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Hinduism in Bali: a primer

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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

 

 

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  • 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.

  • 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.

Next Story

In Pakistan, Hindus don’t get even a ‘Crematorium:’ Will you believe that?

There are a lot of Hindu family residing all over Pakistan and still, there are very few cremation grounds where their last rites can be performed in that area

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Not having a crematorium in Peshawar is just one of the woes that the minority communities are facing since long. Wikimedia Commons
Not having a crematorium in Peshawar is just one of the woes that the minority communities are facing since long. Wikimedia Commons
  • Due to the lack of cremation grounds, some Hindus and Sikhs travel hundreds of kilometres just to perform the last rites as per their religious practices
  • As per reports, there were about 12 cremation grounds before Independence
  • Unfortunately, Hindu’s and Sikh’s have to face the same problem in the neighbouring state as well, that is Afghanistan

Death is said to be a great leveller. But the tragedy struck to some section of society in Muslim-dominated Pakistan is altogether different.

Due to the lack of cremation grounds, some Hindus and Sikhs travel hundreds of kilometres just to perform the last rites as per their religious practices. People who can’t even afford to travel, they have no option but to bury the mortal remains of their near and dear ones.

As per reports, there were about 12 cremation grounds before Independence. But with the passage of time, they vanished in the thin air of the terror-torn nation. Even in areas lying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where about 35,000 Hindus and Sikhs live, the cremation grounds are also rare.

Also Read: Today’s Social Issues and their Answers to Children

The law of the land is non-existent for the minorities communities like Hindu’s and Sikh’s. Without taking no-objection certificate, people from these communities can’t move an inch even. The grief-stricken families have to wait for the clearances, as they are left with no other option.

People are forced to travel long distances to cremate their relatives from the areas like Swat Bannu, Kohat, Malakand etc. The cost to travel such long distances ranges from Rs 40,000 to Rs 70,000 and on the top of it, the fear of robbery during these travels cannot be ruled out. Not all the Hindu families can afford to perform the last rites in the manner they want.

Unfortunately, Hindu’s and Sikh’s have to face the same problem in the neighbouring state as well, that is Afghanistan. The minority communities are compelled to bury the dead because cremation grounds are vanishing fast in Pakistan.

Although, Pakistan boats that the minority communities enjoy equal rights in their country, the ground reality seems to be completely different. Wikimedia Commons
Although, Pakistan boats that the minority communities enjoy equal rights in their country, the ground reality seems to be completely different. Wikimedia Commons

Although, the administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has allowed the minorities communities to perform cremation near temples. But most of the temples are built on the agricultural lands and commercial areas, which have already been encroached upon by land mafia.

There are a lot of Hindu family residing in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and still, there are very few cremation grounds where their last rites can be performed in that area.

Although, Pakistan boats that the minority communities enjoy equal rights in their country, the ground reality seems to be completely different. Not having a crematorium in Peshawar is just one of the woes that the minority communities are facing since long.


After much of the protests, finally, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has started building the facility from the chief minister’s fund, as per some government sources.

There are almost 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus in Peshawar. And unfortunately, due to lack of proper facilities, people over there are also facing the same situation what others are facing in areas like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Also Read: 7 new-age social issues in India that need a check

To expect some kind of generosity from the war-torn state like Pakistan is out of the way. Instead of spending extravagantly on the military expansion, Pakistan should come forward and full-fill the basic amenities for the citizen of its country. It’s the people who make the country and not the other way round.