Redefining Balinese Hinduism
It is not only Muslims and non-Balinese who are visibly excluded or even threatened by this discourse. It also affects Balinese Hindus who do not practise the appropriate Hinduism as portrayed in the Bali Post and as taught by the televangelist Hindu priests on Bali TV. This form of Hinduism is supported by the PHDI (Indonesian Hindu Council). Ajeg Bali is part of a larger movement to sanitise, standardise and explain Balinese Hinduism. Thus Bali TV will often have programs explaining how offerings should be made and how rituals should be performed. There are also community and city-wide youth praying competitions, enforcing ideas of stylised praying and how a Balinese should and should not communicate with God.
In addition to the standardisation of praying styles and ritual activity, ceremonial clothing has also become more uniform. Today, it is the norm to wear white for most ceremonies and black for cremation, whereas ten to 15 years ago ceremonial clothing was much more varied in colour. The Western colours of purity and grief have been appropriated by the PHDI, Bali TV and other ajeg Bali proponents and promoted as a form of standardising ritual and pakaian adat.
Balinese Hinduism is not only going through a process of standardisation, but also sanitisation of ritual practices. Inhumane aspects of ceremonies and rituals, such as animal sacrifice, cock fighting and even the traditional practice of tooth filing, are heavily discouraged. In place of live animal sacrifice, symbols or meat are used. Instead of a full tooth filing, Balinese are encouraged to get a less invasive, more symbolic tooth filing ceremony. While animal rights groups may be cheering about this, for many Balinese, ceremony and ritual is not about symbols and meaning but about practice. Thus, many Balinese believe that if the demons want a blood sacrifice they must be appeased, or else they could do serious damage to the lives of those who did not pacify them.
Ethnicity, religion, class and the general state of the economy are all thickly intertwined in Bali, and it is all but impossible to address one without addressing all of the others, as the lines between them are often blurred. While Bali’s society is generally fluid, the growing separatism and quest for clear definitions of group membership, practices, identity and collective past and future are threatening Bali’s image as the peaceful and welcoming island of the Gods. In this context, pushing for a more clearly defined and popularly supported ethnic and religious identity may leave not only Balinese Muslims, but also some Balinese Hindus out of a homogenised, Hinduised and sanitised vision of Balinese identity.
Elizabeth Rhoads (erhoads @ brynmawr.edu) is a senior anthropology student at Bryn Mawr College, writing her senior thesis on the Balinese identity discourse Ajeg Bali.
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