DENPASAR: Hindu leaders on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali Tuesday lashed out at a government plan to attract more tourists to their most sacred temple as “degrading” to Hinduism.
The row highlighted concerns that Bali's booming tourism industry is a double-edged sword, as it threatens to erode the Hindu culture which is part of the attraction for the millions who visit the tropical island.
The Indonesian Hindu Association's concerns centred on a government decision to include the Besakih temple and the volcano upon which it sits on an official list of sites to be developed for tourism.
“These sites are the centre of the universe for us Balinese Hindus, and we are worried that by making it an official tourist destination, our spiritual lives will be disrupted,” association head Ngurah Sudyana said.
“We are concerned that our spirituality will be degraded and exploited if these sites are just seen as commercial.”
While the sites in eastern Bali already receive considerable numbers of visitors, they are far less crowded than the major tourist areas in the south.
Sudyana said he was worried the government plan would change this.
“We are worried big buildings for accommodation and entertainment will be erected,” he said.
The temple and volcano, in eastern Bali, were included in the list of 88 places across Indonesia to be developed for tourism over a 15-year period.
Besakih, known as the “mother temple” by Balinese Hindus, is a huge, stone complex which sits 1,000 metres up the side of Mount Agung, a volcano that has great spiritual significance for Bali's Hindus.
The tourism ministry plans to improve tourism links and accommodation at the selected destinations to boost an industry that is often criticised as underdeveloped compared with neighbours like Thailand and Malaysia.
The list was first drawn up in 2011, but Hindu leaders have spoken out amid growing unease on Bali about the pace of development.
The tourism ministry defended the plan, however, and said it planned to hold consultations with Bali's religious leaders to address their concerns.
“We are trying to conserve strategic tourism destinations, not cause any disruption to them. It will certainly bring benefits to the communities,”ministry spokesman Noviendi Makalam said.
“There will be no major developments there without consultations with the community first.”
As a Hindu-majority island, Bali is an anomaly in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation of around 250 million people and is known for its hedonistic party scene and comparatively relaxed social attitudes.