Hinduism in Indonesia

Hinduism was the main religion in Indonesia before Islam came to the country through Muslim traders in the 12th and 13th centuries. Hinduism came to Indonesia as early as the 1st century. By the 4th century, Hindu states had been established on Java. Hinduism spread throughout the rest of Indonesia and reached its peak in the 14th century. Although most of Indonesia was Muslim by the end of the 16th century, Bali remained Hindu. In 1959, the Indonesian government recognized Hinduism as an official religion. Indonesian Hindus practice Dharma Hinduism because of this. It was a major reform movement that lobbied for Hindus’ rights in Bali. This reform helped start a revival of Hinduism in Indonesia.

Balinese Hinduism does not emphasize cycles of rebirth and reincarnation. Instead it focuses on local and ancestral spirits. The temples are compounds with courtyards and altars. They have walls around the outside, with intricate gates into the compounds. Every Balinese person belongs to a temple based on his descent or residence. Some temples are associated with the family house compound. Priests are not affiliated with specific temples, but act as spiritual advisors to individual families in villages throughout the island. Priests are usually hired for ceremonies with holy water, but otherwise, most Balinese go to dukuns (shaman).  (Wikipedia)

Important aspects of Balinese Hinduism are ritualized states of self-control. Ceremonies often include dance-dramas, one of which is a battle between the mythical characters Rangda the witch (adharma, or disorder) and Barong the predator (dharma). The performers fall into a trance and try to stab themselves with knives. The main purpose of this ceremony is to restore balance.  (Wikipedia)

Indonesia’s constitution is known as Pancasila. It gives freedom of religion, but requires those religions to be monotheistic. Because of this, Balinese Hindus have reinforced the monotheistic aspect of Hinduism. Hindu monotheists believe in one supreme god, with the other gods just being manifestations of him. In Sanskrit, this god is named Acintya, but Indonesians know him as Tunggal or Sanghyang Widi Wasa, which is actually the more common name among modern Balinese. Tunggal holds the same concept as Brahman, and he is the supreme god in Indonesian puppetry (wayang). Tunggal is often associated with the sun god, and in most pictures, there are flames around him. Prayers and offerings are not given directly to Tunggal, but to other manifestations of him.

Although most Indonesian Hindus are Balinese, Hinduism is also found in other areas. The Tengger in East Java are also Hindu. The Tengger’s Hinduism is a little different from the Balinese. Their traditions are based on Hindu practices from the Majapahit era. The Manusela also practice Hinduism. They live in the Maluku Islands.



  1. Rosemary Bolton says

    The “Hinduism” practiced by the Manusela people in Maluku is not true Hinduism. There are several people groups who practice their traditional religion on the islands of Seram and Buru in Maluku. In order to conform to the national requirement to belong to one of the 5 recognized religions they call themselves “Hindu”. The Manusela people live on Seram island. I work on Seram island with the Nuaulu people who also call their traditional religion “Hindu”.

    • Praying for Indonesia says

      Thank you for this information! We want to partner with as many workers as we can, helping people learn more about Indonesia and the people who live there.

  2. In addition to what Rosemary says, this mass labeling is widespread in Indonesia on a massive scale. A majority of Javanese are not Muslim in the orthodox sense. They are influenced by Sufi aspects of Islam, but their own creeds are plural syncretic intertwining with Hindu-Buddhist and indigenous faith. Agama Jawa is not recognized by the state. Indonesia is made up of tens of millions of people whose faith does not strictly conform to the original three (Islam, Protestant, Catholic), then five (addition of Hinduism and Buddhism), and now seven(Confucianism and Daoism) official religions.

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