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Balinese Hindu Dharma - Part -02
It is the Supreme Lord From whom this world of diversified objects arose.
It is He who sustains and destroys it, Who is the Lord of this entire universe;
In whom the universe lives, moves and dies.
Know Him and do not believe any other being to be the Creator of the world.

Holy Rigveda X:129:7

Posted by Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Oct 28 2003):

I think this is the beginning of another sect war that Mpu Kuturan laid to rest last millennium. It is clear that Balinese are Saivite Hindu and must be classified as the seventh Saivite Hindu sect, and they accept Siwa as the supreme God, but in all villages, it is the Wisnu temple that occupies the central position and the larger share of village ceremonies. I personally felt then this was the compromise position that the people agreed to 1000 years ago. So there is no need for any sect to feel slighted.

Challenging this 1000 year old 'social contract' will be devastating as there is almost no chance the people will accept a change.




Posted by Vikram Masson (Jul 21 2004):

Folks: welcome Bhagawan Dwija, a noted priest, activist and authority on Balinese Hinduism.

Bhagawan Dwija: Tell us about your recent efforts in Bali, and, when you get time, explain to us how caste works in Bali.




Posted by Bhagawan Dwija (Jul 22 2004):

Caste in Bali: A short story.

Starting in the 14th century [CE], Islam infiltrated into Java and led to the fall of the Majapahit, a great kingdom of Indonesia. So many Hindus moved to Bali. One of famous priests at that time named Danghyang Nirartha was in charge as the advisor to the king of Gelgel. He began a political movement to change varna to caste in order to lead people against Moslem infiltration. Caste in that age was common. But the negative side is that the caste system breaks Hindu society. There was no individual freedom and equal participation. Over time, although caste system was not formally applicable in government, old traditions among Hindus has led to rising conflict and separated people into two major groups: the reformist and the status quo. Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia (PHDI) has also broken into two groups mentioned above. For example, the status quo group said that the only ones that can be priests have to come from Brahmana caste. The other castes, Ksatriya, Visa and Sutra cannot become a priest.

Most of Balinese do not agree with caste system, but there are also many "old fashioned" people proud to use feudal names: Tjokorda, Anak Agung, Ida Bagus, Gusti, etc. Actually, the names indicate the official function of their ancestor in the past. It is funny - a Tjokorda in the past was a King, but nowadays he is a coolie or taxi driver.




Posted by Vikram Masson (Jul 22 2004):

Thank you Bhagawan Dwija, I appreciate the inside view. I suspected that there is caste tension in Bali, and it is interesting that Hindus are divided into two camps--reformists and status quo. How about sampradayas/panths? Are Bali Hindus predominantly Shiva or Vishnu worshippers, or is there no distinction?




Posted by Bhagawan Dwija (Jul 25 2004):

Hindus in Bali before the 11th century were divided into 9 sectarian groups: Siva, Brahma, Vaisnava, Pasupata, Bhairava, Linggayat, Bhagavata, Indra, Saura, and Baudha. Bali in that age was in war between sects. So the King, Warmadeva, and a great priest named Mpu Kuturan declared unification of sects as what we find in Bali till this day, although priests are still in three classifications: Siva, Baudha and Vaisnava. Siva priests lead Siva worshippers, Baudha priest lead Baudha worshippers and Vaisnava priest lead Visnu worshippers. Sivas are primarily from the Siva Siddhanta sect, which came to Bali in the 8th century CE brought by great priest Agastya from Madhya Pradesh, central India. Baudha is a combination Hindu with Buddha, and Vaisnava sect came in Bali in the 9th century by great priest, Markandeya from South India. Daily ritual found in Bali makes no distinction between those three worshippers. Sampradaya is a new concept in Bali, and so is teaching and learning Veda intensively. Most of young generation are joining these sampradayas ie. Hare Krishna, Sai Study Group, Gandhi Ashram, etc. The status quo group (as I said before) did not agree with sampradaya. They think sampradayas make the Hindu-Bali traditions decline, so they declared a counter movement called "Ajeg Bali" meaning Bali in the old Hindu thinking which has to defend itself to survive. In other words, retain the caste system, old traditions etc. They called us the "Indianized Hindus" group.




Posted by Vikram Masson (Jul 25 2004):

Well, I know next to nothing about Bali and would not be qualified to offer even an opinion on your majestic tradition, but, generally, I would side with the reformists (Indianizing is probably a loaded word), with some caveats.

1) The reformists needn't look to India alone for inspiration, nor must every Balinese join ISKCON or Sai Baba. If they are drawn to those sampradayas, then fine, but Balinese Hinduism should be Balinese. The traditionalists may be rightly suspicious of "Indianizing" projects. However, it makes all the sense in the world for Balinese Hindus to have good relations with Indian Hindus, Malaysian Hindus, American Hindus, etc., as you are doing, and there is nothing wrong with appeals by example. But Indian Hinduism clearly does not have all the answers. Balinese Hinduism has not fostered untouchability, which alone makes it a shining example of what Hindu Dharma can be, to my mind.

2) If the traditionalists are framing the debate as an either/or proposition, then I must say they are very clever. They are implying that the Dharma in Bali cannot exist without caste, as many traditionalist (varnashramist) Indian Hindus do. I would humbly suggest that you not allow the debate to be framed that way. Instead, you might argue that birth-based privileges are a more recent phenomenon (you would have to know Balinese history), and that therefore the current system, while long-standing, is a distortion of the way things should be; you can appeal to scripture, as Indian reformers do, citing relevant passages from the Vedas to demonstrate that caste did not exist in its stratified, birth-based manifestation in the formative years of the Vedic revelation, or that the birth based system has been condemned or criticized throughout history (Vajrasuchika Upanishad, etc., and of course, without saying, anything from Balinese sources), and that therefore the birth-based system is not supported by a broad-based consensus (as will be apparent from any internet discussion board! ).

I am sure they [traditionalists] argue that Hinduism survived because of the caste system. Don't let them do this. Point out that in India, very frequently when a caste leader made a decision to convert, the whole caste converted; there is no empirical evidence to support this claim, and in any case, as a community of 3 million in an area almost completely non-Hindu (and overwhelmingly Muslim), any source of division will lead to annihilation.

Caste makes it a piece of cake to divide Hindus, which is why unifying projects in India often lack vitality. Also, look to other diaspora countries, for example Fiji, where Hinduism has thrived without caste. Intermarriage remains one of the most powerful ways to annihilate caste, and, as I understand, that is happening in Bali already. The priesthood should be open to all sincere aspirants, regardless of caste, as the locus of Hinduism is often the temple.




Posted by P N Kumar (Jul 26 2004):

Namasthe Bhagawan Dwija. Welcome! Request you to enlighten us on the 'Ekadasa Rudra Puja' carried out once in 100 years in the temple of Besakih.




Posted by Bhagawan Dwija (Jul 26 2004):

"Ekadasa rudra" is a great ceremony (puja) carried out once in 100 years in our mother temple "Besakih". The puja was first arranged by Rishi Markandeya, one of our best priests in the 8th century [CE]. The puja was a God inspiration intended to create welfare in the world by a well-balanced connection of humans with God and the whole world.

During the puja, we homage God as His three manifestations: Brahma, Siva and Visnu. There are three other temples in Besakih complex for special homage: "Kiduling Kreteg" for Brahma, "Batu Madeg" for Visnu, and "Gelap" for Siva.




Posted by Gautham KR (Jul 27 2004):

Bhagawan Dwija: We all appreciate your input and sharing of your insider knowledge of Balinese Hinduism. I was wondering if you could tell us what Balinese Hinduism called itself prior to the introduction of the word 'Hindu' and coining of the term 'Agama Hindu'.

I suspect that prior to the unification of the sects in Bali in the 11th century each sect called itself Saiva, Vaishnava, etc. But was there a name given to the religion upon unification?




Posted by Bhagawan Dwija (Aug 1 2004):

So our religion in the past was named GAMA TIRTHA (gama = agama = religion; tirtha = holy water) meaning a group of people used so many tirthas in their offering or ritual. Later on the name was changed to HINDU-BALI, meaning Hinduism as practiced in Bali. In the Suharto's regime, we became the HINDU DHARMA; dharma meaning religion. By this new name, all of religions in Indonesia that believe in the Vedas became Hindu, i.e. Kejaven (old Hindu in central Java), Kaharingan (Hindus in Borneo), Baduy (Hindus in west Java), Karo (Hindu in north Sumatra), etc. We all joined the PHDI (Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia).

The PHDI in 2003 declared a clearance about caste, especially differences between "varna" and "caste". But there are so many status quo groups in Bali (as I said before) that did not agree with this declaration. In Bali they organized another PHDI opposed to the former one. It was a surprise that the government did not notice this [shift]. Indonesia is a non-secular country; the government takes care of religion, but usually only the majority, that is Islam/Moslem.




Posted by Jaishree G (Aug 1 2004):

Bhagawan Dwija: May I ask you how you got your name? Is it traditional Bali or is it derived from 'modern' Hindu influence? Also, what resolution was passed by PHDI regarding caste and varna? What percentage of Hindus in Indonesia do you think come under 'reformist' category?




Posted by Bhagawan Dwija (Aug 4 2004):

According to Balinese custom, the religious scholars receive a title from the Nabe (Gurujee) after passing a long time education as a priest. So I received this new name since 6th Nov 1999. The old name will not be used anymore, meaning it is now dead. Also my "varna" changed, from "Vaisya" to be "Brahmana". As you know "varna" is quite different with "caste". I do not agree caste, but varna is a reality in human life.

There are about 8 million Hindus in Indonesia (4% of the total population). In Bali, there are around 3 million Hindus, most of them (60%) old-fashioned (status quo group) agree with caste, and the rest, 40% refuse it. Outside Bali, all Hindus are modern. So in total, there are around 22.5% Hindus in Indonesia that agree with caste system, and the rest 77.5% are reformist.

PHDI declared a statement against the caste system, but it not come into use in Bali because the Balinese governor and other officials supported [] caste and other ritual-ceremonies regarding old traditions like in the previous century. We are just waiting more educated young Hindus to really understand this cause.




Posted by Ramdas Lamb (Aug 4 2004):

Bhagawan Ji: The information you are providing us is quite fascinating. I do have a few questions that I hope you can find the time to answer:

1. With reference to the above comment, are there any limitations in Bali, as to who can become a "Brahmana?" In other words, can members of any varna become Brahmana?
2. Are there any "Untouchables" in Bali?




Posted by Bhagawan Dwija (Aug 4 2004):

There are few old literatures that in Bali we call "Lontar" which came from the basic Hindu literature i.e. Manava Dharmasastra (Manu Smrti), Bhagavadgita, Sarasamuscaya, etc. The main lontar is "Eka Pratama" which talks about change in varna to become a Brahmana, after Diksa ceremony. PHDI (Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia) gives a permit for this case and offers a certificate [to certify a person as a brahmana]. All of Hindus priests in Bali have to pass a PHDI examination before they receive a registered certificate. Beside, other varnas (Sudra, Vaishya, and Kshatrya) no one can assign. So the point is, in Bali (nowadays), people of any varna can become a brahmana, if they are able to do their profession as priest.

As I said before the "status quo" group in Bali still does not receive priests come from other castes, just from brahmana caste. But most of people in Bali do not care for this. They chose a priest that they believe is a good one, whatever their origin. What do you mean by "untouchables"? If you mean it like Brahmana varna have a special right from government or anything like that, the answer is no!




Posted by Gautham KR (Aug 4 2004):

I am very happy to know that there are progressive Hindus in Indonesia, and the above is some of the best news I have heard recently. Our hope in this group is that a similar change will occur throughout South Asia as well. The priesthood is the last thing keeping the caste hierarchy intact within religion. If anyone can become a priest, then effectively the caste hierarchy within the religious tradition will fall. This doesn't mean castes will no longer exist or that caste discrimination will be erased from society; but at least it cannot be said that Hinduism officially endorses the hierarchical caste system.

There is a lot more resistance to this move in India, than in Indonesia. First of all, the Hindus of India have not clearly united under any single body like the PHDI. And if when they have, they are not willing to pass any such resolutions. Instead, they pass resolutions, for example, demanding a ban on religious conversions. You will have seen from the NS website that in 2002 the Indian Supreme Court ruled that anyone from any caste can become a temple priest, if properly qualified. So, the seeds for change have been sown.

No matter what the changes are [suggested], there will always be opponents to that change. Opponents will come up with a never ending list of reasons why caste hierarchy should not change, but they should just be ignored. To use a Hindu expression: our actions should always be guided by dharma and nothing else. Besides, it appears to me from your messages that the progressive side has the support of the young Balinese and more supporters within the Hindu community as a whole. The more I hear from you about the steps taken by the Hindu Indonesians toward reform, the more I think that Indian Hindus should learn from them.




From our discussions as well as other sources, we now know that Balinese Hindus are slowly inching toward the Navya Shastra ideal of an egalitarian Hindu society. But, as can be gleaned from the text above, Balinese Hinduism is not without its share of problems. However, the Balinese Hindus are taking an active role in the remodeling of their religious tradition. We at Navya Shastra believe that every Hindu should be proactive in the ongoing Hindu renaissance. As Hinduism is now undeniably a major world religion, we believe more interaction is necessary between the Hindus of living in different parts of the world. As for Balinese Hinduism, it continues to make headway toward establishing itself as a legitimate branch of Sanatana Dharma among Indian Hindu theologians. Recently, several Indian Hindu religious leaders have visited the island of Bali, most notably the Shankaracharya of Bhanpura Peeth, HH Sri Divyananda Tirthaji Maharaj, and HH Sri Chidananda Saraswati Muniji of Parmarth Niketan. In early 2005, ties between Balinese and Indian Hindus will be further strengthened as construction begins on a grand Balinese-style Hindu temple on the banks of the river Ganga near the holy city of Rishikesh.


Back to Balinese-Part-01




We thank our resident Balinese Hindu priest, Sri Bhagawan Dwija, for his insights and historical information on Balinese Hinduism. In addition, we thank NS member, Sri Pathmarajah Nagalingam, for sharing his views on Balinese Hinduism and providing full accounts of his travels in Bali both on the NS discussion board, as well as his personal website (http://www.siddha.com.my).


Summarized and edited by Gautham Rao.
Sasih Karo, Penglong 14, Saka 1926 [Sep 13, 2004]

|| Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om ||