Bali – Traditions not Standing Still Part III

When you look at Balinese society today compared to even twenty or thirty years ago, there have been many developments in terms of how people practice religion, both in terms of spirituality and customs.

A turning point I believe was the first Bali bomb in 2002 – rather than retaliate against the extremist elements in Indonesian society which Balinese saw as Islamic terrorists, religious leaders here attempted to build the core values of Bali’s culture and religion stronger via a concept termed ajeg Bali. Basically this meant promoting anything Balinese: language, food, music, dance traditional costumes, and of course religion. Balinese were encouraged to greet others with “Om Swastiastu”, even on the phone, and all meetings or speeches would be opened with this.

At this time, the provincial government applied for additional public holidays that would be recognized nationally such as Nyepi. Nowadays my children have many days off for local ceremonies which were not days off in my wife’s generation: for example, Pagerwesi. Most recently, at government schools and offices it is compulsory for Hindus to wear traditional garb and pray together on new and full moon.

Ceremonies got bigger and more lavish, and with the popularity of photography and social media Balinese themselves started to document ceremonies, both professionally and at an amateur level.

Sometime after this, religious pilgrimage known as Titra Yatra became common, even to the extent that, particularly when it involved bus tours to Java and Lombok, it could be termed a new form of domestic tourism. Devotees are transported around in big buses, which on many occasions travel in convoys with police escorts.

Perhaps the most curious development within Balinese rituals themselves is the trend of groups of young female priests going into trance together spontaneously. I witnessed this recently at a small-scale ceremony in Kuta where the girls acted like wild boars and were eventually appeased by heavy dousing of holy water. According to Balinese friends this phenomenon is happening everywhere in Bali these days.

In my next article I’m going to look at how modern technology has affected Balinese ceremonies and traditions.


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