With approximately 88% of Indonesia being Muslim, the small country of 205 million boasts the world’s largest Muslim population. There is one exception to the blanket of Islamic preference, and that is Bali. The vast majority of the Balinese are Hindu.
As a peaceful Nation, the rest of Indonesia doesn’t seem hell bent on converting the little island through any forms of force. It appears that a live and live atmosphere prevails among the two very diverse religious systems. On one of my visits to Bali, I sat next to a local fellow on the airport shuttle service bus who was returning from a business trip. He had grown up in Java, and as a child, he was raised Muslim.
I asked him about living on Bali where the people did not practice his faith. His reply was simply a shrug of the shoulders. This reaction is not what we’ve come to expect in today’s divisiveness around Islam, but like so many other things in Bali it was a fresh and inviting response.
Perhaps a portion of the cultural harmony eventually rubs off on even the most opposite of thinkers. Hindus seek balance and accord. They see the Spirit of Divinity in all living things. The relationship they hold with another human as well as an animal, plant or earthly component will determine whether they free themselves of what could be a never-ending wheel of earthly reincarnation.
At the center of living a life of harmony is the goal of reaching moksha – the freedom from life and death, where they are ultimately reunited with their Source of creation. To attain the bliss of Divine unity and liberation of all earthly snags.
Having done my research, I discovered that Hinduism varies slightly in different parts of the world. The Balinese Hindus have a similar belief structure as ancient Shamanism. They hold that there are three layers to the cosmos; heaven, a middle kingdom and hell. Suarga – heaven, is where the gods live. Buwah is earth, where people of earth reside, and bhur is the home of the demons. Needless to say, no one wants to end up in bhur, and thereby live their lives as peaceful people.
Pictorially the structure of the three layers of the cosmos is evident in carvings within the shrines often seen on the outside of Hindu temples. They depict the human body’s head, body and feet – head is heaven, the body earth and mankind, and the feet hell.
While Hinduism is a deep and complex practice and too involved to cover in a small post there are a few basics well worth including.
Vishnu and Brahma are gods central to the worship, but there are other deities unique to the Balinese devotee. There are many manifestations to the central God of Brahma, such as the gods of nature. Animals, mountains, bodies of water, crops and fields have Divas that are over- seers and care takers. Offerings are made, sometimes daily to these Godly representatives.
During the course of a life as a Balinese Hindu one is honored in thirteen different ceremonies. These ceremonies are all designed to soothe savage evil spirits and purify the life process of the person who has taken on the human form. Even occasions such as getting a filling at the dentist office might call for a ceremony, and certainly rites of passage such a puberty, and milestones marked during the first year of a baby’s life are celebrated.
Bali has deep roots in Hinduism and while I see the practice as too complex for me personally, I also see the beauty it brings to the country, the culture and the people’s faces. I love Bali.