by Micha F. Lindemans
Traditional Batak religion has all but disappeared today, but numerous works on the subject give a good idea of it. The religious beliefs of the Batak of Sumatra prior to their adoption of Islam or Christianity were shaped by the fusion of two major influences: the Old Megalithic and Hindu influences, which contributed to the formation of the ancient Batak culture.
The Indian influence can be found in the most essential elements of their traditional religious belief, such as the formation of the universe, creation myths, the existence of the souls and its survival after death, shamanist traditions, and others.
The Batak believed that the universe was divided into three levels: the upper-world, called Banua Ginjang, the middle-world, called Banua Tonga, and the under-world, which was called Banua Toru. Cosmic harmony depended upon the cooperation between the three levels. In this, the middle-world, that of humanity, played an essential role as both bridge and regulator between the upper and the lower worlds. The upper-world was the abode of a multitude of gods, while the under-world was inhabited by demons and spirits of the earth and fertility.
The creator of the universe was known as Mulajadi na Bolon. He was assisted by a whole pantheon of lesser gods, distributed among the seven levels of the upper-world. His children constitute a sacred triad, which consisted of Batara Guru, Soripada, and Mangala Bulan. These three divinities were venerated by the Batak as a triform unity under different names: Debata Sitolu Sada (“the three devatas in one”) or Debata na Tolu (“the three gods”). In the order of presidence in the Batak pantheon, they come immediately after the supreme god Mulajadi na Bolon.
Other important deities were Debata Idup (the “living god”) and Pane na Bolon, who ruled the middle-world. A host of lesser divinities occupy the seven different levels of the upper-world. These too are more or less related to the Indian divinities. Among those divinities are, for instance, Boraspati ni Nato and Boru Saniang Naga. At a lower level exist a multitude of spirits who inhabit lakes, streams, and mountains. In traditional Batak animism, still alive to some extend today, all were venerated simultaneously; the supreme god, the lesser gods, the nature spirits, and the Begu or souls of the ancestors.