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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.

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