Hindu’s temples boost security to protect ‘pretima’

The Jagatnatha Temple in Denpasar said it had increased security measures by assigning special guards to accompany the existing pemangku (priests) that had been guarding the temple.

The decision was in follow-up to the thefts of pretima — small, sacred effigies usually made of precious woods and bedecked with jewels — from 34 temples since 2008. The Bali Police successfully resolved several cases late last year and arrested some suspects, including a priest.

The most high-profile case occurred in 2010 and involved an Italian art collector, Roberto Gamba, who was believed to be the mastermind behind a ring of thieves. The police and prosecutors, however, failed to prove that accusation and Gamba was only charged with fencing stolen goods and punished with a brief sentence of five months’
imprisonment before being deported to his home country.

The six other defendants in the case received sentences of up to seven years.

Discussion of the issue resurfaced recently after the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Parisadha Hindu Council (PHDI) received information that Gamba’s lawyer had filed a motion requesting the police return the pretima confiscated during the investigation of the Italian.

PHDI and scores of Hindu organizations demanded the police not release the confiscated items. The police caved in and agreed to shift the custody of more than 400 confiscated pretima to Bali Museum.

“We don’t want thieves to steal the pretima from here,” said Jero Mangku Nyoman, one of the priests at Jagatnatha who was on guard for the afternoon shift Wednesday, adding that security for the sacred objects had been improved.

Nyoman reminisced about a shocking burglary 20 years ago, during which thieves scaled the temple’s towering padmasana shrine and pried off a solid gold Acintya (image of God the Incomprehensible One) from the top of it.

“Making the duplicate and purifying everything was very expensive,” he said. More than that, however, Nyoman said the purity of the pretima could not be valued purely by its materials, as it was related more to something noetic.

Nyoman said that there were three steps to making a pretima. First, a ritual is conducted to receive guidance over the materials to be used. Next, the materials are handed to a priest, who will make the item, followed by another ritual to purify it.

Finally, after the pretima has been made, the pemelaspasan ceremony is conducted to give a soul to the pretima.

Council deputy chairman Ketut Pasek Swastika said many other temples had also increased their security and changed the ways they held pretima.

“Some erect 10- to 15-meter towers to keep their pretima, others have safe boxes,” he said.

Further, temples intensify security guard presence through mekemit or night vigils. Mekemit was initially performed to protect worshippers when praying, but has now been extended to protect pretima.

Pasek said these methods were uncommon though. “Because stolen pretima are considered defiled, no longer sacred and no temple wants them,” he said, explaining why no temple took the stolen pretima after they were recovered by the police.

The temples’ sacred objects, in particular the pretima, are very valuable articles for Balinese Hindus because they serve as the earthly, physical presence of their gods.

The loss of a pretima cuts deeply into the psyche of the community, which feels violated by the theft and, at the same time, abandoned by the grace and protection of their deities.

Creating a new pretima is very expensive and the community would have to conduct a series of major rituals to purify and enshrine the object.

Source: Bali Daily