Nusa Dua (Bali): The stylised figures from Hindu mythology and gnomes, fanged demons and animals, some towering, some not so – exquisitely crafted stone sculptures are as much a part of this Indonesian island, where Balinese Hindus comprise the majority of the island’s population in this Muslim-majority nation, as the famed sun, sand and sea spray.
Interestingly, many of the sculptures are covered in sarongs. Set amid the green fronds, the figures are wearing blue and white checked sarongs, dressed up much like the Gods in some parts of India.
From street corners to city squares, from hotel lobbies to sweeping driveways, the sculptures are part of the landscape, making Bali in many senses like an open air culture gallery, with aesthetics the motif of everyday life.
Amongst the most spectacular perhaps is the chariot scene from the Mahabharata, of Krishna and Arjun and horses straining at the mouth. The elaborately recreated scene greets you soon after you drive out of the airport.
The Hindu connect
Traders and missionaries came into the archipelago of Indonesia from India, China, Arabia and Europe, bringing along with them their cultures and religion. Over the centuries, the influences amalgamated and assimilated into the fabric of society.
And nowhere is the Indian connection as evident as in Bali, where the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are integral parts of the folklore and where Hindus are a major part of the population in this Muslim majority country. A local tells that she begins her day with the Gayatri Mantra and that today is the day of Saraswati Puja. The stylized figures of the Gods and Goddesses, the dance dramas drawn from the epics and the small offerings at roadsides are further evidence of the civilisational reach.
At quite another level is the giant hoarding of India Incredible with a Kathakali dancer near Nusa Dua, a cluster of hotels, restaurants and shops. Inviting the tourists to come and take a look at India too?