Recent visit to Bali revealed to me a different version of Hinduism, liberal in some ways and more ritualistic in others. The first Hindu king of Bali Udayana from 11th century CE, takes the credit for the present day Bali culture and heritage. South East Asia was Hindu from Cambodia and Mauritius to Indonesia and Malaysia for centuries before Islam entered the scene. Hindu kings of south India had reached the far eastern shores of the world long before even Islam and Christianity came to India. Kedah of Malaysia was taken by Chozha king of south India who thus earned his title ‘Kedaram Kondan.’ But unlike the Abrahamic religions that unleashed terror and violence in India and world over, the Hindu Dharma as well as Buddhism spread in a gentler fashion to other parts of the world dispersing wisdom and peace in their wake. Be it Bhutan or Nepal or Sri Lanka or Vietnam or Thailand or Tibet or China or parts of Jawa, Hinduism or Buddhism is still practised by a section/most of their subjects, albeit of an altered strain. Japanese Shintoism reveres Hindu God the elephant faced Ganesha. Angkorwat, the world’s largest Hindu temple in Cambodia is a world heritage site that draws tourists from around the globe.
Bali is predominantly Hindu I knew, but nothing prepared me for the overwhelming Hindu culture of a different genre that swept through the entire beautiful equatorial Indonesian island, steeped in mystique and charm to this twenty first century. After a day or two, i stopped clicking pictures of small chapel-like temples in front of each and every Bali Hindu home and office and business. A land of billion temples. Billion Hindu temples. That’s Bali. This is chief reason, Hindu culture could not be easily dismantled in Bali by the invaders. The last occupiers of Bali were the Dutch who wrecked havoc in the island during the second world war, leaving the native society battered and bruised.
Bali Hindu temples do not admit non Hindus strictly and even the Indian Hindus, except for a couple of shrines that are world tourist attractions. Mainland or other foreign Hindus may seek permission and be properly attired in local costume ‘Sarong’ (Sarong is Bali’s national/state dress. It is beach dress only for the rest of the world). The doors of Bali temples are otherwise closed to one and all except for the local island Hindus. Bali Hindus constitute about 80% of the island population. Muslims, Christians and Buddhists make up for the rest. Balinese Hindus and Buddhists are naturally compatible as they share cultural values.
Indonesia, the muslim majority nation, fails to draw tourists of decent count. Only Bali, the Hindu island of Indonesia attracts global tourists and earns precious foreign exchange for the islamic nation.
Balinese Hindus still are not overtly rich, yet they are not poor either, especially by Indonesian standards. Indonesian Rupiah, one will have to carry by truckload and is a worthless paper. We paid millions and millions of converted Indonesian Rupiahs for our shopping and other needs.
Balinese Hindus are a bit westernized by foreign cultural influences brought in by guests from world over. Yet they seem to cling on to their belief systems with all the faith and moral strength they can muster.
I was surprised to learn that our PM Modi is a hit with Balinese Hindus. More than a couple of men told me, he is the last hope of global Hindus.
Allegedly, the islamic majority Indonesia is plainly envious of the Bali Hindu. Bali bombing a few years back was by Indonesian islamic terrorists targeting Australian tourists for whom Bali is like a second home. Australians seem to love everything about Bali. They are around for months, vacationing in the island paradise with their families every year.
The Hindu and the Christian cultural extravaganza in New year eve must have felt like a thorn in the islamic flesh of Indonesia. Over a thousand small and big and mid sized islands constitute the Indonesian archipelago. Yet, what hurts their islamic government and the Indonesian muslim majority is the staunch Bali Hindu survival. Out of the thousand others, it is the lone Hindu who is prospering in the otherwise total islamic republic, that does not go down well with average Indonesians. Their irritation and envy and restlessness seem palpable. Every other non Hindu/non Bali Indonesian you may come across in Bali is unable to hide his impatience and intense jealousy at Balinese success story. The unique Bali Hindu culture has remained unshakable over time.
I won the confidence of the Balinese Hindus who spoke to me from their heart, only because I was a native Hindu from India. Most Balinese Hindus dream of a day when they can set their foot in the holy Hindu homeland ‘Bharat.’
Never through the centuries, the Balinese confide, they have felt threatened by any invader or have feared for their existence. But now they reckon, their days could be numbered.
Every third muslim Indonesian is in Bali looking for work as well as Bali Hindu girl to marry. I said, we have an equivalent in India that we call ‘Love Jehad.’
For their part, the Indonesian Christians are not helping either. One Indonesian christian I met was intensely jealous of the Bali Hindu. ‘Hinduism is cumbersome, overtly ritualistic and expensive religion to follow; it is time consuming and complex to understand. Christianity is easy and therefore Bali Hindu has started converting’ said he. No surprise at the well disguised animosity towards the island majority.
Rafting along the Ayung river, I was rejoicing at centuries old Ramayana engravings, the life history of the Hindu God Lord Ram, etched in the rocks in dense forests of the banks. Very crudely overlapping the ancient sculpting screeched: ‘JESUS LOVES YOU, JESUS CALLS YOU’, obviously the handiwork of visiting tourists from west. Joshua Project in Bali or what? To go to so much trouble somewhere where your life could be at risk seems to point to only one thing: the christian missionaries will stop at nothing when it comes to their conversion spree.
Worshiping the Trimurthi: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the nurturer/protector) and Shiva (the destroyer), the Trinity of male Hindu Gods in Bali’s most ancient temples was a moving experience for me. Along side were the trinity of female Hindu Goddesses the Tridevi: Saraswathi (for wisdom/knowledge/learning), Lakshmi (wealth and fortune) and Shakthi (the power or energy). Everywhere I turned Hindu names welcomed me. Balinese Hindus perform Puja at their temples three times a day even in these hectic times with flowers and anoint their foreheads with a rice grain tilak. No taxi driver starts his day without Puja first to his cab just like we may do in India! No surprise, the Indonesian airline goes by name ‘Garuda.’ Reenactment of Ramayana in Uluwatu in a trance dance is a cultural heritage handed over generations.
Balinese Hindus I spoke to were quick to admit, they were not hostile to alien cultures. But of late they felt threatened by Islam. They were aware of various bomb attacks carried by islamists around the world. They remain shaken by the Bali bombing to this day. Yet as they are aware, Bali is the money spinner for an economically downward spiraling Indonesia. There have been attempts by previous islamic governments of Indonesia to sell off Bali to profiteering American corporations. The Balinese have seen it all. They have held their head high and proud and have resisted every single move to destabilize them and and destroy them. How long they can keep up their bravado and will power and resistance is a billion dollar question.
Average Balinese Hindus are eager to receive Hindu visitors from India. Australians, Indians and Chinese are their major patrons. Indians though are worst time keepers, confessed a guide. He was sick waiting on rude and ill mannered Indian tourists who always delayed the tours.