Hinduism in Bali: a primer


Shruti Pandey

When we talk of Hinduism, India is the country that flares up in our head as the ubiquitous contender for professing the religion and that too in majority. But as we sidle towards east and stumble upon an archipelago- a conglomerate of about 17,000 islands that lump together to a country that shares its name also, with India; Indonesia. It ranks fourth in the world’s most populated country behind China, India and United States of America with an estimated population of 234 million. Out of this mammoth figure, about 1.2% of the population professes Hinduism and almost all of it resides in a small island of Indonesia; Bali. Here are 10 points that you need to know about Hinduism on this land:

Bali Hindus. Wikimedia Commons
  1. Indonesia might be a Muslim majority country now, but it withholds many aspects of its Hindu past. For example, one of the country’s official symbols, the Indonesian coat of arms, is called the “Garuda Pancasila”, after the eagle Garuda who in Hinduism is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. Even the national epic of the country is “The Ramayana”.
  2. Unknown to most of the Hindus across the world, Bali has the highest proportion of Hindus accounting for about 93% of its total population. Bali is the only place in which the government offices close daily to observe Hindu prayers.
  3. The story of Hinduism in the island is also intriguing. Indonesia practiced some form of animism. While first and second century A.D. saw inclusion of Hinduism and Buddhism in the society via the paths of trade with India and China. The hybridization of Hinduism with Buddhism and animism makes it a different kind of Hinduism from the one that is professed in India. A number of important Hindu empires were established in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Java between the 5th and the 13th century; some of which had also absorbed Buddhist influences.
  4. But the advent of Islam in 13th century turned things upside down and very soon, Islam emerged as the major religion in the country but the last dynasty of Indonesia- Majapahit, which showed some inclination towards the preservation of Hinduism in Bali and sought refuge from Islam in the same. The reasons why Bali was left out of the conquest was its inability to trade. It had no major trading port and it grew no major spice that could lure the forces. It was and still is agriculture dominated country and like other islands of Indonesia, relies heavily on tourism.
  5. The other side of the story depicts that not all Hindus that reside on the island are originally Hindus. According to a charter issued by the government, only six major world religions are recognized as being official religions in the country: Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism and it is mandatory for each citizen of Indonesia to choose one from the six options available. The non inclusion of animism as a form of religion enabled this community to adopt Hinduism as it is more flexible as compared to other religions. Several animist communities such as the Tana Toraja of Sulawesi, the Dayak of Kalimantan and the Karo-Batak of Sumatra are such examples.
  6. The Balinese society is formed out on the Hindu caste system and has the same classification as India’s- Brahmins (holy men and priests), Kshatriyas (warriors and kings), Vaishyas (traders and nobles) and Shudras (peasants) while each caste speaks its own tongue.
  7. Islam couldn’t overshadow Hinduism in India, despite an epoch of Mughal rule but the inclusion of Islam in Indonesia had been subtle and peaceful. While Islam dissolved homogenously in the Indonesian community, it involved some bloody affairs in India and even the bifurcation of India in 1947 also spilled some bad beans over the consent of both communities.
  8. Hindus in Bali officially refer their religion as “Agama Hindu Dharma”. The beliefs of theirs are in consent with Hinduism in India, the difference lies in the names only. They believe in one call, which they call the “supreme power” and they elucidate all the gods as the manifestation of this “supreme power”.
  9. The texts that “Agama Hindu Dharma” refers as their sacred books are the Vedas only. The basis of Balinese Hinduism if formed out of the two Vedas that could reach Bali- Rig Veda and Yajur Veda. They even have a command over other sacred books of Indian Hinduism, like “The Puranas” and “The Ramayana”.
  10. The biggest difference between India and Bali lies in the fact in the temples of Bali, there are no murtis, no images of God. While worshipping, they focus the mind on the temple’s pedestal or padmasana and invite the God to come and accept the offerings. They identify the padmasana by putting different colors for each God: red for Brahma, black for Vishnu and white for Siva.” Hinduism might have been prosecutor of non-violence and vegetarianism but contrary to the beliefs in India, Hindus of Bali consume beef and sacrifice animals.

Shruti pandey is pursuing b.tech from HBTI Kanpur and aspires to blemish the world with

words. Twitter: @srt_kaka



  • Mark Stahly

    Good article but that is absolutely not a picture of Bali at the top!

    • Shruti Pandey

      The pic is changed. Sorry for the inconvenience 🙂

  • chakrs

    I read somewhere that there were a large number of Hindus on Java (the main island) who were forcibly converted to Islam in the 19th century. For some reason the Dutch colonial government found it convenient to acquiesce in this.