I visited Bali for the first time in 2013. It was the first Asian country I have visited in my life and the atmosphere when I took my first steps out of the plane was unlike any other European country. A whiff of Pandan scent greeted me onto the island and I was bewildered. You can see people praying and putting offers on every street and beautifully decorated temples for the Hindu gods.
That’s right, Bali’s main religion is Balinese Hinduism. About 90% of the Balinese are Hindu. You are reminded of it everywhere and its very lively. It could definitely be described as a rare religious enclave, since most of the other 271 million inhabitants of Indonesia are Muslim.
Balinese Hinduism has multiple differences with Indian Hinduism. Traders introduced the religion between 1,000-1,500 years ago. Apart from Hinduism, Balinese people have more aspects of other beliefs in their religion, for example: Buddhism and Animistic beliefs. They also don’t do child marriages, however, arranged marriages can happen although that is rare. Balinese Hindus worship a lot of gods and demons. There is an important trinity that’s Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Next to that, there are the dewa: ancestral gods, or, gods who are typically bound to the island: earth, fire, water, mountains, fertility, rice, and technology all have their own local god, just as an example.
So how come that a tiny island like Bali survived the expansion of Islamic states? Different sources state different explanations, but a possible reason could be the fact that Bali was isolated. Bali was a relatively isolated part of the country, after Sumatra, Java and Borneo. This means that they were out of the way from the main trade routes, which found place near today’s Malaysia. These trade routes spread the Islam. And before you argue; yes, Bali is close to Java, but that is the eastern part of Java which was the less accessible part of the island. Bali seemed to be the island that was more resistant to change because they were the more “traditional” part of the country. Because of these reasons, Bali became a sort of refuge to other Hindus in other parts of Indonesia.
Did you expect this story? Or were you surprised by how Bali managed to survive the expansion of Islamic states? Interesting, how Bali as we know it today: a holiday destination to escape the stresses of daily life, has been a refuge for hundreds of years for people seeking religious freedom.
10 Facts about Balinese Hindu. (2017, November 20). Indoindians. https://www.indoindians.com/10-facts-about-balinese-hindu/
Knowledgia. (2020, January 28). How did Indonesia become Muslim? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf-VVg8PIOE
Writing, L. V. (2020, April 8). Balinese Hinduism Explained - Bali in a few words. Medium. https://medium.com/bali-in-a-few-words/balinese-hinduism-explained-e3316a16a535