Indonesia- Our Cultural Cousin
Swami Veda Bharati of Himalayan Institute, Dehradun, was invited to teach Vedic science by the Balinese a decade earlier or so, he conducted classes and his comment while returning is illustrative. He writes, “When I was called to Bali it was to teach and preach the Vedic teachings. But I came back with a humble realisation that I have to learn more from Bali than I can actually teach them.” This article from Swami Veda Bharati was sent by a friend and reading that while travelling to Bali helped me a lot in understating the Balinese Hindu Dharma, culture and the society.
Representing International Centre for Cultural Studies, I visited Bali first fortnight of October 2013 and I realised that there cannot be a different opinion on Bali other than what Swami Veda Bharti has stated about the native Hindu society and culture than what most visitors to Bali from Bharat have mentioned.
Accompanied by Prof Amarjiva Lochan I travelled to Bali, East Java, Sumatra, West Java and Jakarta, all of them being part of Indonesia- a country comprising of 13,500 islands. There are many lessons for Bharatiya Hindus provided we have an open receiving mind and try to understand the culture of the Island. There might be many issues on which Bharatiya Hindus might feel differently and worth criticism but there are many that we need to learn.
There are two most important factors for consideration. One of the most impressive factors of this insight is preservation of the culture of Bali, despite being part of a Muslim country and secondly being the most favoured tourist destination globally, attracting tourists from the West and Australia. The challenge is two folds and yet they preserved the tradition. The Hindu society of Bali has undauntedly shoved off the influence of western life and welcomed the tourists while regaling them with paramount hospitality, not compromising on their own culture. The history of Bali, of course, is replete with valour and courage for protecting this Island from the avalanche of invaders.
First impact of the Balinese society that any visitor cannot deny is the aesthetic sense of this community aided by the serenity of the nature. Bestowed by rich flora and fauna, the visitor is impressed by every little thing that one visualises or experiences, be it the architecture or arts or performing arts and music or pleasing decorations or charming flower pots or alluring food served on the table or the colourful attire they dress, Bali fascinates strikingly. Aesthetic is all over there, whatever they do. I became a great admirer of this society since I visited the island.
Bali is proud of its cultural heritage that they boast of the Vedic descent and that all the schools in Bali teach tradition of Vedic Rishis like Markandeya, Bharadwaja, Agastya and so on. It takes a lot of contemplation for a visitor like me to understand that the Balinese Hindu students learn these names and their achievements as History -Puranas- and not as fables or mythology. This makes a Hindu visitor from Bharat ponder about the history lessons that are taught in Bharat as Bharatiyas are the legitimate inheritors of the great Vedic knowledge and yet are deprived by the establishment while in a Muslim country like Indonesia this is most precious. Certainly, there are many more things that provoke a Hindu like me from Bharat for introspection. This makes every Balinese proud of being a Hindu and a Balinese and an Indonesian.
Most of the people we met, except for the official meetings, were proudly sporting the traditional wear like dhoti and the exquisite Balinese cap. Entering a Mandir without the traditional attire is prohibited and all the temporal traditions are followed precisely. Entry to Balinese Hindu Mandirs is allowed to people who wear Dhoti and the Balinese cap that is simple but lovely. All the rituals in the Mandirs are followed without dilution and people have patience to sit and participate in all rituals that many times are time consuming- no short cuts allowed.
Pretentions like being modern made Indian Hindu society sacrifice many precious traditions and this realisation occurs to every visitor from Bharat, provided the visitor tries to understand the prominent features of Balinese Hindu Dharma. One of the most prominent traditions is that of the ‘Lontar’ what we call ‘Talpatra’. This is probably the only community world over which is struggling to preserve the ancient tradition of writing on the palm leaves and bamboo skin. Lontar is a part of the syllabus for students studying Hindu Dharma at undergraduate level. We were amased to be witness to Lontar writing in skilled beautiful handwriting, first carved on the palm leaf and then filled in with ink- a spotless writing. An amasing experience it was. Every student is supposed to write the Dharmik lessons on Lontar for preserving his lessons for a lifetime this being sacred to them. While performing religious poojas, everyone reads from the Lontars that they have written and preserved, and not the printed books like others. Ramayana Kakavin (Balinese Ramayana Granth) is very much valued for a family and is preserved by consecrating the Lontar Ramayana written by a family member and used for the Ramayana discourse or for the ‘Paath’.
We probably are the noisiest country in the world with highest level of noise pollution while Bali has the least noise pollution, a visitor experiences. The Balinese Hindu community celebrates a festival called Nyepi Day in total silence, no traffic including air traffic, no offices, no work, no vehicles, no TV, no entertainment, least possible movement on roads, everyone busy contemplating on what he or she did last year and planning the next year that too in total silence sitting at home, of course, worshiping the ‘Ishtadevata’ by maintaining ‘mauna’ (silence). It is just unbelievable for someone from Bharatiya society, where honking is ‘safety’ and the young motor cyclists scream your ear dead on the road.
Trikala Sandhya is another aspect of Bali that cannot be missed. Every student performs trikala sandhya and chants Gayatri Mantra thrice a day, as this is part of the curriculum. Many radio stations in Bali broadcast Trikala Sandhya three times every day.
We had an opportunity to visit a family that had lost a young son. Despite mourning the adornment for the funeral was so rich and the gathering of relatives and friends for days together was indeed huge. Whole village or town joins the funeral procession and mourning and shares the grief. Death in Bali, I could not stop myself thinking, is charming celebration.
For centuries together Balinese Hindu Dharma, Balinese Buddhism and Baliyaga, the traditional Balinese religion that exists since pre-Hindu, pre-Buddha times, live together in harmony and even participate in each other’s festivals, sharing the spiritualism. Shaivism and Buddhism living together without a tussle or a murmur is exactly what every other society would love to live like and Bali basks in that glory.
However, contemporary Bali is concerned about fast demographic degradation of the Island with Hindu population going down from 94 per cent to 84 per cent in a decade or so. The Hindu intellectuals of Bali express this concern in no uncertain terms. Bali being the most sought after tourist destination world over, the serene beeches, natural green carpet bedecked with diverse flowers, matched by exotic floral designs and splendid architecture donning tiled roofs, and the most outstanding factor – Balinese people with their incessant hospitality and smiling faces, attracts tourism and this pulls in investors from other parts of Indonesia, bringing in more and more Muslims creating demographic alteration. This worries them a lot. The contemporary challenge before the Balinese Hindu community is how to preserve the tradition that they and ancestors have so fondly preserved.
Balinese Hindu Society is facing huge internal challenges also, the severest, considering that this is emerging from within the society itself. Balinese Hindu society had been living on the island for centuries together and the dormant internal schisms are trying to raise their heads. This society fought back valiantly keeping the external forces away, preserving their tradition and faith and were victorious, for centuries together. However, the differences based on rites, rituals and sects are dividing the society- like sectarian ones. This society will have to rise above all such differences for the glorious future.
Well, I will not hesitate to mention here that interaction with Bharatiya Hindus worries the Balinese many a times. Various religious organisations and sects from Bharat, without understanding the Balinese Hindu Dharma, comment in various ways and try altering them to match ‘us’ and this is a threat in itself that is experienced by the Balinese. Bharatiya Hindu will have to understand that the ritual part is just superficial and belittling these would only distance the Balinese from Bharatiya and not bring them closer. Appreciating Balinese Hindus for their bravery and courage in preserving their tradition and culture will encourage the society and bring them closer to Bharat. This will be the best contribution of Bharatiya Hindu society to Bali, I feel strongly.
(To be concluded)