Bali – Traditions not Standing Still Part II

When we see a living cultural tradition it’s easy to assume that things stand still but in fact in Bali this is not the case at all. The list of change at the spiritual, religious and ceremonial level is pretty much endless in fact.

The most glaring example is a general disregard for the philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, a tri-partite concept that stipulates the importance of a human being’s connection with God, other people and the environment (including the creatures in the environment). At the ceremonial level, we see that prayer is very organized and regimented these days rather than something which is a personal spiritual connection, including the unspoken “uniforming” of worshippers (it is simply common knowledge these days that everyone wears white to the temple, yet formerly people simply wore whatever colours they wished). Temple fashion that includes excessive use of expensive jewelry threatens the harmonious relationship with other members of the community. Offerings and ceremonies themselves being made bigger and more lavish is a burden on the socio-economic aspect of families, therefore causing conflict between humans both within families as well as in the workplace. Finally, and the most obvious to me as an environmental activist, is the destruction of the environment caused by the use of single-use plastics in ceremonies and offerings – objects which were once organic are now made from throw-away plastic and litter temple grounds, land, waterways, beaches and our ocean.

Within ceremonies themselves there have been changes – priests use loudspeakers instructing worshippers how to pray, and on numerous occasions I’ve witnessed mass recitation of a prayer as Tri Sandya, which in fact is an Indian verse that has been given Balinese intonation. This is something relatively new that I’ve seen only over the past 10 years or so.

According to my Balinese grandmother, offerings used to be a lot simpler and people didn’t put out offerings every day, only on auspicious days such as full moon, new moon, kajeng kliwon, buda kliwon and so forth. The offerings were also made by hand from organic products found in every household such as leaves, flowers, rice and so forth – these days most people buy offerings that come in plastic bags and have plastic wrapped candies included in them.

More on change in tradition in Part III.

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