Set against the rocky coast of western Bali lies a sacred rock topped by a Hindu temple, a creation of the Majapahit priest, Nirartha, who fled Java to Bali in the 16th century. Known as the reformer of Balinese Hinduism concept of deity, among other things, Nirartha introduced Acintya – the one source of all divinities – to answer the widespread of monotheistic Islam in Java and provide Balinese with the same concept of monotheism.
Acintya, often depicted as a naked human-looking form with flames around him, is also referred as Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa – a term coined by Christian missionaries in 1930 to introduce Christian God to Balinese. Against all odds, Balinese is still a largely Hindu society in the 21st century, worshiping Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa and other gods as his manifestations.
In addition to the introduction of Acintya, Nirartha was also the figure behind the construction of sea temples around the coast of Bali to venerate the sea gods. Pura Tanah Lot, completely separated from the mainland during high tide, is the most prominent of such temples, purportedly guarded by venomous sea snakes and a mythical giant snake. A bridge was built to connect the rock with the mainland, but none was ever completed, always washed away by the rough waves of Bali Strait.
The deeply superstitious Balinese people saw it as a sign from the gods that no bridge should ever be built at Tanah Lot. As a result, to satisfy the sea gods and ask for their protection, each year the locals would sacrifice animals, including cows. They would first be taken to the base of the temple where the priests walk them around the temple, before being taken by boats to the sea, and sacrificed.
One century after the completion of Pura Tanah Lot, a temple was built at the shore of Lake Bratan to honor Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, river and lake. I Gusti Agung Putu, the founder of Mengwi Kingdom – one of the island’s most respected kingdoms in the 17th century – commissioned the construction of the temple, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, following his success in establishing the kingdom after defeating his opponents.
“They don’t dare to build a bridge here,” Bli Komang explained the absence of bridge between the temple and the lake shore. “They are afraid the same thing that happened to Tanah Lot would also happen here.”
I looked at Lake Bratan, a calm lake with verdant hills around, lightly showered by the morning’s drizzle. The biggest waves I witnessed were merely ripples created by water falling from the sky. In this deeply superstitious society, however, any bad omen from the future and past would be taken seriously, mostly out of their desire to live in harmony with the gods. Tri Hita Karana does revolve in their lives.
Perched on an ijuk roof – dried black fibers from palm trees – a gilded figurine surrounded by ornate embellishments sat atop mythical Balinese creatures. Acintya, more than four centuries after his introduction in Balinese Hinduism, overlooked Lake Bratan, the abode of one of the divinities that emanated from him. The religion, it seems, is such an eclectic potpourri of ancient animism, Indian Hinduism, monotheistic belief and constant influx of new ideas, resilient like Balinese people themselves.