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In Bali, ancient ceremonies confront modern terror

Indonesian priests conduct the largest ritual sacrifice in memory, trying to ward off future terrorist attacks.

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Sitting cross-legged in the courtyard of the Ocean Temple at sunset late last week, Ida Pedande Gede Putra Bajing, a Brahmin high priest, struggles to explain the importance of the ceremony he will help lead.

Around him are roughly three dozen lay priests from Kuta, the resort that was rocked by an Al Qaeda bomb blast that killed nearly 200 people on Oct. 12. Mr. Bajing is giving last-minute instructions.

The next day, they join hundreds of priests in the largest blood sacrifice any Balinese can recall - a bid to rebuild a spiritual order many here see as shattered by the bomb.

"This will be the first, and hopefully the last, ceremony of its kind," says Bajing, who helped a team of priests pore over ancient lontar palm scrolls to create the right ritual response to the attack.

Many here see it as a way to draw comfort out of a horrifying experience, much the way Americans did with ceremonies in New York and Washington after Sept. 11. "This is to make Bali neutral again, to cleanse the site of the blast, and to bring peace to the souls of the dead," Bajing says. Then the priest, whose salt-and-pepper hair is gathered in a topknot and adorned with a pendant and flowers, reaches into his shirt pocket and answers his cellphone.

Bali is a study in contradictions, a lush island where global tourist culture mingles with an ancient ritual world that governs almost every aspect of life.

In the aftermath of the attack, which destroyed the Sari Club and an Irish bar called Paddy's, that has meant trying to deal with the impact of global terrorism within the context of Balinese cosmology.

Throughout the island, Balinese - businessmen and farmers alike - wonder if a failure in regular ritual observance led to the attack. Some say mistakes in making offerings to the dark gods linked with the sea made the deaths inevitable.


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