Bali’s Christian Hamlets

December 1, 2016 Namhar Hernanto

Balinese Hindu temples and mosques are decorating a good portion of the Jembrana area in West Bali, with quite a number of them located by the roadsides. But if you turn inland on the way to the national park to the villages of Blimbingsari and Palasari, you’ll come upon the home of the island’s largest Balinese, Christian and Catholic communities with their impressive, distinct, Balinese-designed churches.

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Many know West Bali as a huge area of protected reserve, much of which is completely uninhabited. What many don’t know about this area is that it is also a melting pot, for over the centuries migrants from more populated areas in Bali, Java, Madura, and even Sulawesi established communities here. And so this ethnically, culturally, and geographically diverse area offers surprises for visitors who make the effort to explore it.

That’s right, being an island famous for its quirkiness, there’s a small share of Christianity that adds more color to Bali’s predominantly Hindu culture in West Bali. The area’s Palasari and Blimbingsari villages are where Christianity and Catholicism and Balinese culture intertwined, making them unique destinations to visit for both leisure and a pilgrimage journey.

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The Catholic Palasari is breathtaking with its church set on the village’s town square. The architecture 54 is Gothic but showcases Balinese touches in the spires, which resembles the meru (multiroofed shrine) in a Hindu temple, and features a facade with the same shape as a temple gate. During certain occasions, visitors can find some locals selling figurines of Jesus outside the church. Some 100 metres away from the church is Goa Maria, cave of Maria, a pilgrimage site overlooking the rich greenery of the surrounding hills. Again an interesting cultural anomaly here in the highlands of West Bali.

The rest of the village offers peacefulness, with swaying palms neatly decorated in on the roadsides in front of the villagers’ home. In addition to the palm trees, manicured grass lands also adorns Palasari, making it a very neat village. The route from Palasari down to the junction with the main road leading to Negara, is nothing short of lovely. The lower section of the route down to the main road is untouched land covered with massive palms.

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The nearby Blimbingsari, is a religious village and the home to Bali’s biggest Christian community. Though the church in Belimbingsari is as not as extravagant as the one in Palasari, it really shows an amazing structure with features rendered in a distinctly Balinese style – instead of a church bell, there’s a Balinese kulkul (warning drum) like those in a Hindu temple. The entrance is through an aling-aling (guard wall) gate, and the carved angels adorning the church look very Balinese. Outside the church is a wooden sign saying “Gereja Kristen Protestan Di Bali” (Protestant Christian Church in Bali).

Just like Palasari, Blimbingsari is set amongst gorgeous countryside. Riding up to the village, one will see Muslims tending to their daily chores. This being west Bali, there are a considerable number of Muslims, for Java is not far away. The whole area around Blimbingsari feels tranquil, surrounded by forests and rice fields.

The religious practices of the two villages are unique. Come Christmas day, villagers of Palasari and Blimbingsari will flock to their Balinese-inspired churches, wear their traditional Balinese attire, bring their Balinese offerings, sing gospels and hymns to a gamelan orchestra, and serve their Balinese food (the famous Babi Guling included) – the only things missing here is the Balinese Hinduism. Traditional Balinese dancing is also performed in both villages; but instead of the depiction of the
Mahabharata and Ramayana tales, the characters resembled in the dances come from the bible.

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Visitors can access the area via two major roads: One on the north coast and the other on the south coast. The road on the north coast is considered quieter and offers en-route attractions such as Singaraja (a trade centre of North Bali), Lovina (famous for its sunrise dolphin tour), Banjar (known for its natural hot springs), and Pemuteran (a haven for divers). Natural beauty takes the larger part on the south coast, with the ocean and terraced rice fields luring passers by to make a stop and snap some shots. You will encounter several busy towns of Tabanan along the way. This southern track is much busier than the one in north, for it carries the bulk of commercial traffic to and from Java.

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