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Foreigners in Bali find themselves in hot water with Hindus over offensive social media posts

It’s known as the Island of the Gods, but that’s lost on some Western influencers who like its picturesque temples and landscapes for risque social media content.

Russian yogi influencer Alina Fazleeva and her husband, Andrey, will be deported and barred from entering Indonesia for six months, after Ms Fazleeva offended Balinese Hindus by posting images of herself posing naked on a centuries-old sacred tree.

Known as Kayu Putih, which translates as “white wood”, the giant tree behind Babakan Temple in Bali’s Tabanan district is believed by locals to be 700 years old.

The image went viral after Niluh Djelantik — a prominent Balinese fashion designer and politician — posted a screenshot asking people to report Alina to immigration authorities and the police.

“She should be responsible for the cost of the cleaning ceremony to be carried out by villagers,” Ms Djelantik said.

“Trashy tourist. Go home!” she later posted.

Two people crouch in front of a tree to pray
Large trees are objects of worship for many Balinese.(Instagram: @alina_yogi)

Ms Fazleeva deleted the offensive post and published another photo depicting herself offering prayers while clothed at the same tree.

“I apologize to all the people of Bali and Indonesia. I regret what I have done,” she wrote in Indonesian.

“I am so ashamed, I did not mean to offend you in any way, I had no knowledge of this place,” she said.

  A woman holds her hands together in prayer
Alina Fazleeva is the latest international visitor to find themselves the subject of controversy in Bali.(Instagram: @alina_yogi)

Despite the apology, Bali’s Governor, Wayan Koster, personally ordered her deportation, saying in a statement it was “far important to preserve the culture and respect the dignity of Bali” than tolerate such behavior for tourist dollars.

Ravinjay Kuckreja researches indigenous religion at the State Hindu University of Denpasar in Bali and hosts the Being Bali podcast on local culture.

He said that, for Balinese Hindus, “sources of water like springs, statues, trees and volcanoes are amongst the many everyday objects that are sanctified and regarded as sacred”.

Having one’s naked body against a holy tree was thus considered “sacrilege” by Balinese Hindus, who revere large trees as embodying “a divine ogre named Banaspati Raja (lord of the forests)”, Mr Kuckreja said.

A row of Balinese women in face masks praying
The vast majority of Bali’s population is Hindu.(AP: Firdia Lisnawati)

The incident came shortly after immigration officials said they would deport a Canadian man who had filmed himself attempting the ceremonial Māori Haka on a volcano worshiped by Balinese Hindus.

Jeffrey Craigen, a self-described “mind body healer”, live-streamed himself dancing, naked, on the peak of Mt Batur while proclaiming that stripping naked made him into a “fearless child of God”.

Canadian tourists Jeffrey Craigen
Jeffrey Craigen went viral and sparked widespread anger.(AFP: Bali Immigration Handout)

Mr Kuckreja said that dancing naked at Mt Batur was considered even worse than posing naked on the tree, because the volcano was “exceptionally sacred” for Balinese Hindus.

Jamaruli Manihuruk, the immigration head in Bali, said locals across the province were urged to “proactively monitor and report various violations committed by foreigners to authorities [so that they can take] strictaction”.

Neither Ms Fazleeva nor Mr Craigen responded to requests for comment.

Religion and culture a key part of daily life

Such incidents are not new in Bali.

In August 2019 — shortly before the pandemic devastated the local tourism industry — a Czech couple uploaded a video of themselves splashing holy water on intimate body parts during a visit to a Hindu temple complex.

Statues appear at the entrance to a temple in Bali
Temples and other holy sites are everywhere in Bali.(ABC News: Sarina Locke)

Another video recently circulated on Indonesian social media appears to show a Caucasian man masturbating under a waterfall in Bali.

The island welcomed more than six million international travelers in 2019.

With Indonesia’s borders largely closed due to COVID-19 in 2021, however, Bali saw only around 50 foreign tourists for the whole year.

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