BALI: In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. In 2012, it was anointed by the Guinness Book as the most continuously staged performance in the world
“We are not just Muslim,” said Sotya, who was playing Janaka, Sita’s father, that evening. “We are people of Java. Here we learn Hindu and Buddhist stories, too.”
Temples in honour of Vishnu and Shiva are scattered through the islands, words from Sanskrit make appearances in the language, and names from the Mahabharata and Ramayana dot establishments and shops across cities. Still, in modern-day Indonesia, Hindus account for less than 2% of the population.
What is this culture that everyone in Java speaks of? In the nation’s most populous island, syncretism is locked into the DNA. It is bizarre for the Javanese to think of their religion and their cultural history as incompatible; Hindu stories are part of their legacy, even though their religious affiliation might lie elsewhere.
Read more: Communal Harmony