The Balinese prize balance in the cosmos above all else. Often referred to as Tri Hita Karana, the Island's endemic inhabitants fear calamity and bedlam will result if balance in the relationships between man with God, man with nature, and man with his fellow man are allowed to get badly out of synch.
And, while the Balinese adopt a markedly less stringent view on sexual matters than, say, their Javanese neighbors, there are nonetheless norms that if violated place the entire community at risk. To cite one instance, strict rules against incest are in place in Bali, with controversial historical reports suggesting that in the recent past brother-sister twins would be sacrificed at birth deemed to have committed incest in the womb. Similarly, there are strong prohibitions in Bali against bestiality, an act seen to defame the very order of the universe.
Against this background, a number of local newspapers gave front-page coverage to a rare ngelarung ceremony held on Monday, October 23, in the village of Julah, near Tejakula in Buleleng. The ceremony, which saw a female cow led into the ocean to drown, was mandated by local custom when a 70-year old grandfather, Pekak Sutarya, was discovered in flagrante delicto with the bovine. In mitigation, the old man, who is well known in his village for his skills as a Baris Persesi sacred dancer and maker of cremation towers, said he was in a trance when he committed the dastardly act, seeing not a cow but a beautiful long-haired woman.
Horrified, not only at the act itself but for its possible cosmic consequences for the community, village meetings were urgently convened and religious authorities consulted. During the course of these deliberations Sutarya was banned from dancing in the temple, he and his family were compelled to perform a range of community services and, for a period, were treated as social outcasts for bringing dishonor and possible "karmic calamity" on their community.
While Sutarya's "crime" occurred in August 17, 2008, a suitable date in December was set for the mandatory ritual cleaning that would finally end the matter and allow Sutarya and his family to reconcile with their neighbors. However, when it was discovered that the cow subjected to the old man's affections was five months pregnant, the little-questioned general consensus quickly became that the cow bore Sutarya's offspring necessitating that the date of the ceremony be hurriedly advanced to October 23rd in order to avoid the cow giving birth to some sort of demonic monster.
On the appointed day, the scene of the crime - the cattle barn and corral - were burned to the ground in the night by local villagers. Before sunrise, both the pregnant cow and Pekak Sutarya were led to the seaside where all members of the local community donated 11 ancient Chinese coins, symbolically representing the more than US$190 contributed by the villagers to cover the cost of the ceremony. Then, the old man, seated in the water had his hair ritually cut and thrown into the ocean. As the Sun rose on the horizon, a boat carrying Sutarya and towing the cow led on a line behind the boat set sail.
Some 3 kilometers from shore the line attached to the now-drowned-brown-cow was released and clothing belonging to her human lover were thrown into the sea, symbolizing Sutarya's ritual drowning together with his hapless paramour. Later, once back on shore, Sutarya was led to a local river and bathed to complete the cleansing process and allow the man's return to the family.
While the traditional Western view may be to brand the sacrifice of the cow as barbaric and cruel, the local village chief was quick to explain that the cow was treated with great respect and awe prior to the ceremony, seen as a very special animal capable of casting a spell to affect the mental perceptions of men. As such, and like all animals sacrificed in Balinese rituals, the cow is seen to have played a honored role in ancient ritual, certain to attain a higher incarnation in a future life.
Reinforcing this Balinese view of the universe, those attending the ceremony reported that the cow offered no resistance, readily following the boat through the surf into increasingly deeper waters and the certain death that awaited in the oceans beyond.
An Act of Reconciliation
In addition to fulfilling ritual requirements of the Bali Hindu religion, the ceremony and sacrifice has served the very practical effect of providing a full and final reconciliation with the community for Pekak Sutarya and his family who have now been welcomed back into the communal bosom of the village of Julah.
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