Acintya statue

Acintya is the supreme divine principle in Balinese Hinduism and is also called Tintya (‘the inconceivable’, ‘the unimaginable’) or Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (‘the divine order’) or Sang Hyang Tunggal (‘the divine oneness’). Characteristic of Acintya statues are the flame and phallus-shaped protrusions on his body. This refers to the fact that Acintya is also seen as a sun and fertility god. The elegant S-shape of his body is inspired by the Shiva-Natarajah dance form.

Acintya is the Balinese equivalent to the metaphysical concept of Brahman in Indian Hinduism. All gods, goddesses and existence are believed to be the manifestation of the Acintya, who is also considered as emptiness and origin of the universe. Prayers and offerings are usually not made directly to him, but to the other manifestations of the deity. Acintya is often not even represented inside Balinese temples, but only evoked by an empty lotus throne (padmasana) on top of a pillar.

Since the end of World War II and the Indonesian independence war, the Republic of Indonesia has adopted the political philosophy of Pancasila – the five principles – which allows for freedom of religion. The statute, however, requires that the religion in question be monotheistic, i.e. based upon the belief in a single, omnipotent deity. Under this system, six religions are recognised: Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and later on Confucianism.

To comply with regulations, Balinese Hindus felt the need to reinforce the monotheistic component of their faith and emphasised the role of Acintya. To refer to him, they chose the term Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (glossed as ‘God Almighty’), which although coined in the 1930s by Protestant missionaries to describe the Christian god, was thought to be well-adapted to describe the Hindu supreme deity.

Acintya statues are rare. They are difficult to carve, due to the many vulnerable parts, especially the flaming/phallus shapes. This one is made of striped Makassar ebony in the second half of the 20th century (between circa 1960 and 1980).

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