RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE: A man works on a penjor (decorated bamboo pole), to be used as a Christmas decoration, in front of the Bukit Doa Protestant Church at Puja Mandala, Nusa Dua.
The site is an Indonesian icon of religious tolerance as the country’s five major houses of worship lay directly side-by-side. (JP/Andra Wisnu)
It was the morning before Christmas, and the Puja Mandala area, Nusa Dua, was filled with people working to finish the penjor (decorated bamboo pole), which would be erected in front of Bukit Doa Protestant church to mark the Christian holy day.
Traditionally, penjor is the icon of Balinese Hinduism. It symbolizes the Hindus' gratitude to the Gods for abundant harvests and a banner of victory.
Each Balinese Hindu family will erect one penjor in front of its house during the Galungan and Kuningan, the festive religious festivals to celebrate the victory of dharma (virtues) over adharma (vices).
In the Puja Mandala area, and also in various churches across the island where penjor were erected during Christmas by the Balinese Christians, the decorated bamboo poles had became a testament of the island's religious tolerance.
On this island, religious difference has never been an issue for the various congregations.
"The Muslims have said that they will help with organizing the parking spots for our congregations, while we have our Christmas mass," said Yulius Leo Suprobo, head of the pastoral council of the Maria Mother of All People Catholic Church in Puja Mandala, on Wednesday.
"And another man from Java, who is a Muslim, has nicely decided to help train our choir to play the angklung (traditional percussion instrument) for the Christmas mass too."
Puja Mandala, literally means a space for devotion, is one of Indonesia's many icons of religious tolerance. It is a cluster of houses of worship located in the middle of Bualu village, Badung.
It hosts the Ibnu Baitullah Mosque, right next to it is the Maria Bunda Segala Bangsa Catholic Church, the Budhina Guna Buddhist temple right next to that, the Bukit Doa Protestant Church afterwards, and on the other end lies the Jagat Natha Hindu temple.
In front of the houses of worship is a shared parking area the size of a soccer field, a testament, Yulius said, to the people's commitment to religious tolerance in the area.
"Especially during times when we have two or three big religious ceremonies together and parking spots become scarce, people from the different religions work together to manage the mess," he said.
Yulius said the site was always peaceful despite Indonesia's often bloody history of sectarian conflicts.
"Even this year, when Nyepi (Hindu day of silence) fell on a Friday, the Muslims agreed not to put on the loudspeaker for Friday prayer," he said.
"And they didn't drive to the mosque, they walked. There was no argument. It's just a common understanding."
The idea for the site was conceived in the early 90's during the boom in Bali's tourism industry by then Minister of Tourism, Postal and Telecommunication Joop Ave, then Minister of Religion Tarmizi Taher and then Bali Governor Ida Bagus Oka.
Bali's population was rising and becoming more religiously cosmopolitan with migrants from all around Indonesia coming to get a share of the island's economy.
The need for the site became increasingly clear as Nusa Dua began to develop as a popular site for conferences and seminars. Hotels needed to provide guests with a proper place to pray.
The Bali Tourism and Development Corporation donated the land and various religious communities shared the development costs. The construction was finished in 1997.
The site was conceived, and remains, as a go-to site for tourists of different religious backgrounds who are staying in the Nusa Dua region. Hotels continue to provide shuttle services to the area.
It has also become a tradition for the churches in the area to have masses in English, including for the Christmas mass.
"We uphold acculturation here, because I think that's what makes this country beautiful," Yulius said.
"When I hear the call for Maghrib from the Mosque right next door every time I give the afternoon mass, it's just the most beautiful feeling."
Puja Mandala remains a unifying spot for many Balinese.
Tetty Lular, a Protestant, who was making the penjor for his church's Christmas mass, said he often helped make ones for other occasions celebrated by people of other religions in the area.
"We help when there's weddings, birthdays, Easter and Lebaran (Muslim celebrations). We are all friends here," he said.