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Hinduism throbbing high in South East Asia (Part I of III)

Hinduism throbbing high in South East Asia (Part I of III)

Author: Ratnadeep Banerji
Publication: Organiser
Date: August 24, 2008
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=251&page=16

Introduction: Agama Hindu Dharma is the variant of Hinduism as practised in Indonesia. It upholds the sanctity of the Vedas as its supreme scripture though only two of the Vedas were ever able to reach Bali. Other scriptures include the Puranas and the Itihasa (mainly comprising the Ramayana and the Mahabharata).

Agama Hindu Dharma believes in one Supreme Being and that all the gods like Brahma as the creator, Vishnu as the preserver and Shiva as the destroyer are manifestations of this Supreme Being. Lord Shiva is worshipped under different forms such as Batara Guru and Maharaja Dewa and often closely related with the Sun in Kebatinan that is the local form of Hinduism and even in the genie lore of Muslims.

"Religion is the manifestation of divinity already present in man" as Swami Vivekananda put it succinctly. And quite so, Hinduism with its tenet, 'Truth is One' has burgeoned and blossomed in pluralistic societies with aplomb panache. Proselytizing has ever since been disdained upon. But yet, the latent charisma has permeated into alien lands percolating into varied ethnic strata. Southeast Asian archipelago stands testimony to the affable nature of Hinduism, be it Malayasia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, or the Philippines notwithstanding the prevailing state religion, Hinduism is alongside revered and practised. In the south-east Asia, Hinduism has made forays into its culture in multifarious realms, be it language and script or art and architecture.

This saga of transmigration of Hinduism erupted in around 200 BC when traders from India, in particular Magadha and Tamil kingdoms fared the sea to reach Dwipantara or Jawa Dweepa on the islands of Java and Sumatra. Champa civilisation in southern parts of Central Vietnam, Funan and Khmer Empire in Cambodia, the Srivijayan kingdom in Sumatra, the Singhsari kingdom and the Majapahit kingdom based in Java, Bali and the Phillipine archipelago have all put up a resilient scintillating tapestry of pervasive Hinduism.

Indonesia-Java, Bali, Sumatra, Malaya, Kalimantan (major part of erstwhile Borneo), Lombok, down the ages Hinduism has held a major sway over Bali, Java and Sumatra as well as in Lombok and Kalimantan in realms of religion and culture. Sanskrit was highly esteemed throughout. During the sixth and seventh centuries while the trade interactions was on the rise several scholars from India visited these kingdoms to translate literary and religious texts.

Agama Hindu Dharma is the variant of Hinduism as practised in Indonesia. It upholds the sanctity of the Vedas as its supreme scripture though only two of the Vedas were ever able to reach Bali. Other scriptures include the Puranas and the Itihasa (mainly comprising the Ramayana and the Mahabharata). Agama Hindu Dharma believes in one Supreme Being and that all the gods like Brahma as the creator, Vishnu as the preserver and Shiva as the destroyer are manifestations of this Supreme Being. Lord Shiva is worshipped under different forms such as Batara Guru and Maharaja Dewa and often closely related with the Sun in Kebatinan that is the local form of Hinduism and even in the genie lore of Muslims. The caste system, the Varnas of Hinduism though adopted but was not impinged upon the Indonesian society. The Brahmins became the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas became the Satriyas or Devas, Vaishyas became the waisyas and the Shudras became the sudras.

In Bali as much as 93 per cent of the total population follows Agama Hindu Dharma though taken overall among the Indonesian population, only about 3 per cent is Hindu. In fact, Indonesian beliefs are inexorably interlinked that it turns ambiguous to classify any one religion as a distinctive religion.

Java

Majapahit stood an Indianised kingdom based in eastern Java during 1293 to 1500. It marked the last of the major Hindu empires of the Malay Archipelago. Majapahit hegemony prevailed over Java. Garuda was prevalent in several temples including Prambanan temple complex initially erected during Mataram era. The well-known statue of King Airlangga has Vishnu riding Garuda. During Airlangga's reign, Mpu Kanwa composed the Arjuna Wiwaha text, an adaptation culled from the Mahabharata. Sanskrit language was held in high esteem. Several Hindu kingdoms flourished in the region with Majapahit being the most prominent. In the sixteenth century when the Muslim kingdoms became powerful, Java was substantially converted to Islam (except the eastern part) the remnants of Majapahit shifted to Bali.

The deified statue of King Airlangga embodies Vishnu mounting Garuda, found in Java.

In Java, Islam crept in but it ran rough shod at popular and cultural level. Despite the majority of Javanese becoming Muslims kowtowing their rulers, they remained Hindus in their heart. Existing indigenous Javanese and Hindu traditions remained with the rural population and even the royal courts carried on the ritual practices. Even now, substantial number of Muslims follow a non-orthodox form, Islam Kharma that is influenced by Hinduism.

Hindu-animist fusion emerged in several Javanese communities and remained preserved. The Osings of East Java have great similarities to that of Bali. Despite the Buddhist affiliation by the Government, Tenggerese religion has elements of Hinduism as they worship the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Badui besides having their own religion bear several Hindu traits.

The statue of Harihara, with twin combination of Shiva and Vishnu

The Prambanan temple complex has an effulgent grandeur on account of its stupendous architecture. The main shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva flanked by Vishnu and Brahma on either side. In the front of these temples are smaller temples, dedicated to the vahanas (mounts) of these Gods. There are other shrines as well, dedicated to Durga, Rishi Agastya and his son Lord Ganesha. The balustrades of these main shrines have bas-relief that depicts exquisite bas-relief portraying legends from the Ramayana. Quite sadly, the temple stands damaged after the earthquake of 2006.

The three main shrines of the trinity in Prambanan temple complex-a UNESCO World heritage site

Bali

Rishi Markandeya spread Buddhism to Bali in the fifth century AD. Balinese Hinduism lacks the traditional Hindu make over putting lesser emphasis on scriptures, laws and beliefs. Instead art and rituals take the lead. Beliefs in concepts of rebirth and reincarnation take a backstage but a myriad of local and ancestral spirits are revered. Balinese Hinduism lay great emphasis on dramatic and aesthetically gratifying acts of ritual propitiation to appease spirits at temples widely scattered all around.

The Mother Temple of Besakih belongs to Angma Hindu Dharma, a significant temple in Bali

Hindu holidays in Bali

Hari Raya Saraswati is a Hindu holiday in Bali devoted to Goddess Saraswati. The Balinese year is of 210 days and Saraswati Day marks the New Year, according to Balinese Pawukon calendar. Balinese Hindus celebrate the day to commemorate her success in taming the wandering and lustful mind of her consort, Brahma who was preoccupied with the goddess of material existence, Shatarupa. Interestingly, on this day no one is allowed to read and write and offerings are made to the lontar (palm-leaf scripts), books and shrines. Elaborate prayers and celebrations on a huge scale mark the occasion.

Hari Raya Nyepi is a Hindu day of Silence and marks the Hindu New Year in the Balinese Saka calendar. It is the largest celebration held in Bali as well as in Balinese

Hindu communities around Indonesia

Hari Raya Galungan is celebrated to mark the incarnation of gods and the ancestral spirits to earth to dwell again.

Sumatra and Malaya (present Malaysia)
The last prince of Srivijayan kingdom of Sumatra after loosing to Majapahits converted to Islam in 1414 to seek alliance with the Portuguese. Hinduism finds itself in the local customs adats and in norms of customary law and conflict resolution. The Bataks of Sumatra have identified their animist traditions with Hinduism.

Hinduism was rife in Malaysia till the 15th century when Islamisation started. Traces of Hindu influence remain in the Malay language, literature and art. During the 19th and 20th centuries Indian settlers thronged the rubber plantations and Hinduism went along with them. Shaivite tradition is in vogue. But Hinduism remains in a sordid state with widespread persecution and temple demolitions.

The statue of Hindu deity Murugan, stands at 42.7m at the Batu Caves in Malaysia. It was built in 1891.

Erstwhile Borneo (presently Kalimantan, East Malaysia, Brunei) and Sulawesi

Hinduism in Sulawesi is a rather recent phenomenon. It was by Balinese migrants to the islands in 1963. In 1977, the Trojas of the island converted to Hinduism en masse. To desist from conversions by Christian missionaries who tried to woo them, the Trojas took to Hinduism to preserve their faith and practice of animist nature. However, their practices are unlike Balinese Hinduism or Indian Hinduism.

The Dayak adherents of the Kaharingan religion (officially put under Hinduism) in Kalimantan Tengah account for 15.8 per cent of population as of 1995. They resemble Balinese Hindus.

Hinduism exists in some nondescript islands of Indonesia

In the Lombok Island, the Bodha sect of the Sasak people practise a religion that is admixture of Hinduism and Buddhism with animism though the government has officially sanctioned it as Buddhism. Several of Manusela and Nuaulu people of Seram follow Naurus, a syncretism of Hinduism with animist and protestant elements.

(To be continued)


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