Unlike the other Indonesian islands such as Sumatra and Java, approximately 93% of the island's population subscribes to Hinduism. Of the remaining population, 4% subscribe to Islam, 1% Christianity and 0.4% Buddhism and a small percentage to animalism. Since Islam, Christianity and Buddhism followed in Bali is similar to that followed in the rest of the world, we figured that a focus on religions that are unique to Bali, namely Balinese Hinduism and Animism, would be appreciated.

What makes Balinese Hinduism is the incorporation of local animistic beliefs and traditions into South Asian Hinduism that was brought to the island by Brahmin priests, merchants and traders of the Indian subcontinent. The former provides theological framework while the latter core rituals. It was the insurgence of Islam within Java that sent Hindus fleeing to Bali for refuge, which was chiefly responsible for the large percentage of believers. on the island. it would be safe to say that Balinese Hinduism is more than just the usual trifecta of theology, philosophy and mythology: Here god and demigods are worshipped together with Buddhisst heroes, ancestral spirits and native agricultural dieties.

Identical to the Hinduism followed in India, Balinese Hindus also believe in One Supreme God called Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, with His three manifestations known as Trisakti, that is Brahma The Creator, Visnu The Preserver, and Shiva The Transformer. It varies according to three principles; desa (place), kaala (time), and patra (circumstances). Hinduism acknowledges five pillars of faith, respectively; belief in the one Supreme God (Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa), belief in the soul as the universal principle of life and consciousness (atma), the belief in the fruition of one's deeds (karma phala), belief in the process of birth and death (samsara) and belief in ultimate release (moksa). The principle of karma and samsaraj has numerous consequences, one of them being the existence of the wangsa system where an individual inherits his status as a result of his or past life. The four wangsa systems in Bali are the Brahmana, who deal with religion and the holy texts, the Shatria or warriors, the Wesia or merchants and the Sudras, the lower class.

A modern Hindu organization, the Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia (PHDI), or Hindu Council of Religious Affairs, is Bali's highest religious body, officially sanctioned by the government to decide all spiritual matters. The PHDI is more or less a rubber stamp for government policy, reflected by the large number of military figures and civil servants holding leadership posits in the organization.

Through the PHDI, Bali-Hinduism has achieved legal, international status. Since Bali is virtually surrounded by Muslims, the Balinese regard the government's official sanction of their religion as a means of preserving their identity and way of life.

Balinese Hindus believe that man should endeavour to maintain the harmony of the whole system, hence the role of rituals. Only by adhering to the peoples rules of behaviour can the proper balance be kept between the two sets of godly and demonic forces. Balinese religion is known to the world through the richness and the life of the Balinese is therefore replete with rituals.
As the tools for maintaining the balance of the world, there are rituals for everything imaginable; from knowledge, cleansing machines to marriage and birth ceremonies, all of different types and levels. Rituals consists of calling down the gods and the ancestors for visits from their heavenly abode in the country above the mountain. They come down during temple festivals and are entertained with dances and fed with offerings. They can also be called down through the entreaties of a priest. Balinese rituals are ruled by a complex calendar system, similar to that of the Indian lunar calendar.

Gunung Agung, the mother mountain, is highly sacred to the Balinese and central to their beliefs. It is the abode of the gods and the ancestors and where you return to when you die. On this island, nature is viewed as a "power" in its own right and each element is thought to be subjected to spirits. As a result, these places must be furnished with a shrine, looked after and fed with various offerings made from agricultural products. In addition to these shrines are temples and together their number rises to approximately 20,000, giving Bali the title of "Island of the Gods".

Temples in Bali are simple walled open yards from which people can communicate directly with their gods and ancestors. Gods and ancestors normally "visit" their human worshipers or descendants during temple festivals (odalan). They reside in miniature houses set in the temple, known as pelinggih shrines.
There are many temples in Bali, the most popular one being the Besakih Temple also called the Mother Temple. It is over a 1000 years old. The lava that erupted in 1963 at Mount Agung missed the temple by metres as is seen as a miracle by the Balinese.

It is important to understand that there are many differences in interpretation of Hinduism in Bali compared to Hinduism in India.

The Balinese call their religion Agama Tirta ("Science of the Holy Water"), an interpretation of religious ideas from China, India, and Java. Agama Tirta is much closer to the earth and more animist than Hinduism proper; the two sects are as different from each other as Ethiopian Christianity is from Episcopalian Christianity.

If a strict Hindu Brahman from India ever visited Bali, he'd think of them as savages. Although the Hindu epics are well known and form the basis of favorite Balinese dances, the deities worshipped in India are here considered too aloof and aristocratic. Often, the Balinese don't even know their names. The Balinese have their own trinity of supreme gods, the Shrine of the Three Forces.

The points below will provide you with a quick glance of the different interpretations of the same religion:
-The caste system is history in Bali while the caste system is followed in few parts of India.
-Balinese hindus consume beef while beef is tabooed in Indian Hinduism.
-Because of the expense, sometimes a whole balinese village will temporarily bury its dead and at a later stage a mass cremation takes place. Dead are immediately cremated in India.
-There are no restrictions on widow remarriages or marriages of high priests in Bali. Traditionally in India, widows cannot remarry or high priests should never marry.
-Group worship is preferred in Bali while Home worship is more common than group worship in India.
- Balinese are not obliged to read the sacred texts while traditionally, Indians are obliged to read the sacred texts.

The original inhabitants of Bali, the Bali Aga practiced animist beliefs and when Hinduism arrived in 1343, it was fitted onto the existing belief system. Balinese Animism differs greatly from Indian Hinduism in the ceremonies, the offerings and mostly with the strong influences from the older beliefs that refused to go away. In fact, Animism influences can be found in Balinese Hinduism.

Bali Animism is only a veneer over complex, deeper-lying, native superstitions. Before a Balinese picks a leaf or flower or chops down a tree, he or she first asks permission of the spirit (tonya) within. The Balinese even respect such inanimate objects as books, stones, large trees, and motorcycles.

They also believe in ghosts, goblins, and the like, which disguise themselves as black cats, naked women, and crows. The Animists believe souls sometimes wander from people's bodies while they sleep. This is why an animist will never wake up someone sharply or suddenly, fearing the soul would not be given time to return to the body. One must always wake someone gently, even in a crisis. It's also believed the soul may enter the body of an animal during the night; this is why a chicken is never slaughtered after sundown.

Spirits dominate everything the Animists do, and they are constantly offering fruit and flowers to appease angry deities. There are sun gods, totemic gods, deer gods, secretaries to the gods, mythical turtles, and market deities. Clay figures of the fire god are put over kitchen hearths, bank clerks place pandanus-leaf offering trays on their desks. Before a journey offerings are made to guarantee a safe passage.

Religion has played the role of the principal organiser in moulding the Balinese society in terms of its heirarchy, professions by family, way of communication, interaction with nature and belief systems. Although religion forms the building block of the Balinese culture, art, cuisine and lifestyle, it must be understood that the degree of religiosity varies amongst individuals and the influence of religion is fading with younger generations. Like many other countries, the people of Bali too are on the verge of globalisation.



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