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  Stone Carving

The Balinese seem unable to tolerate unadorned stone. With fanged, bulging-eyed statues guarding every gate and shrine, and walls, benches and pedestals of traffic signs carved in stone, stone-carving is so ubiquitous on Bali, you may begin to take it for granted.

Superbly crafted stonework is also much in evidence in Bali's hotel properties-from humble home-stays to luxurious five-star resorts.

An art patronized almost exclusively by the Balinese themselves, the carvings on Bali's communal public buildings-temple walls, drum towers, gateways, public baths, hotels, courthouses-are exuberantly ornamental, a riot of swirling spirals, arabesques, intricate volutes, swastikas, leaves, rivers, tendrils, flowers, and trees. Balinese temples are never really finished, guaranteeing that stone-carving will continue as a living art.

Stone-carving has been unaffected by tourist consumerism because stone is too dear to ship home. This doesn't mean you can't slip a 10 kg stone statue in your flight bag, but be careful as the stone used, though unexpectedly light, is also fragile and easily crumbles.

Temple stone-carving reflects the creative assimilation, which has been at work on Bali for 2,000 years. Elements of Chinese and Dutch decorative art, such as winged lions and floral patterns, have crept into stone-carvings, and on their temples and in many of the interior altars light-bulbs have been embedded into the intricate stone masonry, even though there's no electricity in these buildings!

The stone-carving style of southern Bali, typified by the temple architecture found in Denpasar, Tabanan, Gianyar, Bangli, and Klungkung, is more subdued than that of the north. The baroque, flame-like entranceways of northern temples stand tall and slender; their relieves are more lavish and depict more lighthearted and comic scenes than those of the south.

Since the north was occupied by the Dutch a full 60 years before the south, you'll find in Buleleng Regency's stone art more images from European magazines and movies.

This is where the Balinese sense of humor and ribaldry really shows. Panels are filled with buzzing airplanes, bobbing sailing ships, car holdups by two-gunned masked bandits, bicycles made of flowers, grinning monkeys, Dutchmen drinking beer, long-bearded Arabs, and automobile breakdowns. New influences taken in without destroying the integrity of the old is a trademark of Balinese history.

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