Thu, 25 May 2000

Unique house of Dewa free from influences of 'asta kosali'

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): Dewa Nyoman Kuat lives in a unique house with a distinguished architectural style on a street in busy Denpasar, the provincial capital of Bali.

Unlike other Balinese homes, the layout of Dewa's two-story house located on Jl. Antasura does not adapt any asta kosali Balinese architectural guidances.

He has built a high pillar at the center of the building and put a cakra, the mythical weapon of Vishnu, the highest god in the Hindu pantheon, on the top of the pillar. The house is surrounded with a pond filled with turtles. Dewa has also adorned his house with numerous stone sculptures and frescoes.

For a few months now, people have been flocking to his house to attend a spiritual gathering every month, usually on its 28th day.

Dewa, who used to live in Klungkung, and his congregation perform a series of rituals different from mainstream Hindu rites. Instead of lavish offerings comprising of food, fresh fruits and flowers, Dewa requires his followers to bring tumpeng kuat, a cone of yellow steamed rice decorated with three candles, as the main offering.

He could not describe the origin of this ritual. "I received pawasik (a spiritual revelation) from Ida Sang Hyang Embang a few years ago while riding a motorcycle," recalled the father of three.

Since then, Dewa has had supernatural power with a proven potential to heal various illnesses. He often gives advice to people with daily problems.

Some of his neighbors have objected to Dewa's unusual spiritual activities and reported them to the village chief.

The chief consulted with higher-rank government officials and a special team, called Tim Pakem, which monitors the activities of Bali's diverse religious sects and mystical groups.

The team's evaluation, led by chief of Denpasar' provincial court Wayan Pasek Suarta, concluded that Dewa's rituals were against Hinduism. The team also recommended the government provide spiritual guidance to Dewa.

The team's decision has sparked controversy among Hindus.

Dewa, however, is unmoved by the team's decision: "I am just implementing the message from Hyang Embang.


Some Hindu leaders have also questioned the validity of the team's evaluation of Dewa's ritual activities.

The respected Ibu Gedong Bagoes Oka from the Ashram Gandhi Vidyapith was one of the first people to strongly reject the team's intervention into spiritual activities in Bali.

Even the Parishada Hindu Dharma Indonesia, the country's highest Hindu council, has no right to determine what is right or wrong and which beliefs should be adopted. Because the Vedhanta teaches us to become free human beings with freedom of choice, she said.

"Human beings are free to find their own ways to seek their God. As long as their activities disturb other people, I really don't mind," she said.

Dr. Wayang Jendra from Sai Studi Denpasar also disputed the criteria applied by the team to determine "proper" and "improper" rituals.

"We should disband the Tim Pakem, whose work is no longer relevant to the current situation," Putu Alit Bagiasna, head of the Hindu Youth Organization, said.

According to the island's cultural history and anthropology, differing spiritual and supernatural activities have long existed in Balinese society. There are thousands of Balian, (shamanic), preachers living in Bali who seek the blessing of gods believed to inhabit certain sacred places. The names of the gods they call are probably pre-Hindu in origin because they sound unfamiliar.

In cultural terms, these spiritual activities, considered religious deviations by more traditional Hindu priests and bureaucrats, have enriched cultural and religious life on Bali.

Many peculiar things have happened on Bali. Six years ago, a young man in Gianyar claimed he was Kalki Awatara, a reincarnation of Vishnu. The man, originally named Wayan Artha, told everybody in Gianyar that he had got married on the sacred Gunung Agung mountain witnessed by goddesses from Heaven.

He insisted he had received very strong supernatural powers that could be used to help people. Dozens of people became faithful followers and yet his activities were left unchecked by the religious team, which should have banned him from continuing his "illegal" rituals and shamanic practices.

In Sanggulan village in Tabanan, people knew a powerful shaman who frequently carried out "surgery" on sick people. After an operation, he would swallow a can of Baygon insecticide. Normally in this instance a man would instantly die or fall seriously ill. This, however, was of the more uncommon cases on Bali.

For many people on Bali, the government-created Tim Pakem should be reviewed. Its existence is a clear reflection of the government's over-sensitivity and anxiety over the diversity and differences occurring in society.