Hinduism is generally associated with India, but around the world there are several ancient Hindu communities that are not native to the Indian subcontinent. The most important are the Hindus of Bali.
Bali is a famous island of Indonesia. It is renowned for its beauty and is regularly referred to as “heaven on earth”. It is one of the most sought-after holiday destinations in the world, a reputation that stems from both its immense natural beauty and its rich culture.
Unknown to most Hindus around the world, Bali is the country with the highest proportion of Hindus, even more than Nepal. More than 93% of the island’s 3.1 million inhabitants are Hindus. Therefore, they constitute a very large community of Hindus of non-Indian origin. Arguably Bali is the most Hindu place in the world, the only place where government offices close every day to observe Hindu prayers. In the past, a much larger proportion of Indonesians were Hindu, which is still reflected in the dominant culture of the country. How did Hinduism reach these distant lands?
Throughout history, each time a new people adopted Hinduism, it did not mark a break with its past. Hindu sages analyzed the cultures and practices of other countries and tried to see them in the same way as their own. For example, if a new country was discovered and the inhabitants worshiped there in a new way, never seen before, in Hinduism and worshiped unknown deities, the Hindu spirit would not ask them to worship them in the way traditional Hinduism and to move away from their own way of life. The Hindu spirit is one of religious sharing and actively seeking common ground between the philosophies and customs of different people.
When this is done sincerely, it is often found that the same spiritual vision underlies another people’s religion and one’s own religion, even though they have different names and forms. For example, if a deity with functions and attributes similar to those of Lord Shiva is worshipped, Hindus will say, “Your deity is another form of Shiva and we have no problem worshiping your deity and participating in your holidays. You are also welcome to attend our festivals and worship with us if you wish. “
Gradually, many new areas became Hindu during this process of assimilation. Each new region developed a style of Hinduism unique to its culture and history. This is the reason why Hinduism contains such diversity. This diversity is part of the richness of traditions and stems from the fact that Hinduism has a spirit that does not wish to impose a uniform monoculture on its adherents.
It should be noted that while Hinduism has fostered great diversity, it has also fostered great unity. There was and is a deep underlying unity that developed in the consciousness of all regions and peoples under the organic influence of Hindu civilization. In particular, there is universal respect for the Vedas, Mahabharata and Ramayana and major Hindu deities.
Once Hinduism fully spread in the Indian subcontinent, it also spread to several other countries. These include Thailand, Malaysia, parts of China, Cambodia, Western Asia and of course Indonesia.
Indonesia is now a Muslim-majority country, but retains many aspects of its Hindu past. For example, one of the official symbols of the country, the Indonesian coat of arms, is called the “Garuda Pancasila”, named after the eagle Garuda which in Hinduism is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. The Ramayana is a national epic in the country. Hinduism was the main religion of Indonesia until the 15th century.
It is not known at what time in Indonesia’s history became Hindu. But what is known is that the last great Hindu kingdom in the country was the Majapahit Empire (1293-1520 AD). At its height, under a king named Hayam Wuruk, the empire covered most of Indonesia’s modern geographic borders. Therefore, Indonesian nationalists nowadays highly advocate empire as the foundation of the modern Indonesian nation-state.
The Majapahit Empire founded a Balinese colony in 1343. Later, with the rise of Islam, Hinduism was forced to retreat and there was an exodus of Hindu intellectuals, artists, priests and musicians from Java to Bali in the 15th century.
There are still Hindus in the rest of Indonesia, but not as many as in Bali. A large number of people in the rest of Indonesia have reportedly declared themselves to be Hindus in recent years. These are individuals and families who have been nominal Muslims, but in fact the religious beliefs were closer to Hinduism.
Hindus in Bali officially call their religion ‘Agama Hindu Dharma’. A review of Agama Hindu Dharma beliefs shows that it is consistent with mainstream Hinduism except for slight name differences:
A belief in a supreme being called ‘Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa’, ‘Sang Hyang Tunggal’ or ‘Sang Hyang Cintya’.
A belief that all gods are manifestations of this supreme being. This belief is that different deities are different aspects of the same supreme being. Lord Shiva is also worshiped in other forms such as ‘Batara Guru’ and ‘Maharaja Dewa’ (Mahadeva).
A belief in the Trimurti, consisting of:
– Brahma, the creator
– Wisnu (Vishnu), the curator
– Ciwa (Shiva), the destroyer
A belief in all other Hindu gods and goddesses
The sacred texts found in Agama Hindu Dharma are the Vedas. In the past, only two of the Vedas reached Bali and form the basis of Balinese Hinduism. The Puranas and Itihasas (Ramayana and Mahabharata) are other sources of religious information. One thing that Hindus from other parts of the world may find very surprising about Hindus in Bali has to do with their diet. The majority eat beef.
The Balinese are fierce and territorial in their love of their country. They have a custom known as Puputan, referring to a life-and-death struggle that Balinese Hindus undertake when they feel collectively threatened or violated. It was the last time Bali was a Dutch colony, when Balinese royalty – men, women and children – went into battle with only ceremonial daggers against heavily armed Dutch forces. Several thousand Hindus died in these futile attacks, but they served their purpose. Demoralized and shaken, the Dutch withdrew from Bali and allowed the Balinese to rule themselves during the last years of their rule in the Dutch East Indies, thus securing religious and cultural autonomy.
In recent years, Hindus in Bali have increasingly tried to connect with Hindus in the rest of the world. They have become increasingly aware of their position as a tiny Hindu minority in the world’s most populous Muslim country. As large numbers of Muslims move to Bali to live and work, Balinese Hindus fear that this last bastion of Hinduism in Indonesia is gradually losing its status as a Hindu-majority country. These fears were heightened by the terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002 and 2005, which killed more than 250 people.
This article gives only a glimpse of the rich history and culture of a large branch of the Hindu people. It is hoped that such articles will pave the way for greater understanding and unity among the various Hindu peoples in the age of coming globalization, in which it is imperative that all Hindus attain a higher standard of union and coordination so that our great heritage.