4 Major Differences Between Balinese and Indian Hinduism 

4 Major Differences Between Balinese and Indian Hinduism 

Although Hinduism originated in India, it took on a new identity when it came to Bali. It left the mainland and made its way to the Indonesian archipelago in the 1st century CE through sailors, traders and merchants. It was widely adopted across the islands, especially in the Empires of Srivijaya and Majapahit where it syncretised with ideas from Buddhism, Javanese traditions and indigenous religions. Any religion grows organically with its environment and Indonesian Hinduism too is peculiar to its unique location.

After the arrival of the Islamic invaders in 14th century CE, Hinduism was vanquished across the nation virtually everywhere except Bali, where the majority of the population continues to practice Hinduism. It is intriguing to note how the version of Hinduism that the Balinese practice is so different to the version that is practiced in India. Keep reading to find out some of the ways in which the two versions are different! 

The Gods

In Indian Hinduism, there is a wide Pantheon of Gods that rules over humankind. From the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) to the various goddesses (Saraswati, Laxmi, Durga) to the sundry sages and saints – all of them are worshipped with equal fervour. In Bali, Hinduism is legally described as a monotheistic religion in compliance with the national ideology of Panca Sila which only allows monotheistic religions in Indonesia. The supreme deity here is known as Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa, although the other gods and goddesses are given their due in ceremonies. The way that Hinduism is practiced here is moulded so as to have several parallels with Islam – daily prayers, one supreme being and an overlap of values that ultimately lead to wider cohesion in society.  

Who They Pray To

Although the Balinese believe in one supreme deity, Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa, most of their religious ceremonies are carried out to appease bad spirits and thank the good ones. Ancestor worship is an ancient part of Indonesian culture, even the form of Islam that is practiced on several of the islands accommodates the spirit of ancestors that pass through the realm of mortals and influence it in ways both good and bad. In Hinduism in India, the dead are significant, however they are primarily considered to have passed on into the next cycle of rebirth upon their death. Their soul is cared for through numerous rituals, however, the bulk of religious ceremonies in India have little to do with the presence of the dead. 

The Role of Cows

This noble creature is a sacred symbol in India and is beloved amongst Indonesians primarily for the beef rendang that can be cooked from its meat. While the consumption and sale of beef is banned in India due to the religious sentiments of the Hindu majority, the Balinese love a good beef satay! Hindus do not worship cows, but they consider them to be important in their beliefs as cows are associated with Aditi, the mother of all the gods. This particular aspect of Indian Hinduism did not gain much ground in Indonesia. 

Religious Festivals

In India, the most important religious day for Hindus is Diwali, which celebrates the homecoming of Prince Ram to the kingdom of Ayodhya after a fourteen year long exile. Another one is Holi, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil is the festival of colours wherein people get together to make merry, dance and drench each other in water and colours. In Bali, the most important days for Hindus are the ten days of Galungan during which the spirits of ancestors return to their homes to dwell amongst their kith and kin. The last day, known as Kuningan, is when the ancestors depart again, until the next Galungan. In this period, there are plenty of offerings and dances as the community comes together.  

FAQ: Differences Between Balinese and Indian Hinduism

How did Hinduism reach Bali?

Hinduism traveled to Bali around the 1st century CE through sailors, traders, and merchants. Once in Indonesia, it merged with ideas from Buddhism, Javanese traditions, and indigenous religions.

What’s the primary difference in how the Gods are perceived in Balinese vs. Indian Hinduism?

Indian Hinduism recognizes a vast pantheon of Gods, including the Trimurti and various goddesses, all worshipped equally. Balinese Hinduism, due to Indonesia’s national ideology of Panca Sila, is legally described as monotheistic, focusing on the supreme deity, Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa. However, other gods and goddesses are still honored in ceremonies.

How do religious practices differ in terms of ancestors?

In Bali, many religious ceremonies focus on appeasing bad spirits and thanking the good ones, with a significant emphasis on ancestor worship. Conversely, in India, while the dead are acknowledged, the primary belief is that they’ve transitioned to the next rebirth cycle. The majority of ceremonies in India don’t revolve around the presence of the deceased.

Is the cow revered similarly in both cultures?

No. In India, the cow is considered sacred, symbolizing Aditi, the mother of all gods. Consequently, beef consumption and sale are prohibited. In Bali, however, beef dishes like satay are popular and enjoyed by many.

Which are the most important religious festivals in both cultures?

In India, significant Hindu festivals include Diwali, celebrating Prince Ram’s return, and Holi, marking the victory of good over evil. For Balinese Hindus, the ten-day Galungan is of utmost importance. It signifies the time when ancestor spirits come home, culminating on Kuningan when they depart.

Why does Balinese Hinduism have parallels with Islam?

Due to the national ideology of Panca Sila which promotes monotheism in Indonesia, Balinese Hinduism has evolved to exhibit similarities with Islam. This includes daily prayers, recognizing one supreme deity, and overlapping values that foster societal cohesion.

How did the Islamic invasion impact Hinduism in Indonesia?

With the arrival of Islamic invaders in the 14th century CE, Hinduism diminished across Indonesia, except in Bali. The majority of Bali’s population continues to practice Hinduism, which has distinct differences from its Indian counterpart.

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