Bali Menggugat Nirwana

Thirty years ago, in January 1994, more than a thousand demonstrators, some of whom are Balinese students who study in big cities outside Bali, went to the Bali DPRD (House of Representatives) building. At that time, it was the highest record in the history of demonstrations on the Island of the Gods.

The message of the demonstrators was very clear: they demanded that the construction permit for the Bali Nirwana Resort (BNR) near the Tanah Lot Temple, Tabanan, Bali, be revoked. They consider the location of the BNR near the sacred temple to be inappropriate. The project and its entire 120-hectare complex were owned by the PT. Bakrie Nirwana Resort, part of the Bakrie Group conglomerate based in Jakarta. 

Reactions against the Bali Nirwana Resort project were widespread in Denpasar. In Jakarta, news outlets such as Suara Pembaruan and the Jakarta Post published lengthy coverages about the project, and Tempo wrote its own piece, Tanah Lot: Bali Menggugat Nirwana. In late 1993 and early 1994, the youths also demonstrated at the Governor’s office. Then, coinciding with Saraswati Day, some of the protesters came to Tanah Lot Temple, 35 km from Denpasar. They did mekemit, staying up all night, to protest the mega project.

Letters and written protests inundated the government, as there was a strong feeling that this project was desecrating and commercialising a sacred place. This type of development has been a growing worry because the government’s so-called cultural tourism policy seems to be leading to the commercialisation of every aspect of Balinese culture, from trance dances to cremations, almost all of which are intimately connected with Balinese spiritual tradition and culture.

Even the paramount Hindu coordinating body, Parisadha Hindu Dharma, became involved and tried to come up with a compromise formula that proposed that a certain distance should be maintained between sacred places and tourist developments. From a legal point of view, the project was considered illegal by many as it violated SK Gubernur Bali no. 15 1988 (issued on 13 January 1988) which prohibits the construction of any kind of tourism infrastructure within 2,5km radius of sacred places. However, the protests went nowhere, and in the end, the project was going ahead.

Bali Nirwana Resort was eventually opened in 1997 as the Le Meridien Nirwana Golf & Spa Resort Bali, with a 278-room hotel and a Greg Norman-designed 18-hole international golf course, both with direct view towards the Tanah Lot Temple. In 2010, the complex was split into two and rebranded as Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort and Nirwana Bali Golf Club, respectively. According to Forbes, the complex was sold by Bakrie Group to Indonesian businessman Harry Tanoesoedibjo in 2013, and both facilities were eventually closed permanently in 2017 following a new plan to rebuild an entirely new resort complex to be managed by the Trump Hotels.