Religious change and experimentation in Indonesian Hinduism
Universality of Culture: 'Ogoh-ogoh' and Nebuta. Jakarta Post.
Religious change and experimentation in Indonesian Hinduism
This paper examines change and experimentation in Agama Hindu Dharma, a form of Hinduism which has adapted to the modern Muslim influence in Indonesia by emphasizing a monotheistic deity unique to the country and an ethical system and prayer rituals with many similarities to Muslim practices. This is a new form of Hinduism developed by scholars, psychologists and priests. The paper analyzes changes in ritual, the arts, and theology. It also focuses on the major locale for modernization, the religion curriculum used in public education. It is a study of religion as lived, with experimentation that has been adopted into state policy.
of the book” if they could find a sacred book, a single god, a prophet, and an ethical
system for all followers. During the 1950’s, Hindu Balinese intellectuals came together
in a council, which they called the Parisada Dharma Hindu Bali (PDHB), 1 to
reformulate Hinduism to fit the criteria set down by the government. One god was called the
Almighty God (the other gods and ancestors were demoted to angels or other aspects
of the one god), the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita became the equivalent of the Qur’an
or the Bible, and the Vedic sages or rishis became prophets (there was a particular
focus on Maha Resi Vyasa, who was described as organizing Sang Hyang’s Widhi’s
revelation in the Vedas).2 Philosophy and theology were developed, and justified by
Sanskrit mantras on the unity of brahman, translated as the divine ruler of the
universe.3 There was a strong emphasis on ethics and national identity, and the Parisada
emphasized text and theology, and simplified ritual. A dharma both ancient and
modern was created.
Indonesia is a country with over 14,000 islands, with the largest Muslim population in the
world. It also has a government policy of declaring only monotheistic religions to be
legitimate. In order to be accepted, Indonesia’s major religions have been adapted by
theologians and scholars of religion into monotheistic systems, fulfilling the government’s
requirements for a sacred text, a prophet, and a universal ethical code. Then, as
prominent Indonesian Muslim writer Nurcholish Madjid has noted, all people who worship one
god can be understood as believers, indeed as Muslims. Members of all monotheistic
world religions can be viewed as equals, who can live in peace with each other. 4
Hindu culture and religion arrived in the Indonesian archipelago in the first century
CE, closely followed by Buddhism, which influenced the development of a number of
Hindu-Buddhist empires. Hindu and Buddhist forms of theology and ritual combined
over the centuries, and this fusion can still be found to some extent today. However,
the Hinduism that came to Indonesia had not yet developed the bhakti tradition, thus
the devotional aspect of Hinduism never became important there. Instead, the focus
has been on dharma, understood as responsible and ethical behavior, in harmony with
There are a variety of theories of how Hinduism came to Indonesia. I Gusti Putu
Phalgunadi describes four of these, using the metaphor of the caste system. According
to Vaishya theory, Hinduism came with traders and merchants from India, whose
voyages often included intermarriage with Indonesians. According to the Kshatriya theory,
defeated warriors and soldiers fled India with their followers to take refuge and build
alternative strongholds in Indonesia. The Brahmana theory posits that priests and
missionaries from India spread the religion, which was accepted because these people
were believed to possess supernatural knowledge and power. In contrast, the
Bhumiputra (“native son” or nationalist) theory holds that Indonesians visited India, liked the
culture, and brought back religious ideas. Indonesia (especially Bali) is mentioned in
such ancient Indian texts as the Ramayana, Brahmanda Purana, Vayu Purana, and
Jataka tales in the (Buddhist) Pali Canon. In these texts, Bali is usually called
Suvarnadvipa (“golden island”) or Suvarnabhumi (“golden land”).5 In the sixth-century
encyclopedia, Brihatsamhita, and the eleventh-century collection of stories,
Kathasaritsagara, Bali is called Narikeladvipa, “the island of coconuts.”
The Hindu religion influenced kings and warriors on the major Indonesian islands of
Sumatra, Java, Bali and Kalimantan. The most influential Hindu kingdom was the
Majapahit Empire, which reached its peak in the fourteenth century. Hinduism lost its
status as the dominant religion during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the
Majapahit Empire was conquered by Muslim armies. As that empire disintegrated,
many of its priests, artists, musicians and leaders moved to Bali, and Islam became the
state religion of Indonesia. Foreign merchants, especially Portuguese and later Dutch
traders, were attracted by the spice trade of Indonesia. Dutch seamen came to the
islands of Bali and Lombok in 1597, and the Dutch East Indies Company came to
dominate much of Indonesia (Charle 1991).
Indonesia gained its independence when the Dutch relinquished sovereignty over the
former Netherlands East Indies in 1949, and Bali was integrated into the Republic of
Indonesia. Its first president was Sukarno (1901–1970). To appease the Muslim
majority, Sukarno proclaimed belief in One Almighty God to be government policy, thereby
forging a compromise between secularism and Muslim law (sharia, or in the language
of Bahasa Indonesia syariah). It was the first of five constitutional laws in Indonesia,
the pancasila, intended to build nationalism and discourage ethnic loyalties within a
wide range of tribes, kingdoms and societies lacking common language, currency or
culture.6 The other four laws are a just and civilized humanity, Indonesian unity,
democracy and social justice.
The term pancasila comes from two Sanskrit words, panca or five, and sila or
principle (or virtue).7 These five principles form the non-secular basis of modern
Indonesian statehood, emphasizing religious tolerance as a sacred duty. Human rights are
understood as gifts from God, and the basis of national unity is belief in the one God.
Thus, both constitution and law are based on religious faith. (Efimova 1996). Indonesia
defines itself as a religious state while avoiding labels of theocracy, with its perceived
danger of extremism, and of secular state, with its perceived danger of Communism.8
The basis of Indonesian national unity was monotheism (Tuhan Yang Maha
Esabelief in One Supreme God). Thus, both the constitution and the national law are
based on religious faith. As article 29 of the Constitution states, every citizen has
freedom of religious belief and expression. However, the government will only officially
accept monotheistic religions, giving them financial support, identity papers, passports,
voting rights, and protection from proselytizing by other religions.9
Currently, Indonesia accepts six officially recognized religions, and has
institutionalized five of them: Islam, Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, Hinduism, and
Buddhism.10 Confucian religion has been officially accepted, but its access to some
educational, social, and political benefits is still under debate.11 Atheism is not
accepted, and some Muslim groups (such as the Ahmadiyyahs) have been banned for
moving too far from orthodoxy.12 Indigenous religions have not been accepted as
official religions, and interact with the government through the Ministry of Culture and
Tourism. The accepted religions have all adapted in various ways to the state
requirements. Theology is used to support state tolerance, and the adoption of common
categories of knowledge allows for communication between the traditions.
The major center of Hinduism in Indonesia is the island of Bali. According to the
2010 Indonesian census (Badan Pusak Statistik, Sensus Penduduk 2010), there are
about 3.25 million Hindus on Bali, out of a population of almost 4 million.13 There are
also slightly over four million Hindus in the whole country of Indonesia. The island of Bali
has the most Hindu practitioners, followed by Sumatra, Java, Lombok and Kalimantan
islands. Indonesia currently has the fifth largest Hindu population in the world.14
Hinduism in Indonesia
Modern Indonesian Hinduism, or Agama Hindu Dharma, was accepted as an official
religion in several stages during the late 1950’s. There are currently various layers of
Hinduism, which include folk Hinduism (local indigenous beliefs which are mixed with
Hindu ones), Agama Tirtha (the religion of holy water, which emphasizes ritual and is
largely Saivite), and Agama Hindu Dharma (which emphasizes ethics, philosophy and
social responsibility). These may be mixed, and practiced simultaneously.
Here we shall focus on Agama Hindu Dharma, an approach which was developed to
fit the Indonesian government’s standards of religious legitimacy, which included a
revealed text, a prophet, and a clear ethical system which is not limited to a regional or
ethnic group. In order to reformulate Hinduism to fit government criteria, Hindu
Balinese intellectuals met together in a council (parisada, or society) which they called the
Parisada Hindu Dharma Bali. In their formulation, one god was called the Almighty
God, with other gods and ancestors demoted to angels or other aspects of the one
God. The Vedas, Ramayana, and Bhagavad Gita became the equivalent of the Qur’an
or Bible, and the Vedic sages or rishis became prophets. Philosophy and theology were
based largely on South Indian Saiva Siddhanta and justified by Sanskrit mantras on the
unity of Brahman (as divine ruler of the universe).15 The Parisada strongly affirmed
morality and national identity, and promised to emphasize textual sources and theology
while simplifying ritual. 16
The one God is called Sanghyang Widhi Wasa, a god unknown in India. This avoided
sectarian conflict between Hindu groups in Indonesia. There is devotion to the four
teachers or gurus- God, parents, schoolteachers, and the government. Devotion to the
government thus becomes a part of the religion- another area of compromise. Ethical
behavior was based on several dharmasastras found in Indonesia, primarily the
Nitisastra. There also five pillars of belief (in brahman, atman, karma, moksa, and
reincarnation) and five pillars of practice or yadnya. Its focus is not bhakti or devotion, but
rather dharma or religious and social obligation. This dharmic form of Hinduism
differs from the popular Hindu practices, which emphasize ancestors and the creation of
holy water to worship deities.
One recent new government ritual is the Hindu call to prayer, at 6 AM, noon, and
6 PM. It broadcasts the trisandhya prayer, and it can be heard over loudspeakers in
many villages. It became popularized on television in the 1990’s. On Bali television,
there are images of nature- birds, monkeys, rice fields, waterfalls, and the ocean (similar
to the backgrounds used for the Indonesian televised Muslim calls to prayer, and both
have images of people dressed in white praying). The Hindu god is addressed as Ya
Tuhan, the Indonesian generic term for god, and on Bali television the prayers are
written in both Balinese and Indonesian scripts. Chimes sound in the background as the
trisandhya stanzas are chanted. The prayers are broadcast in schools, with a break in
classes, and in offices, when workers take time off for prayers.
The trisandhya prayers begin with the Gayatri mantra, which is described as stating
the unity of Sanghyang Widhi Wasa. The multiple names of the god Siva are recited,
and then the person admits sorrow over sin. As stanza 4 says, “OM, I am full of sorrow,
my action is full of sin, my soul and my birth are poor. Save me from all this sorrow, O
God, purify my body and mind.” Stanza 5 addresses Mahadeva (Siva) specifically and
asks him for forgiveness, and stanza 6 is a general plea for forgiveness for sins of body,
speech and mind. The prayer ends Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (peace).17 All of these names
are understood as emanations or attributes of Sanghyang Widhi Wasa. It adapts a
nirguna deity, changing him to a god concerned with sin and salvation.
Another new ritual in Bali is the Sudhi Wadani purification process, for conversion
to Agama Hindu Dharma. This one-day ritual was developed in the 1960’s, primarily
for tourists who came to Bali and wanted to marry Hindus (in Indonesia, both marriage
partners must be members of the same religion).18 It is called purification rather than
conversion, and has been officially recognized by the Parisada (HPDI), the national
Hindu organization of Indonesia. It includes all of the purification rituals that are
required for Hinduism, from the time of conception on, compressed into one day.
Non-Hindus who go through this process get a decree with signatures from the local
government, and they are then considered to be Hindu. They are then able to marry
and participate in temple ceremonies. Again, religious conversion is a ritual
understandable to both Islam and Christianity.
In terms of the arts, a new style of expression of religious ideas was found in the
creation of the Ogoh-ogoh images. Bali is known for its paintings and statues, including
both religious and secular themes. Ogoh-ogoh are statues built for the Ngrupuk parade,
which takes place on the eve of Nyepi day in Bali, or New Year’s Eve. The Ogoh-ogoh
art is a very recent addition to the Nyepi ceremonies, first appearing in Bali in the early
1980s. Ogoh-ogoh figures normally have the form of mythological beings, ranging from
demons (bhuta kala and raksasa) to figures drawn from popular culture or from
contemporary Indonesian society (such as politicians and cartoon villains). These figures
may be classical, humorous, terrifying or satirical, representing disease, conflict, greed,
and corruption. The deeper goal of the ritual is to destroy desires and passions, and
transform them into benevolence.
The holiday of Nyepi is held in celebration of Saka New Year, a day to ask Sang
Hyang Widhi Wasa to maintain harmony between human beings and the universe.
Three days before Nyepi, rituals are held to purify the living environment of three
spirits: Bhuta Raja, Bhuta Kala and Batara Kala. This is so that they do not interfere
with humans. The rituals include melasti (praying at temples), pecaruan (offerings) and
pengrupukan (spreading rice, lighting homes with torches and making noise by hitting
objects). During Nyepi, Indonesian Hindus ritually abstain from four acts: amati geni
(abstinence from lighting fires), amati karya (abstinence from working), amati
lelanguan (abstinence from pleasure) and amati lelungan (abstinence from traveling).
The pengrupukan ritual is usually followed by the parade of the Ogoh-ogoh. This
involves a set of giant puppets being carried around the banjar or neighborhood. The
major puppet is the image of Bhuta Kala, who is thus expelled from the environment.
The ritual, which ends in the burning of the image, brings harmony to both mankind
and nature, to enable a solemn celebration of Nyepi. (Bhakti 2014).
An Ogoh-ogoh statue is usually created on a foundation built of wood and bamboo,
and made from papier-mache. The Ogoh-ogoh, which are up to 10 ft tall, are carried
around the village or the town square by eight or more men. This procession is
accompanied by orchestral music and flares. The Ogoh-ogoh is rotated
counterclockwise three times at every T-junction and crossroad of the village. Rotating the
statues is intended to confuse the evil spirits so that they go away and cease harming
human beings. Approaching midnight, the figures are then dragged to a prominent
crossroad and burned. Ogoh-ogoh may also be burnt to ashes in a cemetery, where the
passions are symbolically buried. On the following day, the holiday of Nyepi, people are
silent, and do not work, cook, or travel. It symbolizes the beginning of the world, which
started with a void. The Ogoh-Ogoh figures are new, but the idea of destroying the
passions and transforming evil inclinations is old. When Nyepi falls on a Friday, in the
interests of religious cooperation Muslims in Bali hold their Friday prayers without the
usual loudspeakers, and go to the mosque on foot, to avoid noise from vehicles.
In terms of theological innovation, we have the introduction of the god Sanghyang
Widhi Wasa, who has sometimes been described as a form of Brahman, detached and
nirguna, He is thus without form, and not in need of temples or statues. But lately he
has also been described as a god concerned with moral behavior, closer to Muslim and
Christian ideas of god. Modern Balinese Hindu temples have been changing, and
several temples in Bali have developed a special shrine to him, which is empty, in the
northeast corner of the temple. Sanghyang Widhi Wasa is occasionally represented by
a sketch or a statue, a person with no gender or clothing, but with flames that
represent energy or sakti emerging from cakras and joints. This image is also starting to
appear on altar cloths and other ritual items.19 Because he is a formless god, it is difficult
to find paintings or statues of him. He is described as the only god, concerned with
humanity but beyond human understanding.
While many religions show modernization primarily through the use of technology
and scientific metaphors (one informant compared the high Hindu offering towers to
cell phone towers which contact the gods), the primary locale for modernization in
Indonesian Hinduism is the public school religion curriculum.
While India does not have a public school curriculum for teaching Hinduism,
Indonesia does, and it is quite sophisticated. Religious education is understood to be an
obligation of the state, and it is understood to give students faith, and an appreciation
for religious truths (called rasa agama). Education is important throughout life, and
even Hindu pregnancy rituals have been justified as “prenatal education.” (Bakker 1993)
Religion is a compulsory topic taught in the schools, with a strong emphasis on ethics
and obedience to authority, and children must attend school for at least 6 years.
. Agama Hindu Dharma is understood to be based on revelation, a “religion of
heaven,” as opposed to the ethnic “religions of the earth” which are human-made.
A variety of types of Hinduism are incorporated into Agama Hindu Dharma in
Indonesia. Sacred texts include the Vedas and its commentarial literature, in both
Sanskrit and its related Kawi language of Old Javanese. There is respect for rishis
and ancestors, use of the Gayatri mantra, and the Vedanta concept of moksa as
sat cit ananda. Students are taught that Atman merges with Brahman, in the state
of highest liberation, and they are taught about multiple levels of body and soul.
We have the one god who manifests as the Trimurti, with Brahma, Wisnu, Siva
and their saktis (female powers and consorts), and there are dewas, awatars, and
the powerful bhatara figure (who functions as a guardian, much like Siva
bhairava). There is belief in karma and reincarnation, and the four asramas, margas
and goals of life. The textbooks include many aspects of Indian Hinduism,
including both sruti and smriti.
From yoga, we have pranayama, the body positions or asanas, and the siddhis (which
in this case belong to the deity rather than the yogic practitioner), as well as the yamas
and niyamas as brata obligations. From Sankhya philosophy, we have the tattvas, the
mahabhutas, the tanmatras, the indriyas, the three gunas, and such concepts as
manas, buddhi, and ahamkara (though the figures of Purusa and Prakriti are notably
lacking). From bhakti, we have love and singing, the emphasis on sincerity, service to
God, and the four forms of devotion (to parents, gurus, and God, with the government
added as a fourth). From the Saiva tradition, we have the three forms of Siva as
Paramasiwa and Sadasiwa, and Siwa-atma (who appears within the person). From Tantra,
we have the mandalas (sacred diagrams) of the gods, with their images and
architecture involving colors, directions, images, and weapons, and ritual chanting of mantras.
All of these diverse elements are united together in the religion textbooks for students,
which is a major locale of religious experimentation.
However, the textbooks avoid some more controversial issues. We may note that
there is no concept of outcaste or “untouchable” groups in Agama Hindu Dharma, no
emphasis on vegetarianism, and no sacred thread ceremony for the three higher castes,
as we see in Indian Hinduism. The same samskaras are available to all (or at least all
who can afford them), and there are priests for each of the castes. One need not be a
Brahmin to be a priest.
Each school year has special emphases. In the first grade, students learn about the
One God, prayer techniques, and obedience to religious authorities. In the second
grade, they learn how the gods of Hinduism are manifestations of God’s attributes, and
they learn about sacred texts (sruti and smriti). In the third grade, they learn about
human and divine leaders, the bases of major rituals and moral actions, and the
understanding of God through the categories of Saiva Siddhanta. In the fourth grade, they
learn the five basic beliefs (God, soul, karma, reincarnation, and moksha) and how to
restrain bad actions. In the fifth grade, they learn of the three bodies and Sankhya
philosophy of the gunas, mahabhutas and indriyas, and also the five types of worship. In
the sixth grade, they learn of the range of God’s powers, and the history of Agama
Hindu Dharma. In the seventh grade, they learn the obligations of secular and religious
leadership, memorize and chant religious hymns and songs, and learn the details of
temple creation and symbolism.
In the eighth grade, the students learn theology (the manifestations of God as
shown in the Saivite nava devata mandala), the relationship of the macrocosm
and microcosm, Indian forms of Hinduism, and the five offering rituals (to gods,
sages, ancestors, living people, and spirits). There is also a discussion of crime and
its consequences. In the ninth grade, they learn about the emanations of God (as
deva, bhatara and avatar), rituals performed to the various forms of God, and
more detail on the history of Hinduism in Indonesia. In the tenth grade, they learn
the theories of the astika (insider/Hindu) and nastika (outsider/non-Hindu)
philosophical schools, the nature of the soul, ethics from the Nitisastra text, and the
use of multiple calendars to calculate holidays. In the eleventh grade, there are
further details on the Sankhya theories of creation, karma, and ethical imperatives in
Hindu scriptures, and Atman and Brahman. In the twelfth grade, they learn about
ethics, caste, marriage, and law, and the obligations of Indonesian Hindus to follow
both religious and secular law.
Thus, we have the major sacred Hindu texts introduced to the children by age eight,
variations on Saiva Siddhanta taught by age nine, the Sankhya elements involved in the
microcosm and macrocosm taught by age ten, the existence of multiple levels of
material and spiritual bodies detailed age eleven, the ability to calculate holidays according to
multiple calendars taught by age fourteen, and the unity of Atman and Brahman and
the legitimacy of different religious and secular legal systems taught by age eighteen.
The students learn the philosophies of Saiva Siddhanta, Vedanta, and Sankhya, among
others. The texts take the earlier Saiva background of Indonesian religion, and combine
it with other Hindu philosophies and belief systems. They also add the dominant
categories of discourse found in Islam and Christianity: monotheism, revelation, ethics,
and moral obligation. The curriculum has shown that Indonesian Hinduism can adapt
to those requirements. As such, it has become a recognized religion, with the safety
and support that such status can bestow
(Pye et al. 2006)
Indonesian Hinduism has been influenced by Buddhism over history, and for a period
of time was fused into Siva-Buddha synthesis. We may note that experimentation is
also seen in Indonesian Buddhism, in its modern attempt to create a Buddhist
monotheism. Buddhists have had a harder time with the required monotheism, partly
because most forms of Buddhism are non-theistic, and partly because there are dozens of
Buddhist factions in Indonesia that disagree with each other. A form of Indonesian
Buddhism called Buddhayana was somewhat able to incorporate the other forms of
Buddhism under an umbrella of belief in a Buddhist deity. There has been much
disagreement over this. Some Buddhist groups accept the notion of a single celestial
Buddha, while others evade the issue and focus on ethics. Currently there are two major
Buddhist groups in Indonesia, WALUBI (or Indonesian Buddhist Trust, which accepts
Buddhayana monotheism) and KASI (Sangha Indonesia Conference, which emphasizes
ethics and pluralism, and largely ignores the issue of monotheism). There are also many
smaller groups. Buddhism has sacrificed its non-theistic perspective of universal
emptiness or nirvana, which is now interpreted to mean that nothing ultimately exists except
God. There are Indonesian Buddhist organizations rapidly coming into and out of
existence (perhaps demonstrating the Buddhist concept of impermanence).
During the medieval period, Indonesian Buddhism was fused with Hinduism, into a
form of tantric Buddhism which accepted the five meditation Buddhas (images of them
may be found on the bas-reliefs at the ninth century Borobudur temple complex in
Java). There were Siva-Buddha priests, who still practice today, and who meditate on
the mandalas of the five Buddhas and the adi-Buddha (“original Buddha”) to create the
holy water needed for rituals. Hindus can use the holy water created by Buddhist
priests, and vice versa. However, the Buddhist population of Indonesia is small, and
there is only one Buddhist village remaining in Bali. As a Balinese Buddhist priest
stated in interview:
Paramabuddha is in the center of all mandalas. There is an inner, visualized mandala
and an outer mandala. Diksha is necessary to create the inner mandala, though the
outer mandala can be learned from texts… In Bali, we worship the five tathagatas
[buddhas] together, there is no focus on individual worship. However, each tathagata
has different mantras and mudras. They are worshipped in both Saiva and Buddhist
rituals… Buddhists can perform rituals for Saivas, and Paramabuddha can give grace
(anugraha) to worshipers as Paramasiva can.20
Buddhism became an accepted religion indirectly, starting out as a subcategory of
Hinduism. There have been many forms of Buddhism practiced in Indonesia, including
Theravada, Mahayana, Tantrayana, Tridharma, Maitreya, and Nichiren. The
Buddhayana group describes itself as non-sectarian and incorporating the other forms of
Buddhism. Its founder, Bhikku Ashin Jinarakkhita, proposed in 1954 that there was a
single supreme deity, Sang Hyang Adi Buddha, basing his argument on ancient
Javanese texts, and on the shape of the Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur. The earthly
figure of Gautama Buddha was considered to be the prophet of the god Sanghyang Adi
Buddha, and the universal ethic of Buddhism was based on the four noble truths.
During the 1970’s, other Buddhist leaders also emphasized that all sects of Buddhism
in Indonesia believed in one Almighty God, adapting his absolute form as Sanghyang
Adi Buddha, his creator form as Avalokiteshvara and his savior form as Padmapani. All
sects recognize Siddhartha Gautama as a prophet, with the revealed texts as the
Tipitaka scriptures and the Sanghyang Kamahayanikan (Brown 1987). The Indonesian
Buddhist doctrine includes the existence of God, the Triple Jewel, dependent
origination, karma, rebirth, nirvana (as ultimate happiness and being with god), and the
existence of the bodhisattva. Wesak was accepted as a national holiday in 1983, which in
Indonesia represents official government acceptance. However, the issue of a
monotheistic god is still protested by several Buddhist groups, especially Theravadins.
As one national Buddhist representative phrased it, the goal for practitioners of
Buddhism in Indonesia is to be role models for peace and helping the world, so that people
will say a good person is “like a Buddhist.”21
Modernization can create strange bedfellows. Shadow puppets or wayang kulit are a
traditional form of entertainment in Bali and Java, and most often tell the stories of the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata (or the Pandava story, as it is called). However,
neither Krishna nor Rama are understood to be gods. Instead, they are heroes of the past,
more like Daniel Boone. This allows Indonesian Muslims to watch the shadow puppets
and not be involved in idolatry. The puppets are used for a variety of purposes, to get
messages out by the government and NGO’s, for teaching family planning and disaster
preparedness, and for entertainment.
A Wayang performance in 2012, in Jakarta, showed this modernization. The gamelan
orchestra played both traditional and modern Western music (this included the Shaker
song “Simple Gifts” and the Simon and Garfunkel version of the song “Scarborough
Fair” played on gamelan chimes.) There were singing and dancing police-women, as
well as traditional women singing in sarongs and kebaya blouses, with video projections
onto the wayang screen. The puppeteer or Dalang was behind the screen, and there
were politicians on both sides of it.22 Normally, the Dalang wears ritual dress of three
parts: a hat, a cloth belt, and a sarong (representing heaven, earth and the underworld).
But in this case, the Dalang jumped out amid light shows and dry ice clouds, and he
acted like a rock star, wearing a leather jacket with his sarong and playing jazz
saxophone. The story of the Pandava heroes was rock entertainment.
Television comedy shows have Wayang clowns flashing back and forth with rappers
chanting hip-hop songs, wearing dreadlocks and dancing. Women’s talk shows may be
introduced by traditional Balinese dancers in sarong and kebaya, who are then followed
by belly dancers in jingling belts, and women in yoga clothes doing dancing and
calisthenics. Religious figures have been adopted into advertising and entertainment, and
become spokesmen for merchandise.
Conclusion: current challenges
There are several areas of challenge in the area of modernization. The island of Bali has the
largest concentrated population of Hindu practitioners in Indonesia, and it has been widely
advertised as a center for American and Australian yoga, and for Buddhist meditation. There
are New Age groups from the West in Bali holding workshops and claiming to have the ‘true’
versions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Members of ISKCON have been condemning the local
Balinese Hindus, who are not vegetarian, and generally do not consider Krishna to be a god.
There are classes in Sound Yoga, Kundalini yoga, and Vinyasa, and Rajneesh and Satya Sai
Baba groups, none of which are native to Bali, as well as Nichiren and Zen groups. There are
existing New Age Indonesian groups, like Subud and Sasangka Jati, but these are largely
ignored by the foreigners. According to Balinese informants, the issue of who has the ‘true’
Hinduism and Buddhism has come up often between foreign visitors and native Balinese
people, and irritated many inhabitants of Bali. The foreigners are understood to dress
improperly, and not show appropriate respect. For academics, we have the ongoing question of
whether Agama Hindu Dharma is a subset of Indian Hinduism, or a religion of its own.
Should it be taught at the college level in relation to the religions of India?
We also see the commercialization of trance as entertainment. Tourists crowd in to
the Ubud palace to watch dancers possessed by apsarases (celestial nymphs in the
dedari dance), or to see the good Barong who struggles against the evil witch Rangda.
There have been debates among anthropologists about whether people actually enter
trance or just simulate it, especially in group trance rituals.
I interviewed several pedandas or Brahmin high priests in 2014, and they noted that
there are many degrees of trance. People rarely enter deep trance before audiences of
foreigners. Light trance occurs when dancers act out the experiences of the gods, and
through this they sense the god’s presence. Sometimes dancers are taken over by the
Taksu spirit of inspiration, which causes the dancer to become charismatic and admired.
Medium (madhya) trance tends to be found in the healers or balians, who become
possessed by the local gods and rarely remember what happened during the trance. The body
can be controlled by the deity, but the person’s soul is not free of passions. Deep or
highest (uttama) trance is believed to occur during the Saivite rituals of the pedanda priests,
especially during the creation of holy water, which sanctifies water that becomes
equivalent to Ganges water, or the nectar of immortality (amrita). At such times we have
mystical union, when the priest becomes fully identified with the essence of the god. This is
Surya-sevana, which is not a public ritual. However, most foreigners do not recognize
degrees of trance, and simply debate whether commercial trance dancers are really in trance
states or faking it- with the latter as the most popular accusation.
Another problem which concerns Hindu high priests is the commercialization and
professionalization of the banten ritual. Bali is full of offerings to deities, but the
concept of bhakti to a god is not based on emotion. Bhakti is responsibility, and following
one’s obligations to the deity. One’s bhakti works through the creation of
offeringsthus making offerings expresses the harmonious relationship with the god. When
laypeople no longer create the offerings, they lose their pathway to the god. This is a
problem both in life and in death, when corporations start to control group cremations,
and banten professionals take over the tasks that once linked communities together.
Balinese Hinduism has a great focus on material culture, and there is much debate
about how this can continue with practitioners studying abroad and travelling. All Hindu
rituals require holy water- but this must be blessed by priests, and cannot be taken in
large quantities on airplanes because of TSA requirements. Thus rituals must be
abbreviated, and substitutions made.
Indonesia is a land of compromise, in religion and also in politics. It has recently elected a
moderate Muslim as president, rejecting the hard-line general supported by Islamists. His
banners in Jakarta in 2014 said “Pluralism” in large letters. It is one of the only Muslim
countries today where there is has been political change without warfare. The elections were
quite sophisticated- there were crowds of observers with cell phones taking pictures of the
announced votes outside every polling place in Indonesia. The younger generation seemed
to be firmly supporting Joko Widodo, who came in emphasizing religious tolerance.
This is important because of the large amounts of Salafi literature and advertising coming
into Indonesia, especially from Saudi Arabia. The Salafi or Wahhabi approach is not tolerant
of other religions, and resists any sort of compromise or innovation. The most well-known
organization that serves as a conduit of Saudi funding in Indonesia is the Dewan Dakwah
Islamiyah Indonesia (the Indonesian Society for the Propagation of Islam, or DDII). Extremist
groups have been in conflict with the more tolerant forms of Islam traditional to Indonesia,
and some groups following Salafi tenets have supported Islamic violence. In Indonesia, these
have included leaders of militant groups, such as the transnational organization Jemaah
Islamiyah, and Darul Islam, which called for an Islamic state in Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s.
The DDII has built mosques, distributed Qur’ans and other Islamic literature, given
textbooks to religious schools, and trained religious leaders. It has fostered Salafi student
organizations and funded scholarships to universities in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern
countries. Indonesian students studying in the Middle East are visited by DDII
representatives. The DDII has also sought to network with other Islamic organizations at home and
abroad, including Muslim Brotherhood groups and Jemaah Islamiyah. Returning graduates
have been encouraged to emphasize the Saudi or Wahhabi interpretation of Islam in
(see von der Mehden 2014)
. They have been active in setting up mosques and
student centers. According to one informant, over a thousand Salafi mosques have been built in
Indonesia over the last few decades, funded by Saudi Arabia and staffed by Salafi imams.23
There is much concern that their lack of religious tolerance will affect attitudes towards the
other religions in Indonesia.
Dealing with extremist groups has been a great challenge for the country, and the
interfaith groups have been very active, travelling to calm down areas which have
had conflicts. In a country with 14,000 islands, it is easy to have complex conflicts
that involve politics, economics and religion. But religious modernization which
recognizes common categories of discourse, allowing shared categories of faith and
practice, has helped the country to retain peace between potentially warring
factions. Such religious innovation is important, both theologically and politically.
23.Interview, Dr. Luthfie Assyaukanie, Jaringan Islam Liberal (Liberal Islam Network), 2012.
1There are also some Old Javanese texts, such as the Sarasamuccaya, which are
considered to be divine revelations.
2In the first grade reader, to be described later in this paper, Weda is divided into
Sruti, as scriptures arranged according to the revelation from Sang Hyang Widhi, and
Smerti, scripture arranged according to the memories of the Maha Resis. As Maha Resi
Vyasa was considered to be the major organizer of the Weda scriptures, he was
emphasized as the major prophetic figure. We should note that the Indonesian spelling of
some terms resembles Sanskrit, but is spelled differently and does not use diacritical
marks (ie resi for rishi).
3These included the mahavakyas of Sankara, statements from the Vedas and
Upanishads made famous as the basis of the Advaita Vedanta school in India. For instance,
aham brahmasmi or “I am Brahman” refers to the unity of self and ultimate reality.
Kamal et al. (2006)
. Nurcholish Madjid’s 1972 dictum: “Islam yes, Islamic party
no” was a part of the platform of the reform movement, and was influential in
discouraging the development of an Islamic state in Indonesia. See
5Phalgunadi uses Suvarnabhumi to refer to Bali, while some other authors use the
term to refer to Burma.
6In its earlier draft form, the preamble to the Constitution contained the Jakarta
Charter stating that Indonesian Muslims must follow Islamic religious law (sharia), and
that the President must be Muslim (in order to properly protect Muslims). The
pancasila was a compromise between nationalist Muslims who wanted a Muslim State and
the demands of other religions. When the 1950 final version of the Constitution did
not include the Jakarta Charter, radical Muslim groups (which we would later
categorize as Islamist) broke off, creating the Darul Islam movement, arguing for an
Islamic state of Indonesia. It motivated the creation of later Islamist splinter
organizations, such as the Commando Jihad group.
7The term pancasila may also be used for the five Buddhist precepts.
8These concerns about Communism and extremism are noted by many Indonesian
writers up to the present day, both officially and in the opinion pages of Indonesian
9The requirement for a religion on the identity card has recently been lifted by the
government, and officially people should be able to leave the religion space on the
identity card blank. However, this message has not gone out to many of the islands, which
still require one of the six official religions on the identity card. As of May 20, 2015,
indigenous religions are also allowed to be written on the identity card. See http://
10Buddhism too had to become monotheistic, and went through the same sort of
challenges that Hinduism did- at one point the Bandung group proposed that the Three
Jewels be called a monotheistic entity, but currently it is Sang Hyang Adi Buddha who
is called the Buddhist God. Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity are
considered as different religions, due to historical debates.
11In the year 2000, a Presidential Decree repealed the ban on Chinese religion (once it
became the monotheistic worship of the Sky God). Now Confucian marriages can be
officially registered, and its followers can get government identity cards. There was earlier
tension over accepting Chinese religion, as Chinese Communists were implicated in the
coup of 1965. Confucians are now in the process of organizing Indonesian religious
textbooks, focused on the Ru tradition, of which Confucius was the last prophet. The one god
is Tian or Shang Ti, who is understood to forgive sins, and accept the soul after death.
12Religious organizations other than the five accepted groups can register with the
Ministry for Culture and Tourism, but only as social organizations. Such groups cannot rent places
to hold services and must find other means to perform rituals. They often have problems
registering marriages and children’s births, and the lack of a birth certificate can prevent the
child from enrolling in school, getting government scholarships, and having government jobs.
Indigenous beliefs are considered to be cultural traditions, but not religions.
14See Wikipedia statistics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism_by_country
Accessed June, 2015.
15These included the mahavakyas (“great sayings”) of Sankara, statements from the
Vedas and Upanishads made famous as the basis of the Advaita Vedanta school in India.
16On this topic, see the work of
Picard, Michel (2011
17For the record, here are the last verses, following the Gayatri/Savitri prayer and
prayers to Narayana and Siva. The translation is by Ida Pedanda Gde Putra Tlabah,
from interview, 2014:
OM, I am full of sorrow, my action is full of sins, my soul is so destitute, and my birth is also so poor. Save me
from all this sorrow, purify my body and mind.
OM, forgive me Mahadeva, He who gives salvation to all sentient beings, save me from all this sorrow, guide
me, redeem and protect me, O Sada Siva
OM, Forgive my sinful deeds, forgive my wrong speech, forgive my sinful mind, forgive me for all those misdeeds.
OM, May there be Peace, Peace, Peace forever, OM.
The author declares that he/she has no competing interests.
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18Interview, Ida Pedanda Putra Yoga, Hindu priest, Tabanan, 2014 .
19Interview, Pinda, local driver, Ubud , 2010 .
20Interview, Ida Pedanda Jlantik Duaja, Buddhist priest, Budakeling, 2012 .
21Interview, Cornelis Wowor , former Director of Religious Affairs for Buddhism, Ministry of Religions, and professor , Sriwijaya Public College, Tangarang. 2010 .
22A popular saying is that politics is like wayang, with secret puppet masters, so corruption can never be fixed .
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