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To the Island of the Gods

October 1, 2007

Rediff columnist Francois Gautier, a French writer and journalist based in India for the last 33 years, visited Indonesia recently and made a special journey to the island of Bali.

He offers his unusual impressions of this island, one of the country's 33 provinces, and famous for its temples and performing arts. Bali is a majority Hindu island in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

For a lover of India's spirituality, Hinduism in Bali represents a refreshing and wonderful experience. Balinese Hinduism is a Puranic one that came peacefully from India in the fourth century AD.

Because there was no real connection with India after the eighth century, it remained pure and was not diluted by the ritualism of the later Vedantic Indian period.

Balinese Hindus worship one Supreme Divinity, although you do find many of the Hindu Gods -- Ganesh, Vishnu (called Wishnu), Shiva etc. There are women priests, something that is missing in modern Indian Hinduism. Homes are temples in themselves, which create strong family bonding.

When Balinese do go to temples, twice or three times a year, it is a marvellous informal, non-ritualistic ceremony, which has Buddhist (when Buddhism was not dissociated from Hinduism) and Tibetan similarities. Like the way women raise their hands over their heads, a flower in it, or how they stack food offerings (Tibet must have received some of the same influences as Bali from an ancient non self-centred Buddhism).

Image: Balinese Hindu devotees pray at the Jagat Natha temple in Denpasar, the capital of Bali.
Text: Francois Gautier | Photograph: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images

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