news article published by The Jakarta Post (Dec 27 2001)
Hinduism on the brink of violent conflict
The Jakarta Post
the eve of the new year, Balinese Hinduism, the religion adhered to by more than
90 percent of the tourist island's population, faces its greatest challenge so
far, as the majority of its religious elite -- layman intellectuals and religious
leaders -- are divided into two opposing camps locked in a bitter struggle over
the fundamental teachings of the religion.
camp is a loose coalition of various clan-based organizations, sampradaya (religious
schools of thought) groups -- including those heavily influenced by Indian Hinduism
such as Hare Krishna or Gandhian philosophy -- and progressive Hindu scholars.
[former] camp is led by prominent figures like high priest Ida Pedanda Gede Ketut
Sebali Tianyar Arimbawa, I Wayan Sudirta, Putu Wiratha, Gedong Bagoes Oka, Alit
Bagiasna, Dr I Made Titib, Prof. Dr. I Gusti Ngurah Bagus, Ketut Wiana and Made
other camp comprises traditional religious leaders, mostly pedanda high priests
from the Brahmana caste, and traditional political figures of the ksatriya caste
from various royal houses in Bali.
priest Ida Pedanda Gede Made Gunung, Ida Bagus Wijaya Kusuma, I Gusti Ngurah Rai
Andayana and the nobility of the Ubud Palace are some of the ardent supporters
of this second camp.
first camp succeed in taking over the executive body of the Parisada Hindu Dharma
Indonesia (Indonesian Supreme Hindu Council), which for years had been largely
dominated by the second camp, in the council's five-day Mahasabha congress held
here last September.
the first time in history, a layman was appointed chairman of the executive body,
instead of a high priest. Furthermore, with the appointment of dozens of high
priests from different clans, the council's clerical body was no longer dominated
solely by a high priest of the Brahmana family.
congress issued several important recommendations, including one tasking the new
council with providing services to all elements of the Hindu community regardless
of sect, caste or school of thought. Another recommendation was that a bhisama
(religious decree) be issued to put an end to the caste system.
ousted second camp passionately tried to defend its last bastion; the provincial
Bali Hindu Council. After two months of preparation, this camp launched a counterstrike
by holding the Lokasabha Council meeting, which was attended by 27 high priests
and some 300 laymen representing Hindu councils in various regencies in Bali.
Heavily guarded by some 200 pecalang traditional guards mobilized by the Ubud
Palace from at least 10 traditional community organizations in Ubud, the one-day
gathering was, in the words of Ida Bagus Wijaya Kusuma, an effort to put the council
back in its original and intended place.
was the reason the gathering was held at Gunung Lebah temple in Campuhan. The
temple was built by Rishi Markandeya, one of the first Indian priests who brought
Hinduism to Bali. In 1961, the area was a venue of a historic meeting of Hindu
high priests, which gave birth to the Campuhan Charter, the foundation of modern
days later the Mahasabha Council issued a statement in which it blatantly refused
to acknowledge the existence of the Lokasabha Council. The latter gave a symmetrical
response, stating that the Mahasabha Council had violated the basic principles
and ideals on which Parisada was originally built upon.
the struggle will renew and revitalize Balinese Hinduism religion and tradition
so that it might become more mature and able to cope with the challenges of the
the other hand, the souring relations between the two camps, with each faction
trying to negate the other, might lead to self-destruction; a religious rift perhaps,
or worse, a bloody violent conflict between each camp's grassroots supporters.
This is definitely not a groundless fear, since the Lokasabha Council has reportedly
held a series of meetings with the nobility of various palaces in Bali, and also
with influential traditional institutions, such as Desa Adat and Banjar. In those
meetings the Lokasabha Council's executives claimed that the council's main concern
was the preservation of Balinese Hinduism; that it also tried to protect the basic
foundation of the island's culture. They also repeatedly warned the people about
those who conspire to destroy the sacred teachings of Balinese Hinduism.
must remain alert since there are groups that want to destroy our traditions,
such as our tradition of sacrificing an animal in the mecaru ceremony," a
Lokasabha Council executive warned in obvious reference to Hare Krishna and Gandhian
religious groups that vehemently oppose the custom. Separately, the Mahasabha
Council has staged demonstrations and media briefings.
any elite-introduced conflict anywhere in the world, the grassroots usually play
an innocent, passive role as bystanders. But when the elite carelessly drag them
into the center of a conflict, then it is just a matter of time before things
get messy, particularly when everything they hold sacred is at stake. On the surface
it all seems to be a struggle between traditional conservative and modern progressive
Hindus. Yet deeper observation reveals that it is a complex war for hegemonic
superiority over the island.
a philosophical point of view, it is a battle between those who believe that Balinese
Hinduism must be rejuvenated, revitalized and purified through the introduction
and popularization of sacred Indian texts and teachings, against those who believe
that any of these efforts must be based on traditional Balinese Hinduism texts
and teachings, and not on any foreign sources.
it is also a struggle of several sects, such as the Waisnawa or the Brahma, to
reclaim the position they lost some 500 years ago to the Saiwa-Siddhanta sect.
But from the sociological perspective it appears to be a fight between members
of the lower caste and members of the upper caste. The Bujangga Waisnawa clan,
the Pasek clan and the Pande clan formed an alliance in order to fight what they
call the hegemonic rule of the Brahmana clan and the Ksatriya clan.
clan enjoyed golden times in ancient Bali, and all claim to be direct descendants
of influential religious or political figures of Bali's past. The Bujangga Waisnawa
clan claims Rsi Markandeya as its ancestor, Pasek clan prides itself on being
descended from Mpu Gni Jaya, while the Brahmana clan claims the illustrious Danghyang
Nirartha and Danghyang Astapaka as its ancestors.
Ksatriyas claim to be descendants of the brave warriors and nobility of East Java's
Majapahit Empire. The only similarity among them is that all of them consider
themselves superior to the others, thus view their own clan or sect as the rightful
spiritual or political ruler of the island.
since the Indonesian Hindu Council and Bali Hindu Council control various assets
and properties, worth hundreds of billions of rupiah, one would be justified in
asking whether the conflict is also economically motivated. Put briefly, on one
side are those who consider themselves the oppressed ones: the Indian school of
thought, the Waisnawa and Brahma sects, the Bujangga Waisnawa, Pasek and Pande
clans. On the other side are those accused of being the oppressor and the hegemonic
authority for the last several hundreds years: the traditional Balinese school
of thought, the Siwa-Siddhanta sect and the Brahmana and Ksatriya clans.
open battle between these two sides has been taking place, though sporadically,
since the first half of the 20th century. The last instance took place in 1999
during the important festival of Panca Wali Krama at Bali's biggest temple of
Besakih. Tradition deemed that two out of the three officiating high priests came
from the Brahmana clan. The first camp fought vehemently against the tradition.
In the end, equal treatment and equal chance to preside over the ceremony was
given to high priests from each clan, thus ending the domination of high priests
from the Brahmana clan.
the battle apparently has reached a critical stage. Both sides are refusing to
negotiate, and instead are mobilizing grassroots support. The air is filled with
suspicion and insinuation - a fertile ground for misunderstanding and violent
the battle has put many people and institutions, which have the ability to mediate
in the conflict, in such a difficult situation that they have virtually been frozen
into inaction. Soft-spoken Bali Governor Dewa Made Beratha, who has both the spiritual
legitimacy -- his regular nocturnal sojourns to various temples are widely known
among the Balinese -- and political legitimacy to be a mediator in the conflict,
has stated neutrality. Furthermore, the local media, including the influential
Bali Post, have been low key in covering the conflict, afraid that the slightest
editorial blunder might spin the conflict into something they cannot bear to imagine.
speaking, an almost similar situation prevailed in Bali some 1,000 years ago during
the reign of King Udayana, when various sects competed against each other for
hegemonic superiority over the island. Fortunately, a wise priest of the Mahayana
Buddhism sect, Mpu Rajakertha -- popularly known as Mpu Kuturan, who was also
Udayana's most trusted advisor, succeed in negotiating a compromise between the
competing sects. He introduced the idea of Tri Murti, which gave equal position,
respect and adoration to Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa, thus pacify the followers of
each respective deity.
now, there is no doubt that Bali desperately needs that kind of figure.