A three days ‘photography outing’ with 30+ other photographers from around the world, came about recently to the beautiful island of Bali, my first visit to a predominantly Hindu region, outside of India (never been to Nepal, another major Hindu country). Incidentally, Odisha (the state I come from in India, known in earlier times as the powerful kingdom of Kalinga, extending from the Ganges to the Godavari rivers) had extensive maritime trade links with Bali and other islands in the region, like Java, Sumatra & Borneo (from 1st century AD and prior), collectively called Suvarnadwipa. As such there was additional curiosity, from a cultural & religious perspective. Human nature, when it finds something similar, is to compare, wonder and try to find emotional links, and that is what I’m going to do in this blog, ending with a little about the ‘photography’ trip itself.
Bali is the only Hindu province of Muslim majority Indonesia and on a per capita income basis, the richest province in the country, its economy primarily driven by tourism. Accounts vary between historians about how Hinduism came about in Bali with opinions varying from contacts with Hindu culture/kingdoms of Kalinga and Tamil kingdoms in South India. But being from Odisha, I will stick to the Odisha/Kalinga narrative. Hindus from Kalinga established a kingdom in Java around 75BC from where it spread to nearby Bali. Many of Bali’s later kings mention people/traders from the kingdom of Kalinga, in their inscriptions. While Kaundinya, possibly from Kalinga, was attributed to be the 1st Hindu ruler of Bali, the Cholas/Pandyas from South India ruled over Malaya and Java and introduced Hinduism there. Kalinga’s traders and political travelers popularized Odiya culture, religious beliefs, language and scripts in Bali. For example Balinese words for mother (bu or boo) and father (bapa) are almost same as the common equivalents in Odiya language (bou and bapa, respectively). One of the primary invocations chanted by Balinese priests at temples and religious ceremonies mentions the river Mahanadi (the biggest river in Odisha) along with the other familiar ones of river Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati & Godavari.