by Sebastien Blanc
Banjar Panti (Indonesia), March 2: The police on the Indonesian resort island of Bali are hard-pressed to explain the sudden proliferation of white markings at hundreds of temples across the deeply superstitious Hindu island. Local residents view the signs as a divine warning.
The white chalk marks — crosses, dashes or two parallel diagonal bars — began to appear simultaneously on several temples starting on February 18 and have even spread to the neighbouring island of Lombok, press reports said.
One Balinese priest, Ida Pedande Gde Mas Diatmika, pointed to two small white crosses marking a small stone altar in his family temple compound. Yet another sacred monument bore a smaller cross in the same white chalk. "We think that it is a divine message, a warning," said the priest of Banjar Panti village. His long greying hair was carefully wound in a topknot and a dash of sandalwood powder marked his forehead.
Villagers, who regularly visit Diatmika’s familial temple to leave offerings in return for holy water to bless their homes and keep evil at bay, said the marking were discovered early one morning last week. There had been a sudden power cut and the village dogs had howled in concert the previous evening. Similar signs have since been found in hundreds of other Hindu temples across Bali, known as "the island of the Gods." "This is something hard to accept on the logical plane," the police spokesman Gusti Gde Suryasa said.
"The people see the phenomenon with a religious perspective. We are looking at it from a judicial point of view," Mr Suryasa said. He quickly added that suspects had yet to be found. "If the one behind all this is not human, then that would be above the range of our duties," he said. For Diatmika, 65, the warning must be related to the rapid changes taking place in this predominantly Hindu Indonesian island.
"Everything is changing, nothing remains as it was. The weather changes too rapidly. Nature is losing its balance," the priest said, citing global warming, a recent series of earthquakes and a deadly tsunami that have hit the country.
"Nature is unhappy," ventured Ms Ida Ayu Sri, a woman busy weaving baskets to carry offerings. A white frangipani flower adorned her simple hairdo. "These signs are there to tell us to be careful in our lives. They remind us to return to the right direction," the woman, in her thirties, added. Superstition and a strong belief in black magic are deeply ingrained in Bali, which is 90 per cent Hindu. Islam predominates throughout most of the Indonesian archipelago.
The first markings were found in two temples in Denpasar, the island’s capital, on February 18, and the police immediately launched an investigation Mr Suryasa said. "But nowadays, these signs are everywhere. Every hour brings new ones. Sometimes they were not there in the morning but suddenly they are there in the evening. And always on temples," he said.
Witnesses have even found the inscriptions on sacred structures in places difficult to reach without the aid of tall ladders. Others have appeared on monuments in well-locked private family temple grounds, including that of the Bali police chief. A temple on the grounds of provincial police headquarters, guarded round-the-clock, was not spared. "Of course the people are worried. Some believe a catastrophe is imminent. Others think they are positive divine signs," Mr Suryasa said. The police laboratory testing on samples of the white substance used in the markings showed that they were made with raw chalk. (AFP)
Informant: Anna Webb