Bali – Traditions not Standing Still – Part IV

An agrarian lifestyle is the root of pretty much all tradition in Bali, and therefore the basis for ritual and ceremony – the loss of which due to mass tourism is a topic for much debate and a serious threat to Balinese culture and tradition on many levels. Not only this, but an agrarian – necessarily labour intensive – lifestyle meant that Balinese were once a lot more active and fitter than they are today. Everywhere I look at ceremonies I see borderline fatness (“big of hip and thigh” as Billy Connolly once famously larked) or just full blown clinical obesity. Lack of sidewalks, motorbikes being adopted as permanent appendages to inner thighs, fast-food, an emerging middle class, the onslaught of the mini-market phenomenon, compulsive gaming and social media addiction, as well as a general instant, throw-away, single-use consumerist lifestyle has had a visible effect on the physical health of a once active people. Understandably, many facets of the Balinese lifestyle have become uber-instant: food, drink, communication, purchases, banking, local apps such as Pro Denpasar and Simalu, and more. In terms of religion, there is even an app you can use to purchase home-delivered offerings (this understandable shocked many Balinese as making offerings is an inherent part of the devotion process). This instant purchasing of offerings is simply an extension of buying them from the markets of the ubiquitous roadside offering sellers – they just have a standardized price, are bought using internet banking and are sent to you via Gojek.

Many rituals are now either broadcast live, mostly by the worshippers themselves via FB or IG, and wedding ceremonies and tooth filing ceremonies nearly always feature big screen TVs so one doesn’t have to get off the plastic chairs to join the crowds peering at the proceedings.

Live gamelan music is often replaced by recorded music where possible, and I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the dancers stay at home and send their avatars. At cremation ceremonies it is commonplace for gamelan instruments to be transported on mini-floats rather than carried strung off bamboo poles, and even for cremation towers to be placed on contraptions with wheels for ease of transportation.

Only twenty years ago it was considered unthinkable to transport sacred objects in a vehicle but now barong and rangda in a sand truck is commonplace. My older gamelan teachers speak proudly of walking tens of kilometers to get to ceremonies and even days to get somewhere like Besakih Temple from South Bali: today people would simply think you’re nuts.

What other technologies will Balinese take on to make ritual ceremonial life quicker and easier? It’s anybody’s guess in the unpredictable “Jaman Now”.

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