DENPASAR, INDONESIA: Indonesia’s Hindu resort island of Bali on Wednesday defended a decision not to cover up any of its ubiquitous statues of deities and semi-naked women during a visit by the Saudi king .
King Salman and a 1,000-strong entourage are enjoying a week-long holiday in Bali after a state visit to Jakarta, during the first trip by a Saudi monarch to Indonesia in nearly half a century.
When he met President Joko Widodo for talks at a palace in Bogor, near the capital, officials hid some naked statues in the grounds by covering them with cloth and putting plants around them as a sign of respect for the king.
But officials on Bali – a pocket of Hinduism in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation – said that they would not extend the same courtesy.
The island, which attracts millions of foreign visitors every year to its palm-fringed beaches, is home to many statues of Hindu gods and bare-chested women. In the past, Balinese women often wore only sarongs that did not cover their chests.
“We’re just going to leave (the statues) as they are, we don’t have to cover up anything because it is our culture,” Bali local government spokesman Dewa Mahendra said.
He said that they “are cultural creations, they are art”.
Local authorities had not received a request from the Saudi king or his party to hide any of statues from view, Mahendra said, adding they were more focused on ensuring the monarch’s safety.
Strict interpretations of Islam forbid the creation of images of living beings – such as statues of women –and worship of idols.
The king and his entourage are staying in five luxury hotels for the holiday, which ends on Sunday.
Other places have hidden naked statues for visiting Muslim leaders. Last year a Rome museum covered up classical nude sculptures in temporary wooden cartons during a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Indonesia is one of the highlights on the king’s three-week Asian tour. He started the visit in Malaysia and will also visit Japan, China and the Maldives.