The Reading of Rites
Banned by the New Order, Hare Krishna is resurgent in Bali, raising concern it might supplant traditional Balinese Hindu rites.
A brahmacari, a man who dedicates his whole life to a study of the Veda, burns the dupa, filling the room with the sweet scent of the incense. As he continues the rite by strewing flowers on the altar of the gods Krishna and Balaram, another brachmacari right behind him, chants the mantra, repeatedly saying the sacred words Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.
That is a part of manggala ratri, one of the seven rites performed by devotees at an ashram in the village of Palangalak in Sanur, just outside the island's capital Denpasar. Here, members dressed in sarongs with a saffron sash slung over the shoulder, their heads shaved clean save for a topknot at the back, study Bhagavad Purana and Bhagavad Gita, the holy books of Hinduism.
Local Hindus view the newcomers with concern. They see the newcomers performing rites that are wholly strange to the long-held tradition of the Balinese. I Dewa Ngurah Suastha, chairman of the Hindu Dharma Forum, expresses a fear that Hare Krishna members might use temples sacred to local Hindus—including Pura Besakih, the great temple at Karangasem on the eastern side of the island—as ritual sites of the new sect.
Hare Krishna was banned in 1984 by the government of President Suharto on grounds that it rejected yadnya, the traditional rite of sacrifice common to Balinese Hindus. When the ban was imposed, the sect counted about 1,000 members in Bali, a miniscule number compared with the millions of traditional Hindus on the island.
Hare Krishna was founded some 500 years ago by Sri Chaitanya, a Hindu mystic, social thinker and reformer. In 1965 the religious sect of Hindu character was brought to the West by an Indian holy man, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabuphada. Devotees believe in the periodic reform of Hinduism by the god Krishna or his disciples.
Hare Krishna is not unlike Hinduism in general in its belief in the Veda. Members subscribe to the three principles of abstinence: from gambling, from consumption of meat and intoxicants—including even coffee and tea and tobacco—and illicit sex.
The conflict in Bali stems from the different rites they believe in. Nyoman Widi Wasnawa, chairman of Parisadha Hindu Dharma in Jakarta, says Hare Krishna followers little understand the Balinese culture, while the majority Balinese little understand the rites associated with Hare Krishna. "The conflict arises because there is a perception that Hare Krishna is trying to supplant the Balinese Hindu rites with the rites of the new sect," says Wisnawa.
Dr. I. Wayan Jendra, a professor of Hindu literature at the Udayana University in Denpasar, says further conflict could be averted if both sides understand the principles of sadhana, the freedom to choose one's own spiritual discipline, and ista dewata, the freedom to choose one's own preferred god. "Therefore, differences in Hinduism are only natural," he says. Even the Bhagavad Gita itself, Jendra adds, teaches in Chapter IV, eleventh sloka: "Whichever way you take to come to Me, I will receive you all."
"Besides, a teaching is said to deviate from the right way only when it promotes violence," says Jendra. Other than Hare Krishna, three other sects charged by the local Hindus with deviating from traditional Hindu teachings are Brahmakuri, Ananda Marga, and a group promoting the teachings of Sai Baba, an Indian guru, which clams a membership of at least 10,000 in Indonesia.
Hare Krishna followers, for their part, deny the charges. In a recent letter to the Attorney General's Office, they asked for a lifting of the ban on the sect. They said the ban, imposed by the New Order government, was in violation of human rights. What's more, says Jendra, at issue is only a matter of different interpretation.
Kelik M. Nugroho, Agus Hidayat and Rofiqi Hasan (Denpasar)/MH