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A Case of Bullying?

Ngaturang Bhakti Pengeleb Ritual in Kintamani, Bali: A Painful Right of Passage to Divinity for a Cow

(5/6/2012) Warning: The following article of ritual offerings in Bali may cause discomfort to those offended by cruelty inflicted on animals.

The village of Selulang at Kintamani, is from time to time the scene of a ceremony unique and, to the eyes of some observers, singularly cruel to the animal reluctantly forced to take part. The ritual is defended by those who partake in the brutalization of a young calf at the center of the event as the highest honor that can be paid to animal, immediately bestowing sacred status on the bovine.

As reported by Radar Bali, the Ngaturang Bhakti Pengeleb Ceremony requires that a young male calf endure a prolonged ordeal of beatings and himiliations as part of a purification ceremony to celebrate the birth of a son.

The tradition of the Ngaturan Bhakti Pengeleb mandates that a male calf be subjected to the ordeal of beatings. The Bendesa of Selulung village, Nengah Widiana, explained the animal is never beaten to death, adding, “while it does look cruel, the ceremony has a deeper meaning for the people who live here.”

On Tuesday, May 1, 2012, the ceremony. seen by locals as a form of spiritual debt fulfillment, was again held near the sacred temple of Selulung. Beginning with offerings at the Pura Bale Agung and Pura Dalem Selulung, village elders then held a community meeting to discuss the coming ceremony.

“Everyone, particularly the by the young men of the village, eagerly await the torture of the cow,” explained one villager.

Following the meeting, the religious figures from the village make their way to the Pura Dalem, located next to the Pura Bale Agung. There, offerings are made and the young male cow is lovingly cleaned in preparation for the coming ceremony.

Widiana continued to outline the event, saying, “Before the punishments are inflicted on the cow by the village men, both the cow and the boys are cleansed with holy water.”

Purified, a command is shouted by the leader to groups of tens of young men to bring the hapless cow forward. The mob, grabbing at the animal's tail, horn, head and ears - inflict an ordeal on the animal. Unable to offer any resistance despite furitive attempts to escape the vicious crowd, the men repeatedly pull on the screaming cow’s body, striking the animal and dragging it repeatedly to the ground.

Ignoring the plight of the cow, the work of the crowd continues with young men mercilessly beat the animal.

After what seems like an interminable period, the commander of the ceremony orders the assault to end and the animal is set free, allowed to wander at its will for the rest of its days.

Local residents are quick to explain that the main purpose of the ceremony is not torture. The ritual cleansing of the beast and the subsequent beating prepare the animal for its sacred duty of becoming the transport for the Lord Siwa. The ritualized beating is believed to rid the animal of its bestial nature.

The sacred status the ritual bestows on the animal means that he is no longer the property of any human and free to roam at will.

“Up until this time, there are perhaps 30 sacred cows roaming in areas from Buleleng to Tabanan,” explained a village resident.

Locals are convinced that anyone who disturbs the cow after the ceremony will precipitate disaster on themselves and their community.