Hindunesia 3


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Hindunesia by Alix Landmann is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at wiwitan.org.

Contemporary Indonesian Hinduism: One for all and all for One

The core values at the nucleus of Balinese culture and religion are Indo-Melanesian, Hindu and Buddhist – significantly influenced by Buddhist and Shivaist Tantrism. (Fic 2003) Culture, religion, legal tradition and art are closely related, and form an inseparable cluster – each element inspiring the other. (Ida Pedanda Bajing, Interview 2006)

The Balinese do not consider themselves to be the singular Hindu community in Indonesia. They are aware that Hinduism as a “way of life” belongs to all human kind, to India and Indonesia alike. Hinduism is not exclusively Balinese, but it belongs to numerous Indonesian ethnic groups – only every ethnic group has their own ritual, etiquette, ethics, ancestors and local Gods, which are manifestations of One Supreme Lordship. This functional interpretation (Triguna, protocol 2007) enabled the Balinese reformers to sustain the megalithic practices of ancestor veneration and to integrate their ancestors as manifestations of One Supreme Lordship into the national monotheism. Likewise, the functional interpretation made it possible to integrate all the different pantheons of local and ethnic gods and goddesses as manifestations or “rays” of One Supreme Lordship (Upadeca 1967: 17; Triguna protocol 2007) – thereby complying with the national provisions on religion at the same time.

 In consequence, during the years of politization of religion in Indonesia from 1959-1970, several ethno-religious groups in Sulawesi and Kalimantan joined Indonesian Hindu Dharma. In 1964, the Hindu Council joined for pragmatic political reasons the Joint Secretariat of the Functional Groups (Sekber Golkar), because “the situation forced us to do so” (Interview Sudharta 2008). With this political move, the Hindu Council aspired to “save the Hindu congregation outside Bali – the friends at the other islands” (Interview Sudharta 2008). As Hindus, they could not be accused of being Communists during this particular period of Indonesian history, or of not having a religion, but those ethno-religious groups were regarded as legitimate members of the recognized universal Agama Hindu, and therefore protected by the state and given the same political and civil rights as to receive birth certificates, identity cards, and jobs in the government.

There are the following Hindu communities in Indonesia: Balinese, Javanese (Wongso Kulon and Wongso Weton), Tenggerese, Kaharingan, Toraja, Mamasa, Aluktodolo, Batak Karo, and Hindus in Lombok, Madura, Lampung, Ambon (Engki), Medan (Indians), and the Sikh community (joined in 2005).

After 1965, during the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Hindu Dharma Indonesia emerged gradually as unitary religion in the arena of Indonesian politics and religion. It is my hypothesis, that it serves as a political and conceptual bulwark or canopy for local ethno-religious traditions and practices gathering under its administrative umbrella for the following reasons:

  • to avoid persecution under the Suharto regime, or by Islamists
  • to receive state funding
  • to receive state protection
  • to be safe from Christian proselytizing and and Islamic dakwah
  • to enjoy the same civil and political rights as the Muslim majority and Christians.

Hindu Dharma Indonesia is accordingly a “political and conceptual” (Picard 2004) meta-framework for ethnic and individual beliefs and practices classified as Hindu. Despite the regional and local variations in orthopraxis, ethics and theology, one unitary system of creed is maintained throughout Indonesia.

This unitary version is designed to a large extent by Balinese Hindu reformers from the 1950s onwards, who are represented in the Hindu Council and the Hindu Directorate General. Of course, the overrepresentation of Balinese reformers in both institutions results in conflicts and tensions within the elites of those ethno-religious groups, as I could observe at the Annual Meeting of the Hindu Council in 2007 and the Workshop on Internal Pluralism organized by the Hindu Directorate in 2007. One point of controversy, for example, is that the Hindu Directorate General builds temples following the Balinese model throughout Indonesia, which does not conform to the local architecture outside of Bali. Tensions also arise in reference to the appointment of officials, and teachers, and the distribution of funding. (Fieldwork in Kalimantan 2011)

Hindu class textbooks are another point of ardent dispute, because they teach a Balinese-Indian version of Hinduism with little concern to the local variants of other ethnic Hindus. However, these points of contention and controversy are internally debated and the internal pluralism is respected – this is in my view of utmost necessity, as the Hindu minority as an “ant” needs to demonstrate internal unity and uniformity of creed towards the “elephant” of the Muslim majority, if it wants to survive. Since 2006, the Hindu congregation increasingly acknowledges their internal plurality and the overrepresentation of Balinese in both institutions decreases, as members of the other Hindu ethnicities are increasingly pushed to complete higher education in order to be appointed to positions in the central and regional government. In addition, the KTSP textbooks acknowledge increasingly local content in the Hindu class.

In consequence, it is my hypothesis, that Hindu Dharma Indonesia is best described as a designed religion. It is a canopy under which local groups united by ethno-religious practices gather to achieve the same political and civil rights as the majority religion, or rather, the people of the book, as Islam and Christianity were recognized as agama from MORA’s inception in 1946 onwards. Until today, the interpretation of Hindu Dharma Indonesia continues using Islam and Christianity as a system of reference or standard-setting tool, especially educational models of both religions. (Triguna, Protocol of Interview, 2007). In consequence, Hindu Dharma Indonesia provides a pluralisticframework for all archipelagic Hindu religions. This pluralistic and functional interpretation is sponsored and promoted increasingly by the Hindu Directorate General for the Guidance of the Indonesian Hindu community. The graph illustrates my conception of Indonesian Hinduism as One for All and All for One:

Because Indonesian Hindus are distributed over the entire archipelago, there are several interpretations of Hindu Dharma Indonesia, but despite those differences in understanding and performance, which originate in the various ethnic traditions, Hindu experts maintain that the basic concept of One Supreme Lordship is identical. Oversimplified, Hindu Dharma Indonesia exists primarily in the heads of the elites and their discourses, and in the Hindu class textbooks, but in practice, there is Agama Hindu Bali which differs from village to village, there is Agama Tengger, Agama Kaharingan, Agama Aluk To Dolo, Agama Sikh and so on. The Hindu fondness for pluralism is seen as being rooted in variations of religious practice throughout the Archipelago, and these variations may be interpreted using a religious, historical, geographic, or individual approach. Interestingly, this understanding is in perfect harmony with the megalithic traditions of legal (cf. Hooker 978; Munoz 2006) and religious plurality and pluralism in the Archipelago, where the awareness of “internalized or internal pluralism”, “a consciousness of other societies at the core of each society’s self-definition”. (Bowen 2003: 12) seems to constitute the main socio-cultural trajectory.

From the religious viewpoint, in the past, manifold “ways of life” or dharma (the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian dharma) and numerous differing Hindu cults coexisted in the Archipelago, moreover various local traditions were practiced in Bali, therefore the historical inter-religious and intra-religious plurality is considered to be an expression of the pluriform and polyphone manifestation of One Supreme Lordship (Balinese: Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa). As possible roots for this polyphony or this understanding of plurality, one may adduce 1.) the Hindu philosophical systems (darsana), which approach the empiric one reality with different methods; and 2.) the tantric Samkya-Logic, in which the variety of creation emerged from two basic principles, which originated in one principle. During meditation, the practitioners are required to repeat the steps of creation, but he proceeds from variety to oneness (Upadeca 1967: 17; Triguna protocol 2007, Suka Yasa Interview 2007) In consequence, one conception is applied at different local sets of traditions and practices (local genius, desa, kala, patra) and therefore various understandings and practices emerge. The individualistic and spiritual viewpoint assumes one principal understanding, yet for the fact that humans vary in their spiritual intelligence, their level of understanding and realization varies profoundly.

All groups united in the Indonesian Hindu congregation share the same concept of One Supreme Lordship, and its basic creeds (Panca Shradda), but rituals, and traditions in each denomination vary. Basically, there is only one official understanding of One Supreme Lordship. The geographic condition of Indonesia, however, is used to explain the intra-Hindu plurality expressed in the veneration of different local Gods, variations in ritual and ethics. Those variations arose because the Hindu denominations have different ancestors, or religious teachers (guru), who spread their teaching in one region, but not in another, or simply due to immigration. For example, ancestor veneration is a central element of all indigenous Hindu denomination and has its origin in megalithic times, whereas for the Indian Hindus and the Sikh community, it is of minor importance. The Indian Goddess Sri Lakshmi is not indigenous to Bali, and was not known in the 1930s – the Balinese equivalent would be Rambut Sedana. The process of cross fertilization between Indian and Balinese Hindu traditions after 1950, however, gave birth to Sri Sedana.

In conclusion, in the retrospective view, differences are explained by individual spiritual capability to understand and realize faith, and the will to upgrade and deepen continuously religious and spiritual knowledge, which depends on the stage of reincarnation. In essence, every Hindu denomination follows their own traditions, while at the same time it maintains the basic five creeds (panca Sradha) of Hindu Dharma Indonesia.

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3 thoughts on “Hindunesia

    • ALIX

      Dear amarjiva,
      namaste! Om swasty Astu!
      Thank you for carefully reading my post – indeed your question has been really helpful. I think you refer to following sentence:
      “For example, ancestor veneration is a central element of all indigenous Hindu denomination and has its origin in megalithic times, whereas for the Indian Hindus and the Sikh community, it is of minor importance.” Let me clarify : You are right, of course is ancestor veneration predominant in all Hindu traditions.
      1. I refer to Indian migrants to Indonesia, as I speak of Indonesia, and Hinduism in Indonesia from a political perspective – that the Indian expatriate Sikh community has joined the Hindu Congregation for funding and administration is really interesting, isnt’t it?
      I think we agree on the point that “Hinduism” is multi-faceted and complex. There are many paksa or sampradaya in the fold of what is termed “Hinduism” and several acharya or guru. There is no single authoritative Hindu body in India, whereas in Indonesia we find the Ministry of Religions, which since 1963 tries to formalize and unify Hindu traditions in Indonesia: faith, ethics, rituals with more or less success. Whereas India remains to be a secular country, Indonesia introduced state-theism in 1945, that is, the first principle of the state is the Faith in One Supreme Lordship, manifested in six state funded religions: Islam, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucian.
      2. I am sure that Indian migrants do have other pitrs as Indonesian Hindus, and therefore the rituals performed by Indonesian Hindus and Indian Hindus in Indonesia and India to honor the ancestors aim at not identical ancestors and are also different in style and elaboration. With ancestors I refer here to the progenitors of humanity and the deceased forefathers or family members. Thus, the Indonesian Hindus ancestors rituals are of minor importance to Indian migrants to Indonesia. I do not think that an Indian Hindu of whatever kula, might venerate an Balinese or Dayak pitr by conducting a Balinese or Kaharingan ritual. In consequence, WHAT I MEANT, as I speak of Indonesia, that the pitr-yajnas Indonesian Hindus perform are designed for the particular progenitor and deceased of the particular group or family performing them and are different in ritual syntax and semantics as those of Indian Hindus in India or Indonesia – simply as they honor different progenitors and ancestors.
      However, the idea or concept of ancestor veneration is similar, as Hindu rituals for the deceased shall remove the body, provide a coping mechanism for the remaining family and community, help the deceased soul to enter the ancestors’ realm, provide the ancestors in the ancestor-world (pitr-loka) with the necessary attention, so they might be able to protect their living descendants on earth.
      It would be an interesting question, in how far Vedic, Brahmanic and Puranic apical progenitors as brahma, the prajapatis, and purusa are known and revered by the Hindu communities in Indonesia (clerical and lay).
      At all, the nonnegotiable duty of a son (putra) is to offer sraddha (religious service) to his ancestors or forefathers to save them from becoming a malevolent ghost and install them in the ancestor-world where they become a benevolent ancestor. This is the duty of the son and the core of Indian and Indonesian Hindu ancestor veneration.
      I hope I could answer your question.
      Thank you
      Om Cantih Cantih Cantih Om

  • Amar

    Dear Alix, Matur suksma!
    Thanks a lot for the long reply! As you have understood, the Indian Hindus not only in Bali/Indonesia but all around the world( except Surinam, Mauritius and some West Indies islands) tend to be a short-cut Hindu with emphasis on their main purpose to be in the land of their overseas stay( business and material prosperity or sometimes seeking self-ego satisfaction by creating a huge(!) Narayanswami types of temples). Hence, no patience like Balinese to offer so many prayers regularly and daily, including the one for their ancestors.
    The Sikhs in Indonesia entering the fold of Hinduism for getting state license to retain their identity may be also looked at as in spite of their 300 plus years existence, officially( and by the laws of the Indian Constitution) they are part of Hinduism in India( also Buddhism, and Jainism too). So,if they are in the fold of Hinduism in Indonesia, it is just the continuation of the legal Indian concept of broad meaning of Hinduism. That is why, when Buddhism was separated from Bimas Hindu, it was seen in the official circle (in this part of the world) strangely.
    Is it possible to get your email where I can share long ideas on the issue of Hinduism in Indonesia?