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Hinduism in Bali

A scene from the epic Mahabharata

A scene from the epic Mahabharata: Garuda overcomes the gods and steals the nectar of immortality, 1875-1925. Indonesia; Bali. Paint on cotton. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Katherine Ball, 2010.352.

One of oldest existing religions, Hinduism originated in South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) and dates back more than 3000 years, beyond 1000 BCE. It is the most widely practiced religion in Asia. It has no historical founder, and its authority rests on a large body of sacred texts (the Vedas) that provide Hindus with rules governing worship, ritual, and daily life.

Basic beliefs:

  • Absolute and unlimited god
  • Because unlimited, God has infinite qualities—God can be formless or assume any form
  • Many forms or "gods" in Hinduism represent different qualities of one god
  • Vishnu has visited the earth in a number of forms during times of trial, to fight various forms of evil
  • In his seventh visit, Vishnu appears as the personification of the ideal man, Rama

The majority of Balinese practice a form of Hinduism that is entwined with Buddhist and animistic beliefs. Although the main Hindu gods are worshipped, equal attention is paid to local, agricultural, and ancestral deities. The Hinduism of Bali has been described as a religion that emphasizes correct conduct above precise knowledge of a unified religious system. The Balinese conceive of the world as being inhabited by a host of unseen deities, demons, ancestral spirits, and local divinities. The primary focus of much ritual activity is to thank or appease these positive and negative forces to ensure protection and prosperity. An ordinary villager is much more aware of the many offerings, ceremonies, and festivals that are a part of daily life than of any particular religious text. These ritual actions may differ from region to region, village to village, family to family.