Aceh’s adoption of sharia law has been controversial. Most Indonesians take pride in their religious diversity and, whether you’re on Hindu-majority Bali, Catholic-majority Flores or Muslim-majority Java, you’ll typically find several world religions being practiced, as well as local variations that are distinctly Indonesian.
From Torajan Christians sacrificing buffalo to Balinese Hindus blessing a new car, Indonesia’s religious practices are never dull. Show respect: everyone should cover their legs and shoulders before entering a temple, while women should also cover their hair before visiting a mosque.
From the offerings that decorate every doorway to the brilliant funeral processions that fill the streets on auspicious days, Bali’s compact size and vibrant Hinduism make it Indonesia’s number one destination for visiting temples.
During the rainy season (October - April), waterfalls trickle down the mossy meditation cells around Gunung Kawi, located just outside of Ubud. With its 11th-century rock-cut shrines, the valley feels both eerie and serene.
It's a proper scramble descending through the tiny hole that forms the entrance to Goa Giri Putri on Nusa Penida, but it's worth it. The incense-filled caverns stretch hundreds of metres back into the bowels of the island, and are home to seven shrines.
More than five centuries after Java’s last Hindu empire fell, ancient temples still stand tall in the lush highlands. The elegant spires of Hindu Prambanan and the 72 stupas of Buddhist Borobudur have been recognized by UNESCO, and the ghostly ruins that loom from the mists of the Dieng Plateau are haunting and beautiful.
Often in Indonesia, conventional world beliefs blend with inherited animist practices (beliefs that objects, places and creatures possess a distinct spiritual essence).
A morning tour in North Sulawesi might include a visit to a Confucian temple, a jumbo Jesus, ancestral tombs full of ancient magic, and the world’s largest menorah – erected by Indonesia’s tiny, native-born Jewish community.
In Surabaya, after strolling the Arab Bazaar that surrounds the Muslim-only Ampel Shrine, you can visit the Cheng Hoo Mosque – a mosque shaped like a Chinese temple and dedicated to the admiral-turned-Chinese-god, Zheng He.
Indonesia’s religious festivals tend to be hard to plan for. Local wise men typically use a complicated calendar to set the exact date close to the time.
That said, it’s hard to spend more than a week or so in Bali without seeing at least one religious celebration. Be it the lengthy festivals of Kuningan and Galungan that swing round every seven months, Nyepi (when the entire island, including the airport, closes down), or just a temple birthday ("odalan”).
On Lombok, the Bau Nyale festival in February sees thousands racing into the sea, in search of the palolo worms that emerge from the coral to breed once a year – followed by several days of partying and processions.
Come October or November (depending on the year), Muslims and Hindus engage in a giant ritual food-fight at the Lingsar Temple.
On Java, Waisak (generally in May or June) sees thousands of worshippers descend on Borobudur to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday.
At the Yadnya Kasada (typically in June or July) Hindu Tenggerese pay tribute to the Bromo volcano. With six official religions, after all, there’s always something to celebrate.
The villagers in Sumba still make bloody sacrifices to keep the spirits happy and bring a good harvest. Find out why you should see the Pasola in Indonesia.
Get up close and personal in Indonesia, to see an open ritual for the departed, stumbled upon un-wittingly by a nomad.