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Through the Eyes of Researcher: Balinese and Their Temple  

by on Wednesday, 28 January 2009No Comment | 1,094 views

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Here is an interesting excerpt on the relation between Balinese and their temples and how these temples bind Balinese together. These excerpt were taken from Clifford Geertz’s writing entitled “Form and Variation in Balinese Village Structure”

Bali is a land of temples. One sees them everywhere–under the village banyan tree, in the midst of rice fields, by waterfalls, in the centers of large towns, by a graveyard, at the sea edge, on a lake island, in every houseyard, at the mountain top–everywhere; of all sizes and in all conditions of repair; all or most showing the traditional form: the high brick walls, the intricately carved split gate, the tall pagodalike altars with their storeyed thatched roofs. And there are no ruins in Bali: to each of these thousands of temples there is attached both an hereditary priest and a definite congregation of worshipers obligated to perform detailed ritual activities within its walls at fixed intervals, most commonly every six months. Such a congregation is said to njungsung the temple–literally to carry it on its head, as women carry nearly everything in Bali, including the elaborate offerings they bring to the temples on festival days. Every family in Bali, unless it be Christian or Moslem, carries at least a half dozen templescalled pura–on its head.

Of the great variety of pura, by far the most important to the Balinese are the Kahyangan-Tiga. Kahyangan is an honorific word for temple (meaning literally “place of the gods”), indicating a pura of unusual importance, and tiga means three–thus, “the three great temples.” There are probably over a thousand sets of such temples in Bali, with membership ranging from fifty up to several thousand families; the three temples concerned in any particular locality are the Pura Puseh, or origin temple, theoretically the temple built at the time of the first settlement of the area; the Pura Dalam, or graveyard temple for the spirits of the local dead; and the Pura Balai Agung, or “great council temple” (of the gods), dedicated primarily to maintaining the fertility of the surrounding rice fields. At the first two of these temples festivals are held once in every 210–day Balinese year, at the third once in a lunar year, the specific days depending upon the tradition of the individual temples. At such festival times the gods are conceived to descend from heaven, remain for three days, and then return to their home, and the congregation is obligated to entertain them during the time of their stay by means of complex offerings, elaborate rituals, and skillful artistic performances under the general direction of the temple priest and the secular head of the temple. The cost of the festivals, the rather large amounts of labor involved, and the general upkeep of the temples falls on each member of the congregation equally, and this group is typically organized in some fairly complicated manner to achieve these ends.

As mentioned, Kahyangan- Tiga membership is defined territorially, each Balinese belonging to just one of the sets. Nevertheless, one cannot say, as have most scholars, that he belongs to the temple of his “village,” and thus that Kahyangan- Tiga can be translated “the three village temples,” because only in the limiting case are the boundaries of the basic territorial political unit, here called the hamlet, and of the Kahyangan- Tiga congregation coterminous; in most instances, the religious and political units are not coordinate but cross-cut one another. Whatever the Balinese village mayor may not be, it is not simply definable as all people worshiping at one set of Kahyangan-Tiga, because people so obligated to worship commonly form a group for no other social function–political, economic, familiar, or whatever. The congregation of the Kahyangan-Tiga is, in essence, a specifically religious body; in most cases it comes together only at the obligatory temple festivals. Thus, the oft-repeated and much-loved rites at these temples serve to form one crucial bond among rural Balinese of a generally territorial sort, but this bond balances off against other bonds formed in terms of more concretely social activities rather than, as is typical of religious ties, directly reinforcing them.

Besides the Kahyangan-Tiga there are dozens of other types of temples, with different bases in terms of which their congregations are formed: there are rice-field temples, at which worship the men who own land within a particular irrigation society; there are kinship temples, supported by members of a single patriline; there are caste temples where only people with a given rank worship; there are associational temples formed on a voluntary companionate basis, their obligations being inherited by their descendents; there are state temples attended by people subject to a single lord, and so on. Again, some of these correspond to concrete social groups with other, nonreligious purposes, some do not; some are almost inevitably found, some but rarely; some are obligatory for all men, some are voluntary. Thus, by plotting temple types in a locality, one plots the general shape of the local social structure but not its specific outlines. The temple system of the Balinese countryside forms a relatively fixed stone and wood mold in terms of which rural social organization expresses itself, and the semi-annual festivals in each temple dramatize the sorts of ties out of which Balinese peasants build their collective life. But it does not stamp that life into any simple or unvarying form, for within the general mold the possibilities for variations in stress, combination, and adjustment of social elements seem almost limitless.

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