Bali and the History of the Hindus

Bali is an island province in the archipelago of Indonesia. The province of Bali consists of the main island, together with a few smaller islands that are close by. The population of the island is a little over four million and the majority of these practise the Hindu religion. Bali is, in fact, home to the majority of Indonesia's Hindu devotees.


Religious and Cultural Influences

Bali has been subject to a number of religious cultural influences over the centuries and it is believed that some influences of Hinduism reached the archipelago of Indonesia as early as the first century. The strongest influence was brought to the island by Indian traders between the 9th and 16th centuries. Whilst not much is definitely known about this period, there are several theories about the ways in which the religion arrived on the islands. It is thought that the Indian traders developed relationships with local women and married them, thus converting their Balinese partners to the Hindu religion. However, defeated Indian soldiers, seeking refuge on the island, may also have had some influence over the religious practices there. It is also possible that Balinese people who travelled to India may have brought the culture back to the island with them and that their families then accepted the religion for themselves.

It is certain that by the 14th century, both Hinduism and Buddhism were widely practised in the archipelago, before being largely displaced by Islam. Buddhism had replaced Hinduism as the main religion of Sumatra and Java and certain elements of the Buddhist faith began to have an influence over Balinese culture. However, with the advance of Islam, only Bali retained Hinduism as its main religion, due to perceived cultural barriers to the acceptance of Islam.

With some Buddhist elements still prevalent in Balinese religious culture, the development of a unique sect of Hinduism began to appear and this is the historic basis for the modern Balinese Hinduism that we see today.

The Order of the Universe

Balinese Hinduism, known as Agama Hindu Dharma, is based upon the fundamental principles of Hinduism. The belief is that the Universe is subject to order, or dharma, together with a disordering force, or adharma. Hindus believe that the key to life, death and eternal peace is to strike a balance and to create harmony between these two forces. Balinese Hinduism splits the Universe into three layers. Heaven, or suarga, is the abode of the gods and the highest level, buwah, or the world of man, is the middle level. Hell, or bhur, is the home of the demons and the place where people's spirits go to be punished for their wrongdoings on Earth. These layers are duplicated in the human body, with the head, body and feet and are also represented in the shrines outside homes and buildings.

Daily Offerings to the Gods

In addition to the traditional Hindu gods, Wisnu and Brahma, Balinese Hinduism celebrates a number of deities, although the supreme god is SaangHyangWidhiWasa. Balinese Hinduism worships gods and goddesses of rice, mountains, lakes and the sea, amongst other elements. It is a key belief of the religion that the gods, together with the forces of order and disorder, must be appeased with offerings. In this way, Balinese Hindus believe that harmony can be achieved and they can be freed from the cycle of reincarnation, thus achieving release, or moksa and eternal peace. These offerings, made daily by devotees, can be seen at shrines and other places across the island.
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