is positioned according to orientation rules based on this dichotomy.

Further, every Balinese is aware at all times of his own physical position in relation to the mountains and the sea. The Balinese give directions using this terminology. They even ask for things to be moved by reference to the north, south, east or west. It can be a little confusing for a person from north Bali visiting the south of Bali, as he will receive his directions by reference to the mountains. The mountains are to the north for the southerner and to the south for the northerner. People can get hopelessly lost in Bali for this reason.

Balinese Origins – Volcanoes – Civilisation