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Balinese Hindu Dharma - Part -01
It is the Supreme Lord From whom this world of diversified objects arose.
It is He who sustains and destroys it, Who is the Lord of this entire universe;
In whom the universe lives, moves and dies.
Know Him and do not believe any other being to be the Creator of the world.

Holy Rigveda X:129:7

About fifteen centuries ago, a revival movement had begun within Sanatana Dharma. After a thousand years of decline under the weight of the nastika philosophies, Sanatana Dharma was again well on its way to reestablishing its dominance in the Indian subcontinent in this period now referred to as the "golden age of Hinduism." It must have been under these circumstances that the Rishis first boarded trading vessels leaving the southern coast of India, and heading toward South-East Asia. Their only motivation was perhaps to spread the teachings, the truth revealed by the holy Vedas and Agamas. In the successive centuries, Hinduism was widely practiced in Malaysia, the Indonesian archipelago, and other areas of South-East Asia. The Hindu rulers of South-East Asia founded many large temple-complexes and established vast empires. The glory of the Sri Wijaya Maritime Empire and the Majapahit kingdom of Java still remain unmatched in the minds of many South-East Asians.

The Hindus of India had long forgotten that their ancestors had centuries ago crossed the oceans carrying the message of Sanatana Dharma to people of South-East Asia. The first person in recent memory to have rediscovered that Hinduism was also followed in Indonesia was the Nobel Prize winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore, during his journey through Bali and other parts of Indonesia in the 1920s. Today, Hindu Dharma of Bali serves as a reminder of Hinduism's intrinsic missionary spirit. Balinese Hindu Dharma is a unique sect of Hinduism with its roots in the Vedas and Agamas. The Balinese Hinduism has been for centuries fiercely independent, but in recent decades theologians have exchanged ideas and formalized ties with Indian Hindus. The Balinese Hindus have not only preserved the ancient Hindu teachings brought to them by Rishi Agastya and Rishi Markandeya down to the modern age, but they continue to lead the Hindu renaissance in Indonesia. It is due to the efforts of the Balinese, who account for 2-3% of the Indonesian population, that Hinduism was recognized as an official religion in the Indonesian constitution's pancasila clause. Also, the Balinese Hindus have led movements to unite Indonesian Hindus under the umbrella of the Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia (Hindu Religious Council of Indonesia) and continue to foster the Hindu revival in on the predominantly island of Java.

For their work to reform, centralize, redefine and revive Hinduism in Indonesia, Navya Shastra salutes our Balinese Hindu brothers and sisters. We believe that all Hindus regardless of where they reside, can learn from Balinese Hindu Dharma and its followers. While the Indian subcontinent gifted the Balinese with the glorious Veda-Agamic religious tradition, it may very well be that the Balinese will give back to India by providing a model for a Hindu renaissance.

Below is the abridged text of the Navya Shastra discussions on Balinese Hinduism and related issues. The discussion began after Sri Pathmarajah Nagalingam announced to the group that he visited Bali a few weeks prior to the blasts at the Kuta nightclubs.

 Posted by Gautham KR (Jun 22 2003):

Do the Balinese Hindus have an initiation ceremony and do they allow for non-Hindus to become Hindus? Does Hinduism survive in Java today?



Posted by Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Jun 23 2003):

No initiation ceremonies or dikshas except when one is becoming a priest. There are many foreigners living in Bali who have adopted the Balinese Hindu religion and culture. Anyone can just walk into the religion and become a Hindu, but no ceremony that I know of. To enter a temple, Hindu attire is compulsory.

There are some remnants of Hinduism left in South Central Java, in the royal Jogjakarta city and its surroundings. Some very new reports as recent as this month, are saying there is a return to Hinduism among Javanese, and that probably by now there are more Hindus in Java than in Bali. It may be exaggerated to say there are 3 million Hindus in Java, but safe to assume that there are between 0.5 million to 1 million Hindus in Java. However, I know for sure that there are more Buddhists in the Jogjakarta area than Hindus. Please note that neither these Hindus nor Buddhists are Indians. They are indigenous Javanese. Jogjakarta is where Buddhist Borodudur and the Saivite Prambanan Temples are; hence this could be the reason. In Jogjakarta lives their ancient royal sultanate that has largely a Hindu culture and traditions and maintains it to this day. This may be another reason. Sultan Hamenkubuwono of Jogjakarta has been cited as a potential future president.

Also on every purnima [full moon] they stage the Ramayana in Jogjakarta for tourists on a specially built stadium over looking the Prambaban Temple. This is the grandest Ramayana play I have ever seen; 250 musicians and actors. It really thrills you to see Hanuman's army of 100 monkeys marching, dancing and thumping to the beat, all in unison. It's great to watch this in an open air stadium with the silhouette of Prambanam in the background, full moon in the sky, 100 musicians and 150 actors.

Although Javanese are Muslims, they are proud of their Hindu past unlike the Malaysians. And they proudly maintain their Hindu culture and tradition together with their Muslim worship. We can say that the majority of Javanese are actually Hindus, but worship in Islamic ways. Their underlying belief system is Hindu and above that lies their "Islamicness." It is for this reason that many Islamic clerics turn to fundamentalism to rid their society of its Hindu past and traditions and are not succeeding.



Posted by Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Oct 24 2003):

As I wrote in the reports, in all Bali temples, the head priest is always a brahmin. But the assistant priests can be anyone, of any caste, even ladies. And this is almost always the norm in villages, except in the very large temples where there are several Brahmin priest families serving the temple along with a few non-brahmin assistant priests.

Women assistant priests are common, even in the largest Besakih temple. The assistant priests are trained by the head priest. No caste movement though due to vocation. This alone, I think, has prevented any caste animosity as all have access to priesthood. I think if we adopt such ways, most of our caste problems would be solved.

No caste is allotted to new converts. Tell Aussies and Americans otherwise! Priests are paid by the temples as well as archana and samskara 'thatchanai/dakshina'. Of course Brahmins are educated; local Sanskrit chanting education only though. Today, of course, the castes are mixing. Many brahmins, as in India are professors, doctors, etc. kshatriyas are bartenders, restaurateurs and taxi drivers. As elsewhere, no more attention paid to hierarchy or caste. Priests are still revered very much.




Posted by Vikram Masson (Oct 28 2003):

Pathma: How would you compare the caste system in Bali to the caste system in India? There is no untouchability in Bali as far as I'm aware. Do we hear protests from the Sudras as we do in India?




Posted by Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Oct 28 2003):

In Bali the caste system is still there though it's dying just like in modern India. People freely mix and intermarry now. There never was untouchability. It was also not a hardened system like in India. Here, there is mobility. Anyone of any of the four castes can become an assistant priest in any temple, large or small, even women.

The chief priest post is reserved for the Brahmins only, but even this is theoretical only; in practice many temples are officiated by non-brahmin assistant priests, with the chief Brahmin priest only officiating on major festival days. There are no protests from any quarters as there is no untouchability, no vegetarianism, no 'touch me not' attitudes, and not really a hierarchy.

A few things stand out in comparison with the Indian caste system:

" There is no untouchability
" There is no hierarchy, all castes are equal, therefore no superiority and inferiority complexes
" There is mobility among the castes; anyone can become a priest or kshatriya
" Women and children acquire the caste of the husband
" All groups have a caste shrine within the main temple, none higher or lower
" Their ancient village judicial system must have been effective as all caste problems or slights must have been resolved there immediately
" No sacred thread ceremony, so no cause for exclusivity and quarrels
" Same samskaras for all, except the rich afford large ceremonies and feasts for the departed.

Equality in all things for all Hindus has made their caste system a success. I have not heard of any Balinese complaining about their system. We must strive for this [ideal].




Posted by Vikram Masson (Oct 28 2003):

Original news article published by The Jakarta Post (Dec 27 2001)

Balinese Hinduism on the brink of violent conflict

I Wayan Juniartha
The Jakarta Post
Denpasar, Bali

On 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.

One 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.

This [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 Kembar Kerepun.

The 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.

High 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.

The 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.

For 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.

The 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.

The 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.

That 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 Balinese Hinduism.

Two 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.

Hopefully, 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 modern world.

On 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.

"We 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.

Like 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.

From 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.

Furthermore, 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.

Each 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.

The 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.

And 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.

The 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.

Now, 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 physical conflict.

Sadly, 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.

Historically 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.

Right now, there is no doubt that Bali desperately needs that kind of figure.




Summarized and edited by Gautham Rao.
Sasih Karo, Penglong 14, Saka 1926 [Sep 13, 2004]

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