One of the truly delightful surprises of our swamis' trip in Europe came when meeting members of the Balinese community in Cologne. We connected with Made Sukasta, a German man who took a Hindu name, married a Balinese woman when he was living in Bali decades ago and is now a key part of a dance and cultural group in Germany. A bit like our unrealistic expectations with the Afghan group in the same city, we thought that a minor community with a small story was what we would find. Not aware of any temples, we assumed their part of our Hinduism Today article would be solely about their unique music and dance. After all, we were meeting them in a private home. Again and again, it is clear that such expectations are made to be shattered, and hence the need for this story to be told in the magazine.
As it turns out, there are 250 Balinese Hindus in Germany and about 80 in Belgium, three full-fledged temples, spread out across half a dozen major metropolitan areas (one of the temples is apparently giant, in Belgium). While the sub-groups gather on a regular basis to practice and perform gamelan (traditional drums) and dance, worship and the preservation of their religious tradition for the next generation is foremost, just like at home in Bali. In fact, they have done an amazing job at keeping their manifold tradition alive).
And unlike the other immigrant communities from war-torn countries like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, the Balinese maintain homes in Europe and back in Bali and travel frequently between them, as their connections to their home temples, as they call them, are of crucial importance to maintaining their ancestral connections that are such a part of their tradition. This is easy because Bali is a peaceful place. In Europe and in Bali, these are happy, comfortable, free people.
Each year they celebrate major festivals, like Sarasvati Puja, picking another group in the country to host the event. By rotating like this they can have larger gatherings and give prominence to the far-flung family groups.
One woman, Luh Gede Juli Wirahmini Bisterfeld, took the trouble to take a train 4.5 hours from Hamburg just to speak with us that day. She is the head (she is president, but thinks of it as just a humble leadership role) of the Balinese group there, which has a fully functioning temple built for them in and by a prominent cultural museum. This is without a doubt one of the most articulate, eloquent, insightful people we have ever interviewed, her story (full of love of her people and her land and her religion) and all the rest will be presented in our feature article about Hinduism and Europe in the Jan/Feb/Mar 2014 edition of Hinduism Today. So, stay tuned! It's going to be fascinating and informative.
This lovely and informal band made us all feel like we were a part of the Balinese family, such rich smiles on their faces, such devotion to God in everything and everyone they meet. Others have much to learn about hospitality.
The room was filled with members of the local community in and around Cologne, all friends and all gathered in Made's little townhouse to greet and speak with us. We were traveling in a large group for these three days in North Rhein-Westphalia. Not only had Kulapati E. Veeragathiyar and Kulamata Puvanesam joined us from Berlin, also Niraj Thaker from London (to learn the art of interviewing and then travel to other parts of Germany, Austria and Czech Republic on our behalf to report on the Hindus there in the coming days), Clive and Puvaneswary Roberts from nearby Netherlands, Vasaant Krishnan from Singapore (who is doing Ph.D. research at the university in Bonn) and Purushottama Dasa (a young man from Cologne whom we met at the Parliament of the World's Religions in 2009, now the United Religion Initiative's representative to the UN).