A Harmonious Life: The System of Desa Pekraman

By Ketut Suardana

For The Bali Times

Therefore let the veda be thy authority for determining

What should be done and what should not be done

Knowing what is declared by the rules of Veda

Thou shouldst do thy work in this world

Bhagavad-Gita XVI-24

In life, Hindus aim to achieve Moksha and Jagadhita. Moksha in Sanskrit means liberation. In Hinduism it means the liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, and the suffering and hardships of worldly existence and is considered a state of higher consciousness. Jagaghita is worldly happiness shared with other people. Moksha can be reached through spiritual discipline while Jagaghita can be attained by ethical conduct and good deeds.

Moksartham Jagadhita Ya Caiti Dharma, therefore, represents the

goal in life to achieve liberation from material attachment and thus acquire peace and harmony in the material world.

In essence, we need to have our own rules or traditions to achieve  spiritual balance and harmony between these worlds of Moksha and Jagadhita. This is where the Desa Pekraman or Desa Adat Bali comes to play.

Desa Pekraman or Desa Adat Bali is the Balinese social community system. Developed around the 9th Century, this ancient order has evolved by way of a long process of civil needs and adjustments. Karaman refers to groups of people who have settled and lived in certain areas for many generations. The area or place where they live is known as Desa and adapt refers to the customs or traditions of the people.

According to ancient documentation, the earliest communities living in Bali, known as Wanua or Banua, were to be found near Trunyan in 911 AD and Gunung Indrakila in 942 AD. These communities are the founders of Balinese society as we know it today. They

were completely autonomous, managed their assets, developed their own indigenous rules with no intervention from other kingdoms.

Around the year 1039, Mpu Kuturan, the beloved spiritual leader and high Hindu priest from Java, visited Bali and settled near Padang Bai. Under his guidance, he restructured the Balinese social system

and certain aspects of the culture. Mpu Kuturan introduced what is known as the Tri Murti concept into Desa Pakraman. Tri Murti is the Hindu trinity “in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of

Brahma, Visnu and Siva respectively.” These three deities have been called “the Hindu triad” or the “Great Trinity.” They are seen as the creator, preserver and destroyer.

Mpu Kuturan planned that each village should dedicate a temple  to Brahma, Visnu and Siva. Thus, he planned that each village should have three main temples: Pura Desa, dedicated to Brahma, Pura Puseh to Wisnu and Pura Dalem to Siwa.

Sometime later, in 1489, when the Gelgel kingdom was under the rule of King Waturenggong, Dang Hyang Nirartha, a Majapahit priest from East Java, visited Bali. Once again, he restructured Bali’s social systems, culture and spiritual beliefs and brought it to a higher level.

With the Java-Hindu influence from the Majapahit kingdom, the function of desa adat became two-fold. Initially it was only for social-religious activities and ancestor worship. From there it came to include a social-political function controlled by the Majapahit


In 1932, Dr. V.E. Korn, the Dutch anthropologist, wrote

a book called Het Adatrecht van Bali or Traditional Law in Bali. He described how the Balinese people were living harmoniously and independently with their own laws.

From ancient Bali and the creation of their own kingdoms, to Majapahit, Dutch colonization and the birth of  the Indonesian Republic, the Desa Kramanan has always been a dynamic, autonomous and innovative community that has maintained  a strong cultural identity.

According to the government of Bali, in order for the Desa Pekrama to became legal, it must include the following four elements:

1. Parimandala (nature/space)

2. Karaman (people, members of society)

3. Datu (leadership and organization)

4. Tuah (God’s protection)

Parimandala is the space around us that is represented by what is called Tri Loka, or the three levels of the world, known as Bhur, Bwah, Swah: the netherworld, the world of man and the heavens.

The Tri Murti concept of village temples developed by Mpu Kuturan reflects the Tuah elements of the Desa Pekraman. And the placement of these temples is by no means accidental, as you can imagine.

The Pura Desa is always located in the what is considered the highest place for divine inspiration. The Pura Puseh is located in the bustling centre of the village, where life and trade is at its busiest. At this point I might add that the consort of Wisnu is the revered Hindu goddess Laksmi. Laksmi represents wealth and prosperity while Wisnu represents knowledge and wisdom. In other words, only through wisdom can we achieve true prosperity. Laksmi is the sakti (power) of Wisnu. The Pura Dalem is always placed in the southern part of the village and close to the cemetery or place of the dead.

The interaction between the three temples (Parahyangan

Desa) and the people (Kraman) and Datu (Pawongan) is the foundation of the Hindu-Bali concept of Tri Hita Karana: the harmonious relationship between God, humanity and nature. I hope to discuss this at a later date.

In simpe terms, it can be said that Desa Pakraman is like a self-contained small country. Governed by their own autonomy, this system reflects how the Balines manage their lives in order to achieve Moksha and Jagaditha.

There are, of course, duties that the Kraman and Datu need to observe:

1. Certain rules, known as Awig-awig and Parareman, must be made through meetings known as Paruman. These meetings are to determine how they can maintain a holy, prosperous, just and secure environment.

2. The role of Desa Pakraman in a socio-religious framework, has an obligation to maintain and preserve cultural traditions and therefore increase the quality of life of the community.

3. If there is conflict in the Karaman, the head of Datu has the authority to deal with the problem in a harmonious way that is for the good of the Desa. If the rules (awig-awig) are broken, the Datu has the power to banish these members from the community.

Dutch anthropologist Swellengrebel said that the Desa Pakraman is often defined as a community of worship where an important part of its function does indeed lie in the religious field. The Bali-Hindu concept of social values is clearly something powerful, unbreakable and deeply absorbed in the religion.

Therefore, through the lens of this complex Balinese village system, the hierarchical organization, management and self-organization becomes clearer and perhaps offers lessons for understanding diverse societies.

The following quote provides ongoing inspiration to the Balinese. It sums up their devotion to God, priests, ancestors, spirits and humanity through prayer, knowledge, obedience, ritual and holy sacrifice. Their aim in life is simply to be one with God (moksha) by means of a happy, worldly life (jagadhita).

Fix thy mind on me, be devoted to me, sacrifice to

me, prostrate thyself before me, so shalt thou come to me.

I promise thee truly for thou art dear to me

Bhagavad Gita XVIII-65

Semoga damai di bumi, damai di hati, damai di langit.

Peace on Earth, peace in your heart, peace in the sky.

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