Bali – A Home Away From Home

It was a short official visit to the beach town of Bali, but a memory I will treasure forever. On reaching the airport, at first, I was a little surprised when a charming young Balinese woman greeted me with a Namaste, saying “Om swasti astu.” (May God shower grace upon you) knowing that I was from India. Lakshmilatha, as she introduced herself, was supposed to be my escort who would drop me to Pan Pacific Nirvana, the luxurious resort where my stay had been arranged.

The massive charioteer

The massive charioteer

En route from the airport to the resort, as I was looking around the place from the car, what surprised me even more were the signboards – big and small – all over the place and names of the villas that read: Srirama, Laxmimata, Lakshmana, Nakula, Bhimsena and so on.

Even though a bit jet lagged, I wondered for a fraction of second where I am? Of course, at the face of it, you will become aware that Hinduism is alive and well in East Asia. Needless to say, I also did a bit of reading before reaching this place, but the real experience was unique. It was as if I am seeing a mini India in Bali!

It’s amazing that an island in the middle of a Muslim majority Indonesia has over 92 percent of Hindu population. The different structures I came across on the way were a reaffirmation of this tradition and culture. On the way, two stark structures – a massive charioteer with a warrior perched on top of it – a closer look suggested it’s Arjuna and Krishna – and another which looked suspiciously like a dancing Nataraja simply drew my breath away.

Lakshmilatha told me that in ancient Bali, nine Hindu sects existed, namely Pasupata, Bhairawa, Siwa Shidanta, Waisnawa, Bodha, Brahma, Resi, Sora and Ganapatya. Each sect revered a specific deity as its personal Godhead. There are even ardent Hindus who recite a version of the Gayatri Mantra with great regularity. Amazingly, it is said that if a Balinese is asked what heaven is like, he will turn around and say – just like Bali, without the worries of everyday hurly burly of life. They want to live in Bali, to be cremated in Bali when they die, and to reincarnate in Bali.

I grabbed a book from a local book store to understand the historical intricacies of the place. The island of Bali has been discovered from various inscriptions, including the Blanjong pillar inscription written by Sri Kesari Warmadewa in 914 AD. It was during this time that the complex irrigation system subak was developed to grow rice. Some religious and cultural traditions still in existence today can be traced back to this period. The Hindu Majapahit Empire (1293-1520 AD) on eastern Java founded a Balinese colony in 1343. When the empire declined, there was an exodus of intellectuals, artists, priests, and musicians from Java to Bali in the 15th century.

It was much later in 1930s that Bali became a tourist paradise for the western world. anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and artists Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies, and musicologist Colin McPhee created a western image of Bali as “an enchanted land of aesthetes at peace with themselves and nature.” This is when the western world woke up to Bali as this mystical land. But its Hindu spirit remained unharmed.

There are many parallels between Indian Hinduism and Balinese Hinduism. For example, within Indian Hinduism most people worship Brahman as a supreme deity and within Balinese Hinduism most people worship Sanghyang Widhi Wasa as a supreme deity. Sanghyang Widhi Wasa is similar to Brahman, in that he is believed to embody all universal dualities and have many incarnations. Within Balinese Hinduism, Dewi Sri also represents a very special deity. She is believed to be a Balinese Hindu figure that the Balinese historically did not derive from another culture. Dewi Sri is the consort of Wisnu, the Goddess of rice, the Goddess of sustenance, and the protector and nurturer of Bali’s rice fields.

Almost all of the Balinese Hindu Gods and Goddesses were historically assimilated, into Balinese Hinduism, from Indian Hinduism. However, this assimilation process did not always take place as a result of direct contact between the Balinese and Indians. Many Balinese Hindu beliefs and practices, were assimilated into Balinese Hinduism because of historical contacts that the Balinese had with the Javanese.

Pan Pacific Nirvana was my home for a couple of days in Bali. The fancy five star resort was ideal for those just wanting to luxuriate – with spas, massage, swimming pools, and meditation retreats. Because I was there to attend a summit, I could not go on a major expedition. But some of the things I saw, I enjoyed and got a strange feeling that I had been here some time before!

Getting an Indian flavour in a country so far away from home was enthralling. The town has a culture than resembled South India more than the North. At times I felt I was in a pristine South Indian town – listening to the music of Nakara flowing inside and around the temples and seeing young girls with orange and white flowers in their hair moving on the streets. Each day young Balinese women place floral offerings to the gods in front of every home or shop doorway. You can get the smell of agarbattis all over the place – creating a serene and calm atmosphere.

Many Bali hotels and resorts hire Indian chefs and local eateries and restaurants that proudly have Hindu names on their signboards and sell dahi puris to masoor dal and vegetable jalfrezi and chicken makhanwala.

I happened to visit a quaint, but highly expensive shopping cum eating arcade – Bali Collection – that was positioned in the middle of an enclave. What greeted me was a full length statue of Mahatma Gandhi along with Nelson Mandela that automatically brought a smile at the corner of my lips. I was also quite enthralled to see the bust of Rabindranath Tagore at one of the market complexes.

I vaguely remembered reading about Tagore’s visit to Bali when he was on a three and a half month Southeast Asian tour in 1927. Tagore said that he was going on a pilgrimage to India beyond its modern political boundaries.  He wrote: “India’s true history reflected in the many stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata will be seen more clearly in this part of the world.”

As I explored a small picturesque village overlooking the paddy field and clear blue sky, a scent of rural ancient India filled the air. I could feel the true meaning of Tagore’s words… literally!

Advertisements

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Gede Prama on January 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you very much, I’am really glad that I’m following you. I’m still figuring out. Just wanted to say that you are an awesome blogger, Inspiring and May you inspire more readers essentially perfectly ok. greetings from Gede Prama 🙂

    Reply

    • Posted by Soho on January 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      Thanks so much for reading my blog. It’s an honour actually. I found your Songs of Compassion really wonderful. Will go thru them some time soon 🙂 Keep spreading the message of love and joy
      Warm regards,
      Sohini

      Reply

  2. Posted by Harshita Kumar on January 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Your writing is amazing… the observation is superb. i often visit Bali as i have my business there. feel the same way. keep it up

    Reply

  3. Posted by Nycil on January 9, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Makes me feel like visiting the place. That is indeed wonderful. Keep writing Soho 🙂

    Regards
    Nycil George

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: