Hare Krishnas shake up
Balinese Hindus

By Putu Wirata

DENPASAR, BALI (JP): Balinese traditionalist Hindus with a conservative way of thinking have been worried incessantly that their art and culture will lose out to various non-Balinese cultural elements entering the island. One of the sources of this great worry is none other than Hare Krishnas, also a community of Hindus but one that worships Krishna.

As worshipers of Krishna -- one of 11 awatara Hindus believe in -- the Hare Krishna sect is thought to be rather exclusive and extreme amid Bali's great wealth of rites, arts and cultures.

Hare Krishnas are easily recognizable for their tuft of hair (on the men only), all-white Indian-styled garb and their avoidance of meat offerings in their rites.

Their music comes from small Indian percussion instruments, which produce a unique sound and differ from Balinese small drums, and usually played with great zest and passion with the players looking as if they were ready to fight.

What may be very significant to note is that in the past decade there has been an increase in the number of spiritual tours to India made by Balinese Hindus, including tours for the kumba mela rite at the Ganges river.

In the strong Balinese Hindu tradition, meat, including beef, is a must for all offerings in their rites. These rites are remarkable in that they are highlighted by the loud sound of the gamelan, the supple movement of dancers performing sacred dances, the excitement of cock-fights amid the sound of drums and games of dominoes to drive sleepiness away.

According to legend, meat offerings date back to pre-Hindu traditions or, perhaps, to a time when Hindu sects (sampradaya) found fertile soil before their fusion in the Samuhan Tiga conference held by Mpu Kuturan early in the 11th century. The story goes that King Jayapangus' subjects, fond of eating lawar, a mix of vegetables, meats and fresh blood, were required to conduct a teeth-incision rite to dispel sadripu (the six adversaries inside one's body such as inclinations to tell lies, anger, envy and so forth).

It seems that Dang Hyang Nirartha, coming to Bali in the 16th century, simply continued this popular Hindu tradition of making offerings.

Apparently, it is the meat offerings that the Hare Krishnas have criticized. While the Hindu holy scripture, the Veda, considers a cow a sacred animal -- India's Hindus pay great respect to cows -- in Bali, beef is used as an offering in a rite. Balinese Hindus have in their literature teachings that give legitimacy to the use of meat in an offering.

The teaching on yadna states that man is justified in slaughtering an animal if he uses the meat as an offering or for his own survival. Man is committing a sin if he kills an animal without making use of it. There is even a conviction that the slaughtered animals will be reincarnated to a level higher than the level of existence they had when they were killed.

It is this criticism lodged by Hare Krishnas that has caused restlessness among traditionalist Hindus in Bali. They believe they have inherited the kind of Hinduism that prevails across the island. While admitting that Hinduism came from India, the Balinese people's art and culture as they are known today have been syncretically developed with the inclusion of pre-Hindu elements.

Also worried, perhaps, that the rapidly developing Hare Krishna sect would engulf Bali's traditional arts, culture and villages, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, at the strong urging of the Indonesian Hindu Religious Council (PHDI) issued a ban in 1984 prohibiting the Hare Krishna Foundation from carrying out any activities.


A statement made by Bali's chief public prosecutor's office early in February stating that the ban on Hare Krishna's activities still stands because this organization is considered to be disturbing to the peaceful life of Balinese Hindus, is shocking to the adherents and worshipers of Krishna.

Hindu Youth founder, Wayan Sudirta, said, ""It is a confusing statement because I have heard that the executive board of PHDI has lately been more open to Hare Krishna.""

He said that, just like the Hare Krishnas, he was hunted by security apparatuses and PHDI personnel in the mid-1980s because he refused to make his organization a sole Hindu youth organization coopted by the government.

Dr. Made Titib, a member of PHDI's central board, made a similar comment. He said that the presence of Hare Krishna had led to pros and cons but that he had suggested Hare Krishnas should proceed with their belief without being bothered by any bans. ""However, our friends in Hare Krishna must carry out introspection, and if necessary self-correction, to avoid provoking a conflict with residents of traditional villages in Bali, whose religious understanding is of what they have inherited from previous generations,"" he said.

Agni Horta

Titib also said that some traditional village residents had great curiosity about the Agni Horta (God of Fire) rite and thought that it was some kind of Indianization of Balinese Hinduism.

""This is not an Indianization at all. About four centuries ago, King Dalem Warurenggong carried out this Agni Horta rite but unfortunately it caused his Klungkung palace to catch fire. Since then, only a small flame (placed in a food tray) has been used, simply to prevent any uncalled for consequences.

A Veda expert, and member of the executive board of Warga Pasek in Bali, Made Titib, said: ""When we introduce Agni Horta, some local people suspect us of Indianization. Hare Krishnas, on the other hand, also suspect us of being anti-Krishna. Well, this is really troublesome.""

As for Wayan, he has lashed out at both sides, the traditional villages and the Hare Krishnas. The villages have their pluses and minuses, he said, adding that their traditional rites were artistically beautiful. On the other hand, he went on, the Hare Krishna should not pose a problem as far as the holy Veda book is concerned.

As newcomers, he said, the Hare Krishnas must act tactfully and win the sympathy of Balinese Hindus traditional villages. If the approach is confrontational, then they will face confrontations in return, he said. Wayan also advised traditional villages not to resort to violence when dealing with Hare Krishnas because they are also fellow Hindus.

Embracing Hare Krishnas will be much better than prompting them to do undesirable things, he said. ""What's wrong if one makes a profound study of one's religion in search of Ida Hyang Widhi Wasa?"" he asked.

Hindu Youth, founded in 1985 but redeclared in 2000 at Rawamangun Balinese Hindu Temple, Jakarta, has attempted to be a mediator. ""We are trying to be critical and improve the shortcomings of traditional villages, but we have also reminded our Hare Krishna friends that they must avoid any exclusiveness. If they respect the prevailing Hindu traditions in Bali, people in the villages will also respect them and try to understand the essence of Hare Krishna,"" he said.

Wayan, a critical Hindu figure, also suggested that the Hare Krishna should remain patient. ""I suggest that they do not attack the Prosecutor's Office, the Ministry of Religious Affairs or PHDI, let alone the members of Balinese traditional villages.

""Security apparatuses no longer hunt them. They can just practice their faith, although it is under a different name. In fact, they do not need any legitimacy from the government. The most important thing for them is to get recognition from the community. This recognition must come from harmonious relations, not because of conflicts,"" he said.

Ketut Gunadika of Krishna Bhalaram, said he could understand this suggestion. ""What matters is that there should not be any generalization. If one or two Hare Krishna adherents happen to make a mistake, don't blame the entire Hare Krishna sect for this mistake,"" he said, adding that in any group or community there would always be good and bad people.

""I prefer to continue having dialogs with our brothers who are said to be traditionalist Hindus. It's no problem at all. Let's sit at the same table without any suspicion that there is Indianization or purification. We are all in search of God in our respective ways,"" he added.

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