Balinese Hinduism is an amalgamation of Indian religions and indigenous animist customs that existed in the Indonesian archipelago before the arrival of Islam and then Dutch colonialism. It incorporates many of the core beliefs of Hinduism into the arts and rituals of the Balinese people. In contemporary times, the Indonesian Ministry of Religion officially referred to Hinduism in Bali as Agama Hindu Dharma, but this religion was traditionally called by many names such as Tirta, Trimurti, Hindus, Agama Tirta, Siwa, Buda and Siwa-Buda. The terms Tirta and Trimurti come from Indian Hinduism, corresponding respectively to Tirtha (pilgrimage to spirituality near the holy waters) and Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). As in India, Hinduism in Bali has grown flexibly, offering a diverse way of life. It includes many Indian spiritual ideas, cherishes legends and myths from the Indian Puranas and Hindu epics, and its traditions through a unique set of festivals and customs associated with a myriad of hyangs – local and ancestral spirits, as well as animal sacrifices which are not common in India.
Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (left), the Divine Unity and Supreme God (Brahman) of Balinese Hinduism. Acintya is part of temples, house shrines and ceremonies, commemorated with a colorfully decorated stone seat, Padmasana (right).
The general beliefs and practices of Agama Hindu Dharma as practiced in Bali are a mixture of ancient traditions and contemporary pressures imposed by Indonesian laws which only allow monotheistic belief under the national ideology of Pancasila. Traditionally, Hinduism in Indonesia had a pantheon of deities and this tradition of belief continues in practice; moreover, Hinduism in Indonesia allowed Hindus freedom and flexibility in when, how and where to pray. However, officially, the Indonesian government considers and promotes Indonesian Hinduism as a monotheistic religion with certain officially recognized beliefs consistent with its national ideology. Indonesian school textbooks describe Hinduism as having a supreme being, with Hindus offering three obligatory prayers a day, and Hinduism as having certain common beliefs that partly parallel those of Islam. Scholars question whether these beliefs recognized and attributed by the Indonesian government reflect traditional Balinese Hindu beliefs and practices before Indonesia gained independence from Dutch colonial rule.
Some of the Hindu beliefs officially recognized by the Indonesian Ministry of Religion include:
A belief in a supreme being called “Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa”, “Sang Hyang Tunggal” or “Sang Hyang Acintya”.
A belief that all gods are manifestations of this supreme being. This belief is the same as the belief of Smartism, which also holds that the different forms of gods and goddesses, Vishnu, Siva, Shakti (Devi) are different aspects of the same Supreme Being. Shiva is also worshiped in other forms such as “Batara Guru” and “Maharaja Dewa” (Mahadeva).
The sacred texts found in the Dharma Agama Hindu are the Vedas and the Upanishads. They are the basis of Indian and Balinese Hinduism. Other sources of religious information include the universal Hindu Puranas and the Itihasa (mainly Ramayana and Mahabharata). The Mahabharata and Ramayana epics have become enduring traditions among Indonesian believers, expressed in puppet (wayang) and dance performances. As in India, Indonesian Hinduism recognizes four paths of spirituality, calling it Catur Marga. These are bhakti mārga (path of devotion to deities), jnana mārga (path of knowledge), karma mārga (path of works) and raja mārga (path of meditation). Bhakti marga has the largest number of followers in Bali. Similarly, like the Hindus in India, the Balinese Hindus believe that there are four distinct goals of human life, dubbed Catur Purusartha – Dharma (pursuit of moral and ethical life), artha and love) and moksha (pursuit of self-knowledge and liberation)