Balinese Hinduism on the island is known as Agama Hindu Dharma, Agama Tirtha, Agama Air Suci, or Agama Hindu Bali. It represents a unique form of Hinduism followed by the majority of Bali's population. It incorporates local animism, ancestor worship (Pitru Paksha), and reverence for Buddhist saints.
While the majority of Indonesia's population is Muslim (86%), Bali is an exception, with approximately 87% of its residents identifying as Hindus (around 1.7% of Indonesia's total population).
Following independence from Dutch colonial rule, the 1945 Indonesian Constitution guaranteed religious freedom to all citizens. The Indonesian Ministry of Religion defined "religion" as monotheistic and codified religious law.
Balinese Hindus adapted their religious system, declaring it monotheistic and presenting it in a form that matched the status of a religion. The Indonesian government officially recognized Balinese Hinduism as one of the country's official religions.
The first Hindu influences reached the Indonesian archipelago in the first century CE. Sanskrit words, Indian deities' names, and religious concepts are widely used in the 14th-century Javanese prose work "Tantu Pagelaran," a collection of ancient tales and decorative-applied arts in Indonesia.
Ancient temples excavated on Java and western Indonesian islands, along with ancient inscriptions, confirm the widespread depiction of deities such as Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Vishnu, Brahma, and Arjuna in the mid to late first millennium CE.
Around 1400 CE, kingdoms in the Indonesian islands faced pressure from Muslim armies. Hindus and Buddhists left their lands and concentrated on islands where they could preserve their culture. Hindus from western Java moved eastward, eventually reaching Bali and neighboring smaller islands, giving rise to Balinese Hinduism.
Bali remained the only part of Indonesia predominantly Hindu.
Balinese Hinduism is a fusion of Indian religions and local animistic customs that existed in the Indonesian archipelago before the arrival of Islam.
Today, Hinduism in Bali is officially referred to by the Indonesian Ministry of Religion as Agama Hindu Dharma. However, it has been traditionally known by various names like Tirta, Trimurti, Hinduism, Agama Tirtha, Shiva, Buddha, and Shiva-Buddha.
The terms Tirta and Trimurti originate from Indian Hinduism, corresponding to Tirtha (spiritual pilgrimage to holy water) and Trimurti (the trinity of gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva).
Balinese Hinduism encompasses a multitude of Indian spiritual ideas, preserves the legends and myths of Indian Puranas and Hindu epics, and expresses its traditions through a unique set of festivals and customs associated with "hyang" – local spirits, ancestral spirits, and forms of the spiritual world. Animal sacrifices are practiced in Bali, a practice not common in India.
Balinese Hinduism, officially recognized by the Ministry of Religion in Indonesia, proclaims the following principles:
Belief in a supreme deity called "Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa," "Sang Hyang Tunggal," or "Sang Hyang Acintya."
Belief that all gods are manifestations of this supreme being. Various forms of gods and goddesses, such as Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti, are different aspects of the same Supreme Being. God Shiva is also worshipped in other forms, such as "Batara Guru" and "Maharaja Dewa" (Mahadeva).
The main sacred texts revered in Balinese Hinduism are the Vedas and Upanishads.
Hindu Puranas and epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana are also venerated.
Similar to India, Indonesian Hinduism recognizes the four paths of spirituality, known as "Catur Marga."
This is Bhakti Marga (the path of devotion to deities), Jnana Marga (the path of knowledge), Karma Marga (the path of action), and Raja Marga (the path of meditation). Among these, Bhakti Marga has the most followers in Bali.
Balinese Hindus believe in four proper goals of human life, calling them Catur Purusartha (Four Aims of Human Life):
1. Dharma (the pursuit of moral and ethical life),
2. Artha (the pursuit of wealth and creative activity),
3. Kama (the pursuit of spiritual life, striving for joy and love), and
4. Moksha (the pursuit of self-realization and liberation).
Balinese Hinduism incorporates the concept of the Indian Trinity known as Trimurti, consisting of:
In Balinese Hindu texts, an alternative triadic concept from Indian Shaivism is also mentioned. It is referred to in the Balinese language as "Shiva-Sadashiva-Paramashiva," where Shiva is the creator, preserver, and destroyer of cyclical existence.
Alongside the traditional Hindu Trinity, Balinese Hindus worship a variety of gods and goddesses (Hyang, Devata, and Batara-Batari), as well as other beings that are unique and not found in Indian Hinduism.
Sang Hyang Widhi, literally meaning "Divine Order," is also known as Acintya ("Incomprehensible") or Sang Hyang Tunggal ("Divine Unity") in the Balinese tradition.
This concept in Balinese Hinduism is parallel to the Brahman concept in Indian Hinduism.
During ceremonies, a throne is created for Sang Hyang Widhi, which serves as the apex of Balinese altars.
According to Balinese Hindu precepts, there are numerous manifestations of Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in the form of gods, such as the rice goddess Dewi Sri, and other deities associated with mountains, lakes, and the sea.
Birth and life
There are a total of thirteen ceremonies associated with life, from conception to death, each of which comprises four elements: appeasing evil spirits, purifying with holy water, transferring essence, and prayer.
These ceremonies mark significant events in a person's life, including birth, coming of age, tooth filing, and marriage.
It is believed that a newborn embodies the soul of an ancestor and is considered divine for the first 42 days of their life. However, the mother is deemed impure after childbirth, and during this period, she is not allowed to participate in any religious activities.
The infant should not touch impure ground until they reach 105 days, which marks halfway to celebrating their first birthday according to the 210-day Balinese calendar, known as Pawukon. When the child reaches puberty, their six upper teeth are filed to level them.
Death and Reincarnation
The most important ceremonies take place after death, and as a result of these rituals, the soul is liberated for reincarnation.
The physical body is seen as a temporary vessel for the soul. The body must be cremated during the cremation ritual before the soul can completely depart from it.
The cremation ceremony can be extremely costly because a well-thought-out ceremony is a way to express respect for the soul, which is destined to gain significant power over those who remain alive.
Bodies are sometimes temporarily buried until the family can accumulate enough funds for cremation.
The most important holiday for Balinese Hindus is Galungan (associated with the Indian Diwali), which commemorates the victory of dharma over adharma. It is calculated according to the 210-day Balinese Pawukon calendar and falls on Wednesday (Buda) in the eleventh week (Dunggulan). According to tradition, during Galungan, the spirits of the dead descend from the heavens.
Nyepi, or the Day of Silence, marks the beginning of the year according to the Saka calendar. Typically, it falls in March.
Watu Gunung, the last day of the Pawukon calendar, is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. Although it is devoted to books, reading is prohibited on this day.
The fourth day of the year is called Pagerwesi, meaning "iron fence." It commemorates the battle between good and evil.
In ancient India, the caste system was called "varna," which means the coloration of the neutral or transparent soul, or the inclination of the soul to behave in accordance with certain tendencies based on its inherent nature. Based on this inclination, people chose their professions.
Later, this process evolved into a system based on family origin/birth. The same system was adopted in Bali and is called "Wangsa," which is related to the professions of ancestors.
There are four main types of Wangsa, collectively known as "chaturwangsa." The three upper Wangsa are Brahmana (priests), Satria (warriors or rulers), Wesia (merchants and businessmen), and Sudra (lower class).
The most common Wangsa in Bali is Sudra, to which 90% of Balinese ordinary Hindus belong.
Each Wangsa has its own naming system, meaning that a person must be given a name according to the varna in which they were born.
According to the religion, Balinese Hindus are prohibited from consuming human, tiger, monkey, dog, crocodile, mouse, snake, frog, certain poisonous fish, leeches, stinging insects, crows, eagles, owls, and any other predatory birds.
For those belonging to the Brahmana and Kshatriya varnas, there are specific dietary restrictions. Brahmins are forbidden from consuming beef or the meat of a bull, and they are not even allowed to touch them. Additionally, they should not eat outdoors or at the market, consume alcohol, or eat or taste food and fruits from offerings.