The Dynamics of Balinese Society
By Anand Krishna
For The Bali Times
When we say “it depends,” we do not normally explain the “what” of it. We do not find it necessary to do so, and people are too busy to bother. So we get away with a blank cheque; we can fill it in ourselves. It depends on whatever; it can even be on our mood.
In Bali, however, the “what” does matter. “It depends” does not stand on its own. “It depends” depends on desha, kala and patra.
Desha relates to the place where we live, and make our living. It is actually a combination of two words: deha, or body; and ashraya, or support. Deha is that which supports our body.
Desha is, therefore, not necessarily the country where you are born, and/or of which you are a citizen. You could be born in Bethlehem, raised in Bangkok and carry a Brazilian passport – if you live and make your living in Bali, then Bali is your desha. The Indonesian word desa – meaning “village” – is derived from Sanskrit/Kawi desha.
What if you are tourist, and visiting some place? The place you are visiting is desha “for the moment,” or for as long as you are there.
Next, kala, or time, relates to the present time. It is neither some time in the past nor a point of time in future. It is “this time,” here and now.
Lastly, patra pertains to “role,” although it is more commonly translated as “context,” which is not the correct meaning of the word. Desha, kala and patra – all three are contextual, not just the patra.
Patra reminds us of our different roles in life. My role at workplace and my role at home are two entirely different roles. These different roles are again divided into several sub-roles.
At work, I could be someone’s boss, and someone could be my boss. I could be reporting to someone, and someone could be reporting to me. Similarly, my role at home has innumerable different variants. My role as a father of my children does not change my role as a son of my father. Each one of us has a multi-role, a series of roles to play at one and same time.
You can experiment with this. Take a sheet of paper and make five columns. The first column is where you write your tasks, the second for desha, third for kala, fourth for patra and fifth for conclusions.
Now, take any task, as menial as to urinate, perhaps. In the second column, write where you are, not just Bali – be more specific: say, at the mall. Third column: time – surely it would be business hours. Then comes your role as a visitor, a customer. So the conclusion would be to urinate in one of the public toilets provided.
Now, change the role column from visitor to employee. Keep all others as they are. The conclusion would change. You will have to look for toilets provided for staff.
Similarly, if you change the desha, or place, column to “in the middle of nowhere in the Himalayas,” where there are no public toilets, the conclusion would be: “Find a rock or a tree, and relieve yourself behind that.”
This makes – or, rather, should make – Balinese society and the people of Bali very dynamic and progressive. We become sharp and more aware of all our actions. If rightly understood and practiced, this maxim can free us from attachment to things of the past, which are no longer relevant. Unfortunately – and, this is very sad – we have forgotten the spirit of this maxim.
Recently, a family preparing for the cremation of their deceased relative at public crematorium was stopped by the village chieftain, and members of the village council. The reason: There must be a cremation, in accordance to the customs, or adat, of the village, on a certain date, and with certain rituals.
One of my friends, a Westerner living on the isle, remarked, “This is against basic human rights. This is a clear violation of such rights.”
Another friend, a Balinese academic and a name to reckon with, commented sadly: “I faced the same problem when I wanted to cremate my father. The adat law did not allow me, and I had to wait for more than one year before we could have the cremation.”
There can be several reasons. If there is an upcoming festival, or religious ceremony, then the cremation must wait. The body must be “deposited,” or “dititip,” under ground – that is, buried – before the right time of cremation is decided upon, once again in accordance with the adat law and the local priest.
This, let me remind you, is just one of the reasons that could delay the process of cremation, with additional monetary consequences. The temporary burial is not free. The rituals cost you money too.
I keep hearing from young Balinese, especially those living in Java and other islands, that they can no longer bear with such laws. “The intervention of adat, village chieftains and others may finally compel us to denounce our Hindu faith and embrace Islam or Christianity.” Many of them have actually done so.
Desha, kala, patra.
I must remind Bali of its cultural heritage. These three magic words form a mantra for progress and evolution. What was relevant yesterday is perhaps no longer relevant today. There are several customs and habits that are still relevant and must be continued. And those that are no longer relevant must be discarded.
Ignorantly clinging to the past can be destructive. We must intelligently review our past and culture only on values that are beneficial.
To youngsters who are denouncing their faith on account of adat, I must say: Do not be cowards. Cowardice is a sign of weakness. What can you possibly achieve in life if you behave in such cowardly manner?
You have the responsibility to reform such laws, customs and traditions. You cannot run away from your responsibility. You have certain obligations towards Mother Bali. Save her from dying a slow death of degeneration and degradation. Remember the maxim of your forefathers: desha, kala and patra!
Interestingly, the adat chieftains, village heads and councils use the same mantra to justify what they do. This shows their ignorance. They do not know the meaning and the implication of these words.
Desha, kala, patra is recognition of the necessity to change, while continuing with all from the past that is still relevant. It is the call to change by becoming the change first.
It is wrong to interpret desha, kala, patra as the Balinese version of the proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Desha, kala, patra is not only addressed to non-Balinese visiting Bali, but an advice to all Balinese as well. We all need to progress and evolve.
Bali could, in fact, contribute positively to the world-to-come. This maxim is relevant to all races, and all nations. Our customs and traditions should facilitate us, not burden us.
A word of caution: Let us learn from history, and the mistakes made by the great civilizations in the past. Those who were reluctant to change destroyed themselves, and finally died. However, those who got so carried away as to lose their self-pride and identities were also destroyed and died out.
We must learn to facilitate the change, in accordance with desha, kala and patra. We have the right kind of guideline and yardstick to keep a fair balance between what must be changed and what must be continued.
Continuity in change – and that is only possible if we correctly understand the philosophy behind this beautiful proverb, this very powerful mantra: Desha, kala and Patra.
The writer is a spiritual activist and author of more than 120 books. To know more about his activities in Bali, call Aryana or Debbie on 0361 7801595 or 8477490; or visit www.aumkar.org and www.anandkrishna.org.Filed under: Anand Krishna