Balinese Hinduism

Balinese Hinduism (Indonesian: Agama Hindu Dharma; Agama Tirtha; Agama Air Suci; Agama Hindu Bali) is the form of monotheistic[1] Hinduism practiced by the majority of the population of Bali.[2] This is particularly associated with the Balinese people residing on the island and represents a distinct form of Hindu worship incorporating local animism, ancestor worship or Pitru Paksha and reverence for Buddhist saints or Bodhisattava. Although the population of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim and Christian, 83% of the people on Bali identify as Hindu.


The origins of Hinduism in Indonesia can be traced back to at least 5th century BC. It was gradually replaced by Buddhism, which was the main religion of Sumatra and Java, until it in turn was displaced by the coming of Islam from the 14th century CE. However, due to the entrenched Balinese culture of isolationism and the pre-colonial system of state religion,[3] Bali became the only part of Indonesia to remain predominantly Hindu.[4][5] The populations of the islands off the east coast of Bali are also mostly Hindu, and there are Hindu villages scattered near the eastern shore of Java.

Key beliefs

The fundamental principle underlying Hinduism is that there is order in the cosmos, known as dharma. There is also a disordering force, adharma. Hindus seek balance and harmony between these two forces, thus freeing themselves from the never-ending cycle of reincarnation, attaining a state called moksa.[6][7]

Balinese Hinduism divides the cosmos into three layers. The highest level is heaven, or suarga, the abode of the gods. Next is the world of man, buwah. Below this is hell or bhur, where the demons live and where people's spirits are punished for misdeeds on earth. This tripartite division is mirrored in the human body (head, body and feet) and the shrines found outside Balinese buildings.[6][8]

God and deities

Along with the traditional Hindu gods such as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, Balinese Hindus worship a range of deities unique to their branch of the religion.[9] Sang Hyang Widhi (also known as Acintya or Sang Hyang Tunggal) is the designation for one God in Balinese Hinduism. In the concept of Balinese tradition of Hinduism, Acintya or Sang Hyang Widhi is associated with the concept of Brahman. Balinese Hindu belief in a single God is in line with the first principle of the Indonesian state philosophy Pancasila.[10] The empty chair at the top of the padmasana shrine found outside houses and temples is for Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa.[11] According to Balinese Hindu precepts, there are many manifestations of Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in the form of gods such as Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice, and many other gods associated with mountains, lakes and the sea.


There are three levels of priest:[12][13]

  • High priests (pedanda): Members of the Brahmana warna (or dwijati)
  • Temple priests (pemangku): Usually of the Sudra warna, waisya warna, and ksatria warna (ekajati)
  • Mediums/healers (balian)


There are five sacrificial rituals, known as panca yadnya in Balinese Hinduism:[14]

  • dewa yadnya – for gods and deities
  • buta yadnya – for spirits and demons
  • resi yadnya – consecration of clergy
  • manusa yadnya – human life from weddings, childbirth, growing up and starting a family
  • pitra yadnya – for death and reincarnation

Birth and life

There are a total of thirteen ceremonies concerned with life from conception until, but not including, death, each of which have four elements: placation of evil spirits, purification with holy water, wafting of essence and prayer. These ceremonies mark major events in a person's life, including birth, puberty, tooth filing and marriage.[13] A new-born baby is believed to represent the soul of an ancestor, and is regarded as a god for the first 42 days of its life; however the mother is regarded as impure, and it not allowed to participate in any religious activities during this period. A baby must not touch the impure ground until it is 105 days old, half way to the celebration of its first birthday according to the 210-day Balinese pawukon calendar. Once the child reaches puberty, the six upper canine teeth are filed until they are even.[15][16]

Marriage is seen as obligatory for Balinese Hindus, both for the establishment of a family and for the enhanced position in the village social structure accorded to the husband. Giving birth to children guarantees the patrilineal line, as well as ensuring there is somebody to perform the appropriate rituals essential for reincarnation. It marks the attainment of adulthood.[15][16][17]

Death and reincarnation

The most important ceremonies take place after death, and result in the soul being freed to be eventually reincarnated. Unlike the death rites of other religions, the physical body is not the focus, as it is seen as nothing more than a temporary container of the soul and fit only for expedient disposal. In fact, the body must be burned before the soul can leave it completely. The cremation ceremony to bring this about can be extremely expensive because an elaborate ceremony is a way of showing respect for a soul destined to become a god with considerable powers over those left behind. Therefore, bodies are sometimes temporarily buried until the family is able to accumulate enough funds for a cremation, although the bodies of priests or high class families are preserved above ground.[18][19]


Galungan and Kuningan

The most important festival is Galungan, a celebration of the triumph of dharma over adharma. It is calculated according to the 210-day Balinese pawukon calendar and takes place on the Wednesday (Buda) of the eleventh week (Dunggulan). According to tradition, the spirits of the dead descend from heaven, to return ten days later on Kuningan.


Nyepi, or the Day of Silence, makes the start of the Balinese Saka year, and is marked on the first day of the 10th month, Kedasa. It usually falls in March.[20]

Other festivals

Watugunung, the last day of the pawukon calendar, is devoted to Saraswati, goddess of learning. Although it is devoted to books, reading is not allowed. The fourth day of the year is called Pagerwesi, meaning "iron fence". It commemorates a battle between good and evil.[21]

Caste system

Balinese caste structure has been described in early 20th-century European literature to be based on three categories – triwangsa (thrice born) or the nobility, dwijati (twice born) in contrast to ekajati (once born) the low folks. Four statuses were identified in these sociological studies, spelled a bit differently from the caste categories for India:[22]

  • Brahmanas – priest
  • Satrias – knighthood
  • Wesias – commerce
  • Sudras – servitude

The Brahmana caste was further subdivided by these Dutch ethnographers into two: Siwa and Buda. The Siwa caste was subdivided into five – Kemenuh, Keniten, Mas, Manuba and Petapan. This classification was to accommodate the observed marriage between higher caste Brahmana men with lower caste women. The other castes were similarly further sub-classified by these 19th-century and early-20th-century ethnographers based on numerous criteria ranging from profession, endogamy or exogamy or polygamy, and a host of other factors in a manner similar to castas in Spanish colonies such as Mexico, and caste system studies in British colonies such as India.[22]

Professions and colors

Bali has a caste system similar to the Indian system in its ancient form. In ancient India, caste was called varna, meaning coloring of the neutral or transparent soul or the propensity of the soul to behave according to certain tendencies based on its innate nature. Based on this propensity people selected their profession. Later this process through erosion became a family lineage/birth based system. This same system has been adopted in Bali and it is called 'Wangsa' which is related to the professions of the ancestors. However, even in Bali today, irrespective of the profession of the individual, they claim to belong to their family wangsa. There are four basic wangsa or professions, known collectively as caturwangsa—all Balinese belong to this group. The top three wangsa are, Brahmana, Satria (or Ksatriya) and Wesia (or Wesya) represent nobility, and are known as triwangsa. The fourth and most common wangsa is Sudra.

These wangsa groups are subdivided, and each has certain names associated with it. The teachers and priests, Brahmanans, have five subdivisions, and are said to be descended from one individual. Men and women have Ida as the first name. The Ksatriya are traditionally rulers and warriors. Typical names of this wangsa are Dewa Agung, Anak Agung and I Dewa. The Wesia, most of whom are called Gusti, are considered to have been merchants of different kinds. The most common wangsa in Bali in terms of numbers, is Sudra—90 percent of Balinese Hindus belong to it which are the common people as farmers and others. The Pandes or Blacksmiths have a special 'clan' that is not mentioned in the Catur Wangsa group but is considered especially important for its skilled works and being the smithers of fire, Dewa Agni or Dewa Brahma.

Dietary law

Under no circumstances may Balinese Hindus consume the flesh of human, tiger, monkey, dog, crocodile, mice, snake, frog, certain poisonous fish, leech, stinging insect, crow, eagle, owl and any bird of prey.[23]

Pork, chicken, fruit, vegetables, freshwater fish and seafood are widely consumed. However, just like most Hindus, Balinese Hindus rarely if ever eat beef.[23] This is especially true for those who belong to the higher castes of Brahmin and Kshatriya, who have special dietary restrictions. Brahmins especially are forbidden to consume or even touch the flesh of bull or beef; additionally they must not eat on the street or marketplace, drink alcohol, or taste the offering food and fruit.[23]

Outside Bali and Indonesia

Balinese Hindus built Pura Parahyangan Agung Jagatkarta, the second largest temple in Indonesia after Pura Besakih in Bali, dedicated to Hindu Sundanese King Sri Baduga Maharaja Sang Ratu Jaya Dewata. Pura Aditya Jaya is the largest temple in Indonesian capital Jakarta.[24]

At least four Balinese Hindu temples exist in Europe. A padmasana exists in Hamburg, Germany in front of the Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg.[25] Pura Girinatha in Dili, Timor Leste, was built by Indonesian immigrants.[26] The recently constructed Pura Tri Hita Karana is located in Erholungspark Marzahn park in Berlin, Germany. Two Balinese Temples exist in the Pairi Daiza botanical garden in Belgium.[27][28]

See also

Further reading

  • Davison, Julian; Granquist, Bruce (1999). Balinese Temples. Periplus Editions. ISBN 962-593-196-1. 
  • Eiseman, Fred B. (1989). Bali: Sekala & Niskala Volume I: Essays on Religion, Ritual, and Art. Singapore: Periplus Editions. ISBN 0-945971-03-6. 
  • Haer, Debbie Guthrie; Morillot, Juliette; Toh, Irene (2000). Bali: A Traveller's Companion. Editions Didier Millet Pte Ltd. Publishers Ltd. ISBN 981-3018496. 
  • Hobart, Angela; Ramseyer, Urs; Leeman, Albert (1996). The Peoples of Bali. Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-631-17687-X. 
  • Jones, Howard Palfrey (1971). Indonesia: The Possible Dream. Hoover Institution Publications. ISBN 0-15-144371-8. 
  • Vickers, Adrian (1989). Bali: A Paradise Created. Periplus. ISBN 978-0-945971-28-3. 
  • Hoadley, M. C. (1991). Sanskritic continuity in Southeast Asia: The ṣaḍātatāyī and aṣṭacora in Javanese law. Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Hughes-Freeland, F. (1991). Javanese visual performance and the Indian mystique. Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Lokesh, Chandra, & International Academy of Indian Culture. (2000). Society and culture of Southeast Asia: Continuities and changes. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan.
  • Cœdès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella, ed. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1. 
  • R. C. Majumdar, Study of Sanskrit in South-East Asia
  • R. C. Majumdar, India and South-East Asia, I.S.P.Q.S. History and Archaeology Series Vol. 6, 1979, ISBN 81-7018-046-5.
  • Daigorō Chihara (1996). Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia. BRILL. ISBN 90-04-10512-3. 
  • The journey of the Goddess Durga: India, Java and Bali by Ariati, Ni Wayan Pasek, 2016, ISBN 9788177421521, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi


  1. McDaniel, June (2013), A Modern Hindu Monotheism: Indonesian Hindus as ‘People of the Book’. The Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/jhs/hit030
  2. "Sensus Penduduk 2010 - Penduduk Menurut Wilayah dan Agama yang Dianut" [2010 Population Census - Population by Region and Religious Affiliations] (in Indonesian). Badan Pusat Statistik. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  3. "Why is Bali still predominantly Hindu?". Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  4. Jones (1971) p11
  5. Ricklefs (1989) p13
  6. 1 2 Eiseman (1989) pp 11–12
  7. Davison & Granquist (1999) pp 4–5
  8. Davison & Granquist (1999) pp 5, 8
  9. Haer et al (2000) p 46
  10. Eiseman (1989) pp 44–45
  11. Eiseman (1989) p 274
  12. Haer et al (2000) p 48
  13. 1 2 Eiseman (1989) pp 362 & 363
  14. Hobart et al (1996) p 102
  15. 1 2 Haer et al (2000) p 52
  16. 1 2 Eiseman (1989) pp 91
  17. Hobart et al (1996) p 105
  18. Haer et al (2000) p 53
  19. Eiseman (1989) pp 116–117
  20. Eiseman (1989) pp 186–187
  21. Eiseman (1989) pp 184–185
  22. 1 2 James Boon (1977). The Anthropological Romance of Bali 1597–1972: Dynamic Perspectives in Marriage and Caste, Politics and Religion. ISBN 0-521-21398-3.
  23. 1 2 3 Miguel Covarrubias (2015). Island of Bali, Periplus classics. Tuttle Publishing. p. 87. ISBN 9781462917471.
  24. "Pura Aditya Jaya, Pura Terbesar di Jakarta" (in Indonesian). SOUL OF JAKARTA. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  25. "CELEBRATION: Balinese Festival Finds Home in Germany". Hinduism Today. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  26. The Bali Times: Pastika Thanks Gusmao over Dili Temple, accessed on November 24, 2015.
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