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Bali: Island of a Thousand Temples

Governor Pastika Proposes Making Leading Temples Across Bali Off-Limit to Tourist Visitors

(11/11/2013) Perhaps an outcome of the continuing debate over the establishment of the Besakih Temple and the surrounding slopes of Mount Agung as Strategic National Tourism Areas (KSPN), Bali governor Made Mangku Pastika has declared he intends to close major temples (Pura Sad Kahyangan and Pura Dang Kahyangan) to tourist visitors. The Governor also says he will communicate to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to cancel plans to establish 11 KSPN on the Island.

The Governor made his shocking pronouncement at the closing of a workshop on the “Future Development of Bali’s Tourism” held at his office on Tuesday, November 5, 2013.

The workshop, that was held to discuss the pros and cons of creating a KSPN at Besakih and Mount Agung, was attended by a wide range of community leaders. Among those in attendance was the Deputy Minister for Resource Development from the Ministry of Tourism and the Creative Economy, Dr. I Gede Pitana; the vice-governor of Bali Ketut Sudikerta and a cross sample of religious and community leaders from across Bali.

The Governor told the group that he was committed to closing all Pura Sad Khayangan and Pura Dang Khayangan to tourist visits and tourist activities at some point over the coming five years. Pastika said he wanted to finally end the strong disagreements and the developing polemic on the sanctity of Balinese temples. 'Pura (temples) - it is decided - should be clean of activities outside the interest of the Hindu faithful, at least at 'Pura Sad Kahyangan' and 'Pura Dang Kahyangan'.”

Continuing, the Governor said: “This is not retaliation. Let’s be done with it. 'Pura' shall no longer be considered as tourism attractions, (let’s) close the 'pura' for tourism activities. What’s more, someone read the 'bhisama' to me (Hindu dogma). If this touches on the leader receiving Gods punishment, I am genuinely afraid.”

There are six pura sad kahyangan (temples of the word) proposed by the Governor to be off-limits to tourists visitors are:

The six pura dang khayangan are temples dedicated to religious teachers and their lesson. Pastika emphasized that all puras in Bali will be required to protect all components, including tourism areas. “Later, we will talk with the tourism sector about this situation. I offer my apologies to friends who already have pan to celebrate the anniversary ('piodalan') of puras,” Pastika said.

Pastika has also declared that for the present time the establishment of KSPN in Bali would not go ahead. This prohibition would not apply to only to Besakih-Mount Agung, but to all 11 KSPN mentioned in the 2011 declaration by the central government, namely:
Rp. 5 billion had already been allocated to fund the proposal phase of the KSPN project in Bali,  with all areas listed in the KSPN plan slated to eventually receive funding support from Jakarta for upgrading and tourism infrastructutre support.

The Governor said that in the course of the spirited debate on KSPN for Besakih-Gunung Agung many had urged him to abandon plans to safeguard the areas by abandoning the KSPN plan. “I therefore concluded, don’t introduce KSPN to Bali yet, because there are so many pura. It will only become more difficult. Therefore areas must be kept clean within a certain radius of a pura. This is a sensitive problem. Those looking for problems are indeed clever; they look for sensitive points such as this. Miss World has come to pray at the Besakih Temple; that is enough!” said Pastika.

Pastika said he would report to President Yudhoyono who was attending the Bali Democracy Forum, asking that the 11 KSPN designations in Bali be suspended. Adding: “I will ask that this be considered. If necessary, the Rp. 5 billion allocated by the Central Government to pay for a KSPN Consultant will be returned.”

The Governor’s bold pronouncement to close major Balinese temples across Bali to tourist visits has ignited a new a very lively debate among religious leaders, academics, students, tourism industry managers, and political and community leaders.

Some are accusing the Governor of pique, involving himself in payback to those opposed to efforts to his now- abandoned plan to transform Pura Besakih into a KSPN. Those most vehemently opposed to the change-of-status for Besakih argued that Bali’s Mother Temple was a sacred place of worship, threatening Pastika and Bali with damnation (e.g. earthquakes, tsunami, plague and floods) if the Governor persisted with his plans for special national heritage status for the area.

Others, in sympathy with the Governor’s plans for KSPN status for Besakih, point to blatant power grabs and over-commercialization by small traders and illegal tours guides who victimize tourist visitors to Bali most sacred temple.

The Governor’s plans would make the listed temples only available for those involved in prayer and religious ceremonies. Tourists would be relegated to viewing the sites from the outside only.

It is assumed that the closure of the temples may also include a strict enforcement of rules prohibiting tourist activities within a pre-set radius around sacred temples.