Bali’s ‘Indian connection’ is striking (Feature With Images)

April 11th, 2009 - 10:30 am ICT by IANS  

By Azera Rahman
Denpasar (Bali), April 11 (IANS) In all probability, the driver of the cab that you hire from the airport to the town will be a Sanjay or a Ram. As you hit the road, you will cross several yoga centres, ayurvedic spas, restaurants serving pure vegetarian Indian food and even a mall named Ramayana.

Welcome to Bali, the steamy, pulsating, culturally-vibrant Hindu-majority island in a Muslim-majority naton.

This tiny Indonesian island, about 1,000 km from Jakarta, is famous for its exotic beaches, pristine lakes, beautiful temples and exciting nightlife amongst tourists who flock here. And although locals admit that there was a slight dent on the tourism front after the Islamist bombings in 2002 and 2005, normalcy has since returned.

Almost 93 percent of Bali’s population of three million are Hindus. Hinduism spread across the Indonesian archipelago in the 14th century through the trade route and although it lost its status of state religion during the 15th and early 16th century in when the new sultanates expanded, Hindu kingdoms persisted in eastern Java and Bali.

But while the Hindu rituals in India and Bali are not exactly the same - Balinese Hinduism for instance lacks the emphasis on the cycle of re-birth - the “Indian connection” in the everyday life of a Balinese is quite striking.

For instance, spotting a restaurant serving Indian or both Indian and Balinese food is not a rare sight. Among the more popular ones are Queen’s Tandoor and Gateway of India. Serving a range of delicacies, right from tandoori chicken, mutton and lamb sizzlers to korma, naan and dal, even samosas and mango chutney, all hot favourites amongst tourists.

And there are also restaurants where one can learn how to cook Indian cuisine! One among them is a restaurant in Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali, where many of the tourists stay.

As one travels through Bali, a huge statue of Arjuna in his chariot stands tall at the criss-cross of the narrow roads mostly filled with two-wheelers. Lined on either side of the road, one is bound to see a number of yoga centres - some with strange names like Internet Yoga and Steam Yoga centre - filled with local Balinese folk and foreigners, eager to de-stress.

But it’s not just in these centres that yoga is taught.

At Gurukul, an all-boys residential school in Bali, yoga is a part of the curriculum like any other subject. And so is Sanskrit.

Hendra, a Class 5 student in the school, said that although he finds Sanskrit difficult, he likes doing yoga.

“Some of the Sanskrit words are so difficult to pronounce. I like mathematics better. I also like doing yoga,” Hendra told IANS as he washed his clothes in the gurukul-styled school where garden-grown vegetables are cooked, there is a biogas plant for fuel and students do their own chores.

There is also the Gandhi Memorial International school, a branch of its more famous counterpart in Jakarta, which opened recently.

Somvir, an Indian academic who teaches Indian aesthetics at Udayana University here and has been living in Indonesia for the past 15 years, said there are a number of takers for the course.

“It’s difficult to put a concrete figure on the number of students because that depends on the batch. But normally there are easily 40-50 students in each batch,” Somvir, who also set up the Bali-India foundation that teaches yoga, Sanskrit and Hindi, told IANS.

A Ratna beauty parlour here and a popular mall named Ramayana there make one feel the “Indian” connection, even thousands of miles away from home.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at

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