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Hinduism came to Indonesia from India in the fifth century CE. 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 “cultural barriers”, Bali became the only part of Indonesia to remain Hindu.
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.
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.
Along with the traditional Hindu gods such as Vishnu and Brahma, Balinese Hindus worship a range of deities unique to their branch of the religion. The supreme god of Balinese Hinduism is Saang Hyang Widhi Wasa. However, this is a relatively recent addition to the pantheon. The name was originally contrived by Christian missionaries as a Balinese language name for the Christian God. It was later adopted by the Balinese to make it clear that their religion had a single supreme god in line with the first principle of the Indonesian state philosophy Pancasila. The empty chair at the top of the padmasana shrine found outside houses and temples is for Saang Hyang Widhi Wasa Other gods include Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and gods associated with mountains, lakes and the sea.
- High priests (pedanda): Members of the Brahma caste
- Temple priests (pemangku): Usually of the Sudra caste
- Mediums/healers (balian)
There are five sacrificial rituals, known as panca yudha in Balinese Hinduism:
- 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
Rites of passage: birth and life
There are a total of 13 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. 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.
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.
Rites of passage: 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.
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 form heaven, to return ten days later on Kuningan.
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.
Professions and Colors
Bali does not have a caste system as the Indian version but a system called 'Wangsa' which is related to the professions of the ancestors. This is NOT to be confused with caste. 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.
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