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Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Feast for The Bhataras

Now I’ll describe a regular festival performs twice a year. This is similar with birthday party, when the temple got the first installation ceremony. The ceremony to commemorate this installation rite was called Pawedalan means “birth”. The word then became Piodalan or just Odalan. Actually the procedure was like our nitya-aradhana that we perform daily according to the scriptures of Agama-sastra. But the Balinese count one days of the Bhataras equal with six Balinese months of 210 days. I didn’t know if all temples and family shrines following the same procedures. It is common in Bali there are differences in ritual details, varied from place to place. I’ll simply speak about my own Balinese family shrine's protocol. (but the photos showed here weren't mine)

The ceremony actually can lead by the senior member of the family. But after past three generations we use paid Pandit (Pemangku). First he will do sankalpa on behalf of the whole family. He recalled the day, month, year, place, and finally our intention to invite the Bhataras for feasting on commemoration of their inauguration day.

The Pandit sat cross-legged on the ground for humbly inviting the Bhataras. First he purifying himself than the ritual begins. He invokes the Lord Ganapati, elephant-headed god, pray for protection. Then he invokes the Bhataras begin from our vastudevatas, sthanadevatas, gramadevatas, the navagrahas, the eight lokapalas. He performs puspanjali to the seven sages and the Mahadevas. After that he invite our ancestors to attend the function by saying in archaic Javanese, “Let our revered elders came together for the feasting, joyfully worshiping the Devas, Mahadevas, and The Lord of Your Family, Who was told to me as The Lord of Seven Hill, offering your obeisance toward The Lotus feet of The Lord known as Kesava, Hrisikesha, Govinda, Janardana, and Padmanabha.” (sinembah sira sang bhatara kabeh maring padanta sanghyang kuladevatanta, sang rajabhatara maraga iswaraning saptagiri anghaturaken puja stuti panganjali ri pada juga hyang kesava, hrsikesa, govinda, janardana, padmanabha, kadi kawruhaken ing mami )”. Lord of Seven Hills is one of many names of Lord Vishnu, Whose temple was located on the top of Thirumala Hill, a sacred pilgrimage place for Hindus. The South Indians preferred to call Him Lord Srinivasa and in the North He was famous as Lord Balaji. This most famous Hindu shrine of Lord Srinivasa was the richest religious institution in the world. More than 10.000 pilgrims were visiting this holy site everyday. When my "first" ancestor came to Nusantara, he could be a devout worshipper of this Divine Form of Our Lord. Thus He became our Family Deity (kuladevata).

Now the Pandit offers some water to wash the Bhatara’s feet, their hand, and sipping for refreshment. Then he told the Bhataras to purifying themselves before attending the feast of Our Family Deity. He told our relatives to circulate some containers of consecrated holy water and ceremoniously sprinkled them to all shrines and other holy structures all over the house. Meditatively we thought that the attending Bhataras have come to the function freshly bathed and sanctified. Next offering were articles for face make up. Scented water, perfumes, fragrant powder, herbal oil for hair, and flowers. Their essences weave toward the shrines by chanting some prayer indicating the offered articles. The last articles were one set of clothing and jewel, also offered by same procedure.

Then the Pandit left his seat on the ground and take new position on a pavilion with platform full of food offerings. Because we have two main Kemulan shrines, we also have bigger pavilion with two platforms for each shrine. Once my ancestor has no male progeny, only one girl. Because there’s no other way, the “princess must become prince” to inherit the house and its wealth. So the daughter has to change her status socially as son. When the time of marriage came, then the bridegroom spiritually converted to the status of a wife not a husband. So the husband (but wife in social status) has to take his ancestral shrine to his wife’s house (now with the status of a husband, the legal heir of the house). So we have two main shrines till now.

Various food offerings, fruits, cakes, and flowers.

Back to the feast, now the Pandit offered the whole articles first to the highest Bhatara, our Kuladevata The Lord of Saptagiri (I don’t know about other Balinese family). Then in descending order to the other Mahadevas, Devas, and Bhataras. But we have to remember that there were attending ancestors and lesser Bhataras that have no right to directly take the offerings. So now the Pandit led us to weave the essences of Prasada to these certain Bhataras.

After the Bhataras got their feast, we perform sembah, anjali namaskara, and offered puspanjali, respectfully fold our hand and rise them up, offered oblations of flowers at the feet of attending Bhataras. Then the same procedures were repeated by offering water for sipping, wash hand, and feet. After that the Bhataras were gave farewell and send back to their respective abodes. The whole ceremony was over by taking Sripada-tirtha (holy water) and consecrated rice mixed with turmeric and sandalwood paste, similar with akshata-prasada, called bija in Bali, and of course did our own feast with the leftover foods of the Bhataras.

Offering anjali namaskara and pushpam, raising your hand, and offer the flowers

All temples and all family shrines have their own “Birthday Celebration” at certain auspicious day. A bigger temple or more famous one with many followers will have more elaborate festivals even continued for days. The great temples of the Cardinals Patron Devatas and the temples at the complex of Besakih, the Mother Temple, could have full one month feast. The higher the rank of the presiding Bhatara, many more his equal colleagues and lesser Bhataras should be invited to his feast. Also many people from so many places will come to offer obeisance, then more time will be needed to accommodate all of them. So from initial avahana (invoking rites) to final visarjana (farewell rites) of the Bhataras will take longer time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Relating With Bhutas, Demons in The Island of Gods

In one sense, we understood Bhutas as natural elements of this material world. They are also representing material forces, the subtle mundane energies permeates and constitutes this mayic (deluding) impermanent universe. We should consciously treat this world as manifestations of external energy emanating from The Supreme Lord Himself. By doing so, we can maintain this creations with feeling of total gratitude to Sri Bhagavan, as He gives them as His mercy for the conditioned souls. We show honor to these material creations, by which we can make offerings to please Sri Bhagavan in devotional loving service. Because of this thought, the Balinese can’t abandon the value of the Bhutas in their religious lives.

Other meaning of Bhuta is some kind of demonic or ghostly beings. They believed as malign negative spirits who can bring disharmony to the environment. They have subtle forms and can influence human’s subtle body, our minds, by their negative vibrations. They can create disturbance to the performance of sacrificial rites for the Devatas and other religious activities dedicated to God. Disagreement, quarrel, or mere tendencies for gossiping mundane topics in religious function supposed to the results of their negative influences. Some negative spirits also can do more disturbing activities such as haunting living quarters and make their inhabitants fell sick with unknown reason. All of these disturbances caused by the negative vibration of the Bhutas, when they were in improper place and circumstance.

They could be look like this...

Unlike the followers of Abrahamic religions who thoughts the Bhutas as agents and companions of Satan, thus became the enemies of The Lord and the believers, the Balinese Hindus don’t take exorcism ritual to deal with them. As Veda and the Vaishnavas don’t have conception about such a malicious being as Satan, who became a rival to The Supreme God, so do the Balinese Hindus. Sri Bhagavan is peerless Eternal Absolute Truth, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, how could be any being became His competitor or eternal enemy? So the Balinese treat these Bhutas with same attitude with other creations of The Lord.

Some food...

Everyday they make a simple Bhutabali offerings from rice, sometime coloured. Placed primarily at three places: the gateway of the house, the centre of living courtyard, and the courtyard of family shrine. At more elaborate form they also offered meat and liquor, as such beings are fond of these substances. Or even there are more complicated rituals of Bhutabali. But cooked rice on square of banana leaves, some flower petals, tamasic mixture of little pinch of ginger, onion, salt with soot, and grains were enough for them. Sometimes they also scattered coins for the Bhutas.
There is an interesting story in the Aitreya-brahmana that tells how rice became the substitute for the meat. "In the beginning the gods used human beings for sacrifice. Overtime the sap of life left the human being and entered the body of the horse. Thereafter, the horse became the object of sacrifice. In time this sap of life left the horse and entered the ox. The ox became the object of sacrifice. Then again when the sap of life left the ox and entered sheep, a sheep became the object of sacrifice. Soon this sap of life left the sheep and entered the goat, wherein the goat became the object of sacrifice. For a long time the goat remained the object of sacrifice. Eventually, the sap of life left the goat and entered the earth. Thereupon, the earth became rice and rice became the fit substitute for the sap of life." Here we get the history of the sacrificial animal and the relationship between rice and the sacrificial animal. So rice for meat is OK. Surprisingly, this also practiced in Bali.

... and some flowers, with some sweet words for friendship...

The prayer for this Bhuta offerings is very interesting for me. The language is in archaic Balinese translated as, “O You the Bhutas, Raksasas, and other ghostly beings. This is our offerings to you, please enjoy it. Please go back to your respective places, take your wife, sons, relatives, and servants with you. Don’t disturb our performance of holy rites, to please the ancestors, devatas, and The Supreme Lord. This is some grains and money; take it to buy your needs at the market (the phrase used in original prayer is a little funny. “Pasar Agung”, literally means something we know as Supermarket). Please be convenient and be happy. And let your happiness help us to bring harmonious relationship among us, so the Devatas will be please with us.” Friendship is better than enmity, and friendship may come from sweet words. Such is the humble way of a Balinese in build a relationship with even such a spiritually low beings. The same values that we always trying to develop in Vaishnava society.

We may think these offerings to the Bhutas as something superstitious. But let we see the morality behind this act. A deep appreciation towards any living entities. Veneration to The Lord’s creations and energies. A humble and loving attitude to the lesser one. Lives and let lives. Don’t you think this perfectly in accordance with Vaishnavism and true Vedic messages? And if the invisible Bhutas don’t actually need or accept the offering, at least the visible Bhutas will take it (dogs, cats, birds, or even ants).

All right, here are some visible Bhutas always in need for some food...

You see? The offerings is work....

The day when there's no Balinese put some offerings for the Bhutas...

At least I patrolled around your temples, so just give me something...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gods in The Island of Gods (6)

Jagannath Trimurti in Divine Unity Form

The Trinatha of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Siva

Trinatha temple of Java

The Trinatha worship as the manifestations of One Supreme Absolute Truth, Paramasiva for the Saivites, Adi Buddha for the Buddhists and Sriman Narayana thus Lord Jagannath for Vaishnava was true Vedic tenets especially developed in Orissa. Even today, the main shrine of worship in every Balinese house was a structure with three compartments. This structure called Kemulan (The Beginning), Sanggar Kawitan (The Shrine of Origin), or just Dewa Hyang (Abode of Revered Lord). Traditionally the ordinary Balinese Hindus considered this shrine as housing deified and sanctified ancestral spirits. After the elaborate rite of Sraddha, might be inherited from its style performed by royal family of Javanese Hindus in older times, the effigy representing the departed souls was buried in the soil of this main shrine. This symbolized the communion of the Atma with the Paramatma.
Ordinary Balinese will said that after this rites their ancestor has became Devas. But once again this term Devas is better substitute by Bhataras, with a more proper meaning. The Balinese understand that after life then the soul will go to its next destinations and get a new body according to its karma. They may reincarnate as human beings, in higher form of lives, or may be lower. So why they said they worship their ancestors in Kemulan? Why did they ignore their own knowledge about destinations of souls as the verdict of the Veda and Sastras? If we take this superficially, then we can’t get any spiritual practices valuable enough to claim as Vaishnavite tenets. This is not Vaishnava practices at all.

Now I’ll try to take us to the subtle meaning of this important shrine of every Balinese family. We begin from the term ORIGIN. If we talk about origin and worship the origin then that may come to The Supreme Origin of All, Sarva-karana-karanam, The Supreme Lord Sriman Narayana, Sri Jagannath. As we know, because Lord Jagannath manifest Himself in Three Main Forms, and as we said before that the cult of Jagannath take the form of Trinatha worship in Java until it reached Bali, so we can concluded that actually the One worshipped at Kemulan was The Supreme Original Lord Jagannath Himself. This is the esoteric meaning of Kemulan worship. (I didn’t discuss another belief in Balinese Hindu that the left part of Kemulan representing the power of mother, the right of father, and the middle of The Lord Himself. It was enough to say this shrine representing The Origin). Now how could be developed such a belief, that the ancestral Bhataras also resides in Kemulan?

Actually the parampara system was exists in Bali for centuries. My short encounter with some of them assured me that the certain spiritual Vedic or Tantric sadhanas were continuously inherited by certain family lineages. Some of them are of course the Javanese Saivite and Buddhist hereditary Brahmin families, the Bhujanga (Vaishnava) lineages, the Pasek, Dukuh, Pande, Bang, and many more. The father or grandfather became spiritual master himself for their children. They give down the spiritual knowledge to their descendants. So actually, when their elder pass away that means their Guru or Acharya went to the Divine Abode of their Istadeva. As our Acharya attain Samadhi, we take him as in eternal communion with Our Lord in Paramapadam, in Sri Vaikuntha, to continue rendering devotional service eternally with other perfected and divine personalities. Thus he became our most worshipful personality, both as our parent and more importantly as our Gurupadapadma. He is our guardian and spiritual protector, thus a Bhatara in Balinese. So, we are always worshipping the Kemulan shrine as the personification of Paramapadam.

As I told you before in previous posts. There are two kind of ordained priestly orders in Bali. The Brahmin high priests and lesser officiating priests from common people. For the Brahmin high priests, of course we could see them clearly following Hindu-Vedic sadhana according to their own particular sects. Because they’re hereditary Brahmins, they learned everything about Vedic knowledge, the secret of mantra and Tantra, and procedures of complicated Vedic rites from their elders, usually from their own father. So it wasn’t uncommon if the Guru was the father of the pupil both spiritually and biologically. They worship their ancestors as their purva-acharyas and also worship the certain Divine Form of The Lord as their hereditary kuladevata and istadevata. Sometime the kuladevata is different from the Istadeva that they worship according to their special hereditary Tantric methods. This kuladevata can be a certain demigod who considered as a protector of the family and their spiritual heir. But usually the Istadeva and kuladeva was same special Divine Form of The Supreme Lord.

The Balinese Brahmin high priests

The other priestly orders were come from common people. They maintain the temple affairs; serve the daily offerings for the Bhataras, and officiating actively in every temple festivals. They are the core of religious communities attached to the temples. Many of them serve for the temple from the very young age. Others sometime ordered to become priest by mystical arrangement. The Bhataras told him to serve them through dream or words of a medium in trance state. One day I asked one of such a priest. He has been serving at the temple for more than 40 years. “When your time is coming (I mean when he die), where did you think you will go?” Then he said, “Of course I want to go to His place. I hope He will let me continue to serve Him there. Wherever He like, let Him decide for me, so I can serve Him forever. That’s only about my karma or my devotion to Him.”

Ordinary priestly order, the Pemangkus

In other case, according to Vedic beliefs, by funeral rites and after Sraddha ceremony the departed souls will get his Pitri bodies. If he destined to go to Pitriloka, then he will become Pitri under Aryama’s leadership as the lord of ancestral realm. We also believe by subtle mystical way all of us were connected to our Pitris. By remembering them, offering regular Tarpanam, and giving Vishnu-prasadam or Sripada-tirtham, this connection through family lineage will maintained nicely. The Pitris by worshipping Lord Vishnu under Aryama’s direction will send good vibrations toward their descendants in earthly plane. Thus the Pitris also became our Bhataras. From the Kemulan shrine we remember them, offer Vishnu-prasad, Tarpanam, and ask the perfected Bhataras of Paramapadam (the siddha-gurus) to be merciful toward them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gods in The Island of Gods (5)

Village temple decorated for festival

For the community of the village they have common temples. Every Balinese village has three main public temples. The Pura Dalem or Death Temple, located at village’s outskirts, near cemetery and crematorium ground. The seat of Bhataras who preside over negative energies and take charge on departed souls. This is also the abode of Lord Siva and Durgadevi, worshipped in their many wrathful forms such as Lord Kalabhairava and Mahabhairavi or Kali Ma. The second one brings the name Pura Desa or literally means The Village Temple. The Pura Desa supposed to worship Lord Brahma and representing other Deva realms as organizer of the whole cosmic manifestations, thus also organization of the village community in mundane realm. It placed at the centre of the village, with two characteristics. One is the Bale Agung, The Great Stage of Assembly, the place for all Devas to meet together and accept offerings from the villagers. Designed as a high and very wide platform, resembling the Devasabha of celestial realm. Other building in inner part of the temple is a sannidhi called Gedong Anda or The Sanctum of Egg. This is representing the Brahmanda, the whole egg-like universe, the Hiranyagarbha, the Shining Golden Womb, the Satyaloka, abode of Lord Brahma, the highest living entities and the highest sovereign ruler of all material planetary system. Then the third temple is Pura Puseh, The Navel Temple. Placed at the highest point of the village, housing the pagoda-like structured sannidhi of Lord Vishnu. The Navel Temple considered as the origin of both material and spiritual energies of the village. This is the place for deified ancestors of the village, who considered as perfect souls that has entering the Paramapadam (amor ing acintya as in archaic Javanese term) to serve The Supreme Lord. They also preside over the sattvic or positive energies permeating the whole village. The three temples keep the mystical forces of the village stay in balance and perfect harmony. Accordingly, we have presented in previous posting, that the worship of Trinatha has long became the core of Indonesian Hindu spirituality especially as we seen in Balinese today, similar with the cult of Lord Jagannath at Puri.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gods in The Island of Gods (4)

Such guardian Bhataras are not limited to personal house only. From my grandmother I also know something about a village deity, a Devi. The more powerful Devis that known as grama-devatas, the patron of the village are reside in village temples. They were believed as emanations of Mother Goddess, Durgadevi, or at least empowered by Her. In Bali they have their shrines in the Death Temple since they have relationship with Mother Durga. But this certain Devi that we called Jro Luh or “Revered Lady” though also can be classified as grama-devata, has a more limited area under her control. She was famous for her magnanimous nature. Many villagers came for her help. One miracle she used to show was to lend her jewelleries to poor peoples.

One kind of gramadevata's or sthanadevata's shrine presiding over a pond (water source)

In traditional Balinese custom it is improper to attend temple festivals without dressing well. We have to use our best clothes, especially for the ladies they have to decorate themselves with the best fabrics and jewelleries. This is the time to meet the gods and Supreme Lord, The Sovereign Master of the whole universe. How could you look like a beggar and show yourself in front of such a great and important personality? Look poor in front of the Devas were a rude act for a Balinese. It was impolite to not dress properly even in front of an elder or honourable mundane person. So a poor village woman may propitiate “Our Revered Lady” and ask her to please lend her jewellery so she can dress properly in temple festival. The Devi then miraculously put a golden ring, or earring bedecked with precious stone, or a pair of golden bracelets, or sometime a golden chains necklace, on the special place, a table-like stone at the bank of the river nearby. Only the one who ask for it can see the precious things. After the festival over, the lending must be put again on the same place, never try to steal it from the Devi or sell it; otherwise you will get severe punishment. Some people also said that the Devi help them in their business. One family I know as maintainer of the Devi’s shrine was not so rich. But after they keep their heavily earned money, little by little, and use it to repair the shrine, now their business growing very fast and became wealthy and prosperous family. Some people mistakenly thought that the Devi will fulfill all their material desire. But actually, our Devi try to help people as a servant to the greater Devatas and finally Our Supreme Lord, so they who get some help to gain more wealth from her can use it to make better offerings at the temple festivals.

Peoples always offering some food or flower (look at the stuffs under the umbrellas) to the deities of this public bathing place. Considered emanates from holy spring, many people come to take a bath for purification. The supernatural personalities propitiated by these offerings considered as the protector of this water's sanctity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gods in The Island of Gods (3)

Now let me take an example from my own experience. We have an ancestral house and by my Balinese lineage we are became part of nobilities and family of landlords. One of our ancestors was once a high official in King’s court of older time. So he built a house on 3 acres of land (of course there’re more open space and courtyard). When the Bhumi-puja was performed, a powerful yantra installed at the centre of the land. Upon it then they built an altar to place the “former proprietor of the land”. Yes, of course he wasn’t a human. In Vedic tradition we also believe that a powerful Raksasa was created by Lord Brahma to preside over any building or other property. He is the Vastupurusha. Lord Brahma gave him authority to bring prosperity and protection to human who don’t forget to invoke and please him when they build place for living or other kind of building on earth. But he also has been given power to create calamities to the irresponsible family, who build house without ask permission from Mother Earth; invoke him, and other Devatas. The Balinese treat Vastupurusha as one of the Bhataras, the personification and representative of Bhumidevi. Because we also believe him as a former proprietor of the land, we build an altar and small house-like structure from stone for him. Our family called him “Our Revered Elder Sir.” (Jro Gde Lingsir in Balinese).

Typical shrine for the Vastudevata. His white and black colored cloth indicating his ability to discriminate the negative or positive energies that want to entering his area .

There’s an interesting story about “Our Elder”. My late grandmother was a very busy woman. In Bali the housewife manage the financial matter of the family. So she always has many guests, the people who work on our land property, rice field, horticulture, etc. She has to listen to all their report, accept the products of the land, and also spend money for further cultivation. My late grandfather, the head of family as other Balinese traditional husbands, responsible to represent his family in social and legal matters. As she became so busy, sometimes she forgets where she left her stuff, usually the keys of the house. After all tiring efforts to look for them seem failed; she will go to the place of “Our Elder” and ask him for help.
Just a few minutes latter, the keys will be found at my grandmother’s box of betel nut (she used to chew pans). My grandmother was also a merchant. So sometimes she didn’t cook at all and let her family eat outside. But “Our Elder” will come, in the form of high, stout, good-looking middle age man with traditional dress and told her to cook immediately. “What will you offer to our family shrine, Mother?” he said.

We also know other “lesser” Bhataras of our house. One who acts as guardian to our front courtyard, the guardian of our family shrine, and the guardians of our other buildings for rent, and the most attractive among them, a mysterious beautiful lady, a Yakshini that guard the eastern part of the courtyard. I thought all of them were subordinate to “Our Elder Sir”. The lady once came to my grandma’s dream when we’re going to reconstruct all the family shrines. She asked a small shrine without roof. “Simply make a throne-like structure for me, just fit to my rank among them. If you willing then add a small lotus pond for me, since I fond of them” So that’s why we have one different building for our dear “supernatural relatives” there, with feminine appearance. The higher ranked Bhataras are worship at family shrine on northeast corner of the house.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gods in The Island of Gods (2)

When Balinese talk about gods, they prefer to use the more familiar term Bhatara than the Vedic word Deva or Devata. Bhatara means The Guardian, Protector, or Revered Person. So when we discuss these Bhataras, we consider a wide classification of personalities who bring positive influence in their relationship with the people. That must not the Deities eulogized in sacred hymn of the Vedas such as Indra, Agni, Surya, Candra, Vayu, etc. They are occupies the highest rank of the Bhatara and only invoked in very elaborate ceremony.

Agastya Muni called Bhatara Guru in Bali and Java. The Hindus still worship him in temples as the Mula-guru and representative of Lord Siva and Vishnu Himself. This is his ancient deity from Singhasari period. In bad condition, but some people keep offering flowers at his lotus feet.

The most common Bhataras were personalities and spirits that has nearer place with the common people’s living sphere such as the Sages (in their siddha forms), the deified ancestors of certain clans, the deity of earthly area range from small village to the patron of the whole city – gramadevata, the deity of certain place of human activities such as market, public bathing area, water spring, etc. – sthanadevata, the deity of place for living – vastudevata, the personality of river, hill, and many more of them. Some of them were not even a pure being from celestial realm. They can be a powerful Raksasa, Yaksa, and Naga. In such case, once upon a time they were defeated by a powerful sage, who then turned them to be guardians and serve to protect the sanctity of a Temple dedicated to the worshipful Form of The Lord revered by the sage.

A shrine for guardian spirit of nearby water source for the ricefield

These Bhataras are easier to contact by common peoples. Sometime the ignorance people, mistakenly worship these supernatural beings for get easier and quicker material gains. But that wasn’t the proper way to treat them. And as I concerned, the Balinese temples have a similar nature with Chinese temples. It has a Hosting Bhatara, with position such as a head of one house. He preside over the whole temple’s supernatural energies and he is the most important personality who responsible to accept and serve The Higher Vedic Devatas or Particular Form of The Supreme Lord.

While the Abrahamic concept of monotheism was prevailed by domination of Islam in Indonesia. The Balinese Hindus suffer some kind of "inferiority complex" (please, forgive me for opined like that). They tried to explain their numerous Bhataras indicated by many shrines dedicate to them in the way of speculative arguments, just to adjust the view of Abrahamic monotheistic concept. They said that actually the numerous Bhataras were only manifold manifestations of One Supreme God. So actually all of them are finally The God. This is totally incorrect.

A typical Balinese temple. Main shrine for the Primary Deity, sorrounded by other smaller shrines for other Bhataras specially related to the Lord Himself

The Balinese Hindus’ concept of monotheism was a Vedic one. It is Ekanta monotheism similar with Vaishnavism. The Vaishnavas certainly exclusive monotheistic worshipers of One Supreme Personality of Godhead, as do the Balinese Hindus. But at our temple we also giving exalted position to the Nityasuris (eternal associates of The Lord). In Sri Vaishnava temple we have sannidhi for the Alvars and Acharyas. In Sri Vadiraja’s Math there’s shrine for Sri Bhutaraja. We also maintained and appreciated the Brindavana-samadhis of our revered Gurus. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, we also offered worship to the Samadhi shrine of Srila Rupa Gosvamipada in Sri Sri Radha Damodara Temple. We also worship Sri Gopishvara, Lord Lingaraja, and many other pitham of the saints and demigods. The most important one we shouldn’t forget is the numerous shrines of Devatas in the premise of Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri. Somehow these personalities enshrined in the numerous structures of Jagannath Temple and also in Balinese temples have a certain relationship with The Supreme Bhagavan. Some are guardian of Bhagavan’s sanctum. Some are perfected beings, the pure devotees of Bhagavan, who installed or invoked Sri Bhagavan’s Sannidhana for the first time at that place. Or some are local deities who empowered by The Lord Himself to take care of His Temple in subtle stratum. It wasn’t uncommon for the Vaishnava devotees to offer their respect to these personalities, if not a must. A Hosting Devata in Balinese temple was the primal personality with authority to worship the Supreme Lord. He may a siddha-rishi or demigods, but he isn’t The Supreme Lord Himself. These Bhataras are the spiritual owners of the place of worship. So we humbly pay our respect to them. Just remember my previous post about Bhatara Hyang Markandeya at Pura Kahyangan Gunung Raung in Taro.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gods in The Island of Gods (1)

Miguel Covarrubias, a Westerner who came to Bali with his wife in 1930, like other foreigners, became fall in love with the beauty, mystery, and wonders of the Island. Happened to change be an anthropologist rather than a mere curious tourist by his direct contact with the land, people, and their custom. He wrote what I considered as a historical book about Bali, named Island of Bali, when no one even to heard of the place in their first coming. Mr. Covarrubias wrote, “Rather than a sectarian Church system, separate from daily life and in the hands of hierarchy of priests to control and exploit the people, the religion of Bali is a set of rules of behaviour, a mode of life. The resourceful Balinese fitted their religious system into their social life and made it the law by which the supernatural forces are brought under control by harmonious cooperation of everyone in the community to strengthen the magic health of the village. Like a human being, the community possesses a life power that wears away and must be fed by regular performances of magic acts of the ‘right’ the side of righteousness.”

Miguel Covarrubias and his wife, Rosa

Though Covarrubias may not understood the subtle meaning of Balinese religion, but his observation gave us prove that Balinese were a spiritually conscious people. Many anthropologists who didn’t enter deeply to the core of spiritual life thought that the Balinese religion was just a mixture of animistic, primitive, tribal beliefs with some touch of Indian and Javanese Hinduism. But this is incorrect. Actually the religious system of Balinese was a manifestation of earlier form of Vedic tradition. In one way more purer than our Western influenced modern Hinduism today. The same tenets also preached and protected by our revered Acharyas as we inherited from our Vaishnava-parampara. The soul and spirit of Balinese system of religion was Vaishnavite by nature. Although superficially we also find demigods, ancestors, even Bhutas worships. I’ll try my best, by carefully analyze the prayer and the process of these worships, so we can grasp the real or should be the real intention of the ritual.

The temple procession

As Covarrubias said, the Balinese religious system was aimed at controlling supernatural forces by harmonious cooperation of everyone in the community. When we talk about supernatural forces and everyone in community, actually we have to consider not only human members but also the inhuman members of the community. Now we’ll talk about the gods, from whom the island got her designations as The Island of Gods or Paradise on Earth.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Mystical Island of Bali (2)

Living Harmoniously
Any typical Balinese village divided to three quarter, representing the concept of what they called Tri Hita-karana, three sources of happiness. Yes, the joyful and wealthy life can be gain by pleasing and harmonious relationship between human beings with higher spiritual power (parahyangan), other humans (pawongan), and nature (palemahan). Everything was in balance, to provide the whole community with healthy energy. Any disturbance to the subtle energy such as irresponsible act against the sacred law, creating illness to the whole community that also needs ritualistic purification, otherwise many kind of disaster will come and destroy the whole communities.

Gate to the holy ground, the Parahyangan

Threefold Thrones of The Universal Sun. The main object of veneration in The Mother Temple, Besakih. Representing The Trinatha, Three Divine Forms of The Supreme Lord

Ngayah or serving the Gods by preparing Temple Festivals. Harmonious relationship with the exalted divinities and The Supreme Lord Himself

For Balinese, not only physical inconvenience or malice, such as common criminality, will invite disharmony, and finally bring unhappy lives. But the more important were the spiritual and mystical relationship of the Tri Hita-karana. For example; we know if there’s any kind of criminal acts, than surely the society will suffer a loss. But if there’s some feeling of enmity or just only unpleasant relationship among people of a certain village, then the whole society will suffer spiritually. They believe that such an emotional discontentment always creating negative vibration, which spreads to all over community. So traditionally, every Balinese village stand as an autonomous social unit. They try to solve every problem by discussion and deliberation democratically presides by the village chief; and should be in accordance with their responsibility to “the spiritual authorities” and other “unseen members” of the village. Legal court was the last choice. This will keep harmonious relationship and maintain the good emotional vibration among people.

Constructing good relationships among peoples (pawongan)

The Balinese, as other Hindus, traditionally believes in unseen personalities mystically connected to everyday lives of all human beings living on this planet. Some are divine, some are positive by nature, and some negative. We believes in The Supreme Godhead, the great gods, lesser gods, deified ancestors, and also the Bhutas, Raksasas, Pisacas, Yaksas, and other demonic ghostly beings. Every place was inhabited by unlimited forms of living being. So mountains, forests, rivers, water sources, even deserted part of the village such as crematorium grounds and deep ravines should be treated with honour. No land can be dig out, no stone may take out from its place, no tree can be cut down without first ask permission by proper ritual.

Honorable beauties of natural wealth of the island. Precious gifts from The Lord (palemahan)

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Sacred Cows

Taro, 30 minutes drive north Ubud, is one of the ancient village in Bali where by you can find sacred white cows sanctuary that are rare to the island; They used to live freely but now surrounded by wire fence.They were believed as sacred properties of The Devatas, and considered as honorable as human Brahmin nobilities. The people of Taro called them by venerable designations Ida Bagus (the handsome one) for the bulls and Ida Ayu for the cows (the beautiful one), the same honorable title to addressed Brahmin's descendants.Even they follewed the same samskara rites as human Brahmin, from birth rite till final rite of burial samadhi (not cremated as common Hindus). Curiously, there weren't any hereditary (human) Brahmin family available at this village of Taro. Another interesting fact I ever heard, that no Brahmin high priest ever dare to preside over any rites in the temple of these sacred cows sanctuary from high platform as usually done in other part of Bali. They choose to sat low, cross legged on the ground.

The people of Taro believes that the sacred cows were actually descendants of Nandishvara or Surabhi-mata, brought originally from India by the great Rishi Markandeya. The mission of Markandeya considered as the first wave of Vedic Brahminical spiritual masters ever came to Bali from Java. Before, he has his Ashram in Di Hyang at central Java, then went further to the eastern part of Java and organizing his new monastery in Ravanga-giri or known today as Gunung Raung.From Ravanga he feel divine urge to brought the Veda Dharma to the neighbor Island of Bali.

The first expedition involved 8000 followers and disciples, but half of them couldn't survived, mysteriously died or fallen ill, by the negative forces of Bali. The sage then decided to return to Java and in deep meditative stage he got instruction from Lord Pasupati to installed special yantra made from five kind of metal on the slope of the highest mountain of Bali called Tohlangkir (now Gunung Agung - Agung means great, the great mountain). In accordance with the divine instruction, the sage came to Bali once again, installed the powerful yantra, and established the first temple of Bali, The Basukihan Temple. Then gradually it grown as today's Besakih temple, The Mother Temple.

Then the sage decided to bring his followers to create a place for living and established new Ashrama or monastery as the base for his preaching work. They came to the considered perfect land, but still a forest of big trees, daru or taro. But the sage could foresee, that the land would give tremendous wealth and very fertile. This place could give us anything we want. So he named it sarvada. So thus came the name Sarvada Taro

Gate to the earthly divine abode of The Great Sage

The samadhi of Sage Markandeya at Taro

The Ashrama of the great Javanese sage Markandeya today became the Pura (temple) Kahyangan Gunung Raung, bring the same name as his previous Ashrama at East Java. The Samadhi and Deity of The sage in the form of Brahmin Hermit still worshiped reverently by the people of Taro, and by other Balinese Hindus as well. Markandeya supposed to belong to Vaishnavite Brahminical order and cow protection was one of the most important tenets in Vaishnavite-Vedic tradition. Markandeya considered as the original Brahmin of Bali. The descendants of this Markandeya Rishi still claimed themselves as Brahmana Vaishnava or Bhujanga, a name which has close relation with Lord Sriman Narayana or Vishnu, Sri Bhujanga-sayana, The Lord Who Lied on Bhujanga (Lord Adisesha, the divine serpent). But here in Taro today, there wasn't Brahmin descendant of the sage anymore, and the sacred white cows were became the actual Brahmins.

18 Maret 2009, The Deity of Markandeya Rishi from his samadhi at Taro was invoked to attend the Pancabali and Sarvadevata-avahana-aradhana (Bhatara Turun Kabeh in Balinese) in Besakih Temple. This rare phenomena of umbrella-like cloud appeared on the peak of Mount Agung. Did the Devatas want to welcome their revered sage, who built a wonderful abode for them at this magnificent temple? (from cellphone camera of one Pujari, Jro Mangku Bhagyartha)

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