Hinduism is the third-largest religion in Indonesia.

Currently, 1.7% or approximatly 4 million people out of total 250 million Indonesians are Hindus. Other large Hindu community lives in the Islands of Sumatera, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and smaller pockets of Hindu villages can be found in East Java.

Today, the majority of Indonesian Hindu community lives in the Island of Bali, famous for its Hindu culture as well as its natural scenery. As one of Indonesia’s tourist destination and attractions, Bali is not only famous for its beautiful beaches and rice-fields but also their unique cultural traditons : a Balinese Hindu tradition that mainly consist of art and ritual.

however, Balinese Hindu has several differences than Hinduism practiced in India, country of origin of Hinduism, because it underwent a radical change in Java before it arrived in Bali.

One important change is the union between Hinduism (or to be more specific Shivaism) and Buddism. This feature is still visible today, as for example, some Buddist religous writings still play important role in Balinese Hinduism. Bali also has a priesthood that contains both Hindus and Buddhist.

The theological basis of Balinese Hindu stems from India while indigenous beliefs form the backbone of the rituals. An important belief of Balinese Hindu is that elements of nature are influenced by spirit. Therefor, offerings (sesajen) made of agriculture products are offered to these spirits daily.  It is also believed that Mount Agung (highest mountain in Bali) is home of the gods and ancestors. This makes the mountain as the “mother mountain” and is highly sacred by the Balinese people.

The mainly symbol of Balinese Hindu is the Swastika (wheel of the sun), an equiteral cross with it arms bent in right angles which is also widely used in Indian Hinduism and is believed to evoke “shakti” or the sacred force of empowerment.

Like in India, Balinese Hindus do also live in caste system. However, the one in Bali only has 4 castes, much more less complicated than the system in India which has the immense total number of 3000 castes. In addition, social stratification dictated by the castes is more relaxed in Bali. The differences in economic roles of members of each castes is slowly eroding  and the Government is now prohibiting different treatment based on caste system.

On the contrary, there is no dowry system for Balinese Hindus as opposed to Indian Hindus who have to pay a fortune to the bridegrooms family upon their marriage of their daughter.

Apart of that, Balinese Hindu also lacks the tradisional Indian Hindu emphasis on rebirth and reincarnation and is instead more concerned with local and ancestral spirits. It might is the result of the animistic believes of the local people, prior to the Indianisation of Southeast Asia that was very prominent to the Region from the 5th to the 14th century. Syncretism where Hinduism is modified by pre-existing animistic ideas.

Furthermore these differences indicates that although Hinduism was spread due to Indianisation,

Especially the religion itself was adapted to better suit the needs of the local people of Bali.

Now, you may see some Balinese women putting an offering in front of their house and work places about three times a day, which is one of many strict Hindu ground rules carried through the life of the Balinese Hindus. You may also see some oddities like a small palinggih (offering stand made of stones and usually ornamented with Balinese textile and umbrellas) in the middle of the road or just next to the rivers; which is meant for the nearby Balinese people to put their offerings on, for the deities taking care of the roads and the rivers.

The thing that we love from  these small offerings is that they make the air smell really good and give us a sense of calmness and relaxation. Like they say, it’s the Land of the Gods, anyway. Of course it should smell divine. Oh, and while we’re at it, go over to our other article about Garusa Wisnu Kencana, a masterpiece from Bali’s own local hero inspired by a Hindu folk tale http://hydromedbali.com/garuda-wisnu-kencana-statue/ Ready for a visit?

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