Balinese Hinduism – A culture of its own

Besides surfing and other nature-based activities, cultural tourism is one of the main attractions of the Bali. The Indonesian island has its own distinct culture, strongly rooted in a unique variety of the Hindu religion, which arrived on Bali up to 2,000 years ago with Indian traders. *Some sources put the advent of Balinese Hinduism at 500 or 700 AD.

Balinese Hinduism differs from the mainstream Hinduism of the Indian Subcontinent in that it incorporates elements of Buddhism and animism (pre Hindu nature-based religion). Balinese Hinduism also differs in its focus on ritual and ceremony as opposed to the more philosophical character associated with Indian Hinduism. This emphasis is embodied in the popular dance-dramas featured at temples and religious events. Another practical difference is that vegetarianism, while common among Indian Hindus, is rare in Bali.

Tourism in Bali has in some ways strengthened the tradition of outward, especially theatrical displays of religiosity and encouraged them to be more visually impressive. Some foreign tourists choose to have Balinese Hindu wedding ceremonies. Mick Jagger had one with his then-girlfriend back in 1991.

Balinese Hinduism

Balinese Hinduism in action. Kechak dance, Uluwatu temple, pic: Didiz Rushdi (Flickr CC)

To give some idea on the pageantry of rituals in Balinese Hinduism, see out this excerpt from an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on cultural tourism in Bali, which describes a funeral:

In 2009, I had the up-close experience of participating in funeral ceremonies for more than two weeks. Balinese funerals are so unique and elaborate that it calls for a separate article on the subject. Here it suffices to say that these are very expensive, prolonged and colorful cremation rituals. Elsewhere, funerals are private, extremely somber and sorrowful affairs; in Bali these are spectacular, joyous and festive, symbolizing the transition to a higher realm.

Bali has a majority Hindu population (92%), in stark contrast to Indonesia as a whole, which is only 3% Hindu. Though both Hinduism and Buddhism flourished throughout Indonesia in previous epochs, it has only maintained a large presence on Bali. Visits to temples such as Besakih or the “Mother Temple” and Uluwatu with its striking cliff-top views, dance shows and mischievous monkeys.

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