Sylvian Levi French orientalist and indologist 1863 to 1935: “The ancient Hindus of yore were not simply spiritual people, always busy with mystical problems and never trouble themselves with the questions of ‘this world’… India also has its Napoleons and Charlemagnes, its Bismarcks and Machiavellis. But the real charm of Indian history does not consist in these aspirants after universal power, but in its peaceful and benevolent Imperialism — a unique thing in the history of mankind. The colonisers of India did not go with swords and fire in their hands; they used… the weapons of their superior culture and religion… The Buddhist age has attracted special attention, and the French savants have taken much pains to investigate the splendid monuments of the Indian cultural empire in the Far East.”
There are 5 main islands of Indonesia namely Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi. The predominantly Hindu island of Bali is part of the lesser Sunda Islands.
Hindu influence reached the Indonesian archipelago as early as the 1st century. By the 4th century Hindu kingdoms had been established in the following areas: Kutai in East Kalimantan, Tarumanagara in West Java and Holing (Kalingge) in central Java. Kutai Martadipura was the first Hindu kingdom established in eastern Borneo. The seven stone pillars found in this area dated around 775 AD attest to the Hindu presence. They were written in the Pallava language in Sanskrit Devanagari script. The Pallava language originated in the present day Tamil Nadu. It is named after the Pallava dynasty. Itlater evolved into Balinese,Burmese, Khmer. Thai and Lao languages.
The Hindus brought with them art, culture, the rules of running a kingdom, town planning and expertise in many fields. The Indonesian language Bahasa, which is actually a Sanskrit word meaning language, has thousands of Sanskrit-origin words. The Ramayan and Mahabharat remain hugely popular in Indonesia even today. It is said that Sugriva, the commander of Lord Rama’s army sent, some of his men to Java in search of Sita. These legends are shown in the Wayang puppet shows and dance performances. Wayang, meaning shadow, is a puppet show whose origins are in 10th Century southern India.
According to Hrodrigues, the Hindu king Sailendra converted to Mahayana Buddhism around 800 AD. He built the world’s largest Buddhist temple, called Borobudur. The temple complex is in central Java not far from the city of Yogyakarta and it attracts the highest number of tourists.
Vesak or Vaisakhi in Sanskrit is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the Day of Vesak two and a half millennia ago, in the year 623 BC, that the Buddha was born. It was also on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha attained enlightenment, and it was on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha in his eightieth year passed away. The day falls on the full moon day around 13 April. In Indonesia it is known as Hari Raya Waisak and Buddist monks and laymen and women make a pilgrimage to the Borobudur temple on the day.
The Sanjaya dynasty remained Hindu and built a magnificent Prambanan temple around 850 AD. The temple is dedicated to the Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It too is in central Java, not far from the Buddhist Borobudur temple. The temple was abandoned around 100 years after its construction. Over the years the Dutch colonists and later the Indonesian government have done much to restore the temple. Since 1960 a ballet of the Ramayan is performed every evening at the temple. According to Bhavya Dore writing in Quartz India, in 2012 the Ramayan ballet was acknowledged by the Guinness Book as the most continuously staged performance in the world. Almost all the actors are Muslim and they see no conflict of faith. According to them, Ramayan and Mahabharat are part of their culture. Between 9 and 12 November 2019, the grand Abhiṣeka sacred ceremony was performed in this temple compound. This Hindu ritual was held for the first time after 1,163 years after the Prambanan temple was founded in 856. Indonesian Hindus believe that the Abhiṣeka ceremony has restored the sanctity of the temple.
According to Hrodrigues, King Kartanegara was the last king of the Singasari dynasty, which reigned from 1222 to 1292. He reconciled Hinduism and Buddhism. He recognised the oneness of Shiva and Buddha. From 1293 the Majapahit dynasty began and was at its peak between 1350 and 1389. The Majapahit dynasty is still a cause of great pride for Indonesians. The Majapahit empire stretched from Sumatra to New Guinea consisting of present day Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Southern Thailand, East Timor and parts of Philippines. The Indonesian national motto, ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ meaning, ‘Unity in Diversity’ originates from the old Javanese poem written during the rule of the Majapahit dynasty.
The end of the Hindu, Buddhist empire of Indonesia
Sabdapalon was a priest and advisor to the last king of the Majapahit dynasty. The king’s name was Brawijaya V. Against the advice of Sabdapalon the king converted to Islam in 1478. This marked the end of the Hindu/Buddhist empire of Indonesia. In earlier times whenever a king changed his religion the subjects used to follow. According to Kalpavriksha magazine it took another 200 years of violent conflict before Islam took hold in south and east Java.
The Java Prophecies
The King’s conversion caused utter disappointment and anger to Sabdapalon. He cursed the king and said the country would face huge calamities. He said he was leaving and would come back after 500 years. The time when Mount Merai erupts would be a signal of the time he would come back, he said. He proclaimed that on his return the Hindu-Buddhist Javanese religion would be restored. He then disappeared along with fellow priest Nayagennnong. The 500 years were over in 2009 and though the prophecy has not come true many Indonesians believe it will happen.
According to Natasha Ishak, writing in the journal, ‘All that is interesting’ the Hindu dynasty Kediri ruled Java for 400 years. Between 1135 and 1179 it was ruled by a just and famous king called Jayabaya. His prophecies, known as Serat Jayabaya, mention that Java would be colonised by white people and they will be replaced by people from the North whose rule would not last long. Java would regain freedom after that. This prediction has proved correct. The Dutch had a presence in Java since 1600 and took full control from 1800. The Dutch had brought indentured labourers from India, mainly from the South but not exclusively. They were brought to work on tobacco plantations. They have now been in Indonesia for around four centuries and are completely integrated in Indonesian society.
During the Second World War, the Japanese pushed out the Dutch from Java in 1942. After their defeat in the Second World War the Japanese handed the country over to the Indonesian people in the year 1945. The final prophecy of king Jayabaya was that a just king would appear to bring a golden age to the country. This would happen at a time when carriages drive without horses, ships fly through the sky and women wear men’s clothing and children neglect their parents!
Hindu influence on the present day Indonesia.
Hindu heritage remains very strong in the fabric of Indonesia society. The vehicle of Lord Vishnu, an eagle called Garuda, is the national emblem of Indonesia known as, ‘Garuda Pancasila’. The national airline is also called Garuda. The national currency is called Rupiah, the same as in India. The 20,000 Rupees note has a picture of Lord Ganesh on it. The prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology has Lord Ganesh as its logo. The Indonesian military has Lord Hanuman as their mascot. An Indonesian Navy Admiral is called Laksman and the Air Chief Marshal is called Laksman Udara. The Indonesian state stands on the idea of Pancasila, which is a Sanskrit word meaning 5 principles. Indonesians irrespective of religion have Hindu names like Indra, Krisna, Surya, Rama and Sri. According to the International Journal of Dharmic Studies, Hindu temples do a call to prayers similar to mosques twice a day at 6am and 6pm. The prayers are called ‘Trisandhya’ and heard over the loudspeakers. They start with the Gayatri Mantra. Hinduism is also taught in schools, which does not happen even in India!
The island of Bali remains a majority Hindu island. According to official statistics there are around 4 million Hindus in Indonesia though some believe there could be as many as 10 million.
At present there are Hindu settlements around Tengger mountain ranges as well as near Bromo mountain and Semeru volcanoes. The Tengger people are the biggest Hindu community in Java. Every year they go on pilgrimage to the Bromo mountain, which is considered as the abode of Lord Brahma. There is Hindu presence also in Karanganyar regency in central Java and near Prambanan as well as at the city of Yogyakarta. In the early 1970s the Toraja people of Sulawest along with Karo Batak of Sumatra (in 1977) and Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan (in 1980) converted to Hinduism. This form of Hinduism also includes the traditional animistic practices of these people. Over 100,000 people have converted to Hinduism in the last two decades.
The Osing people of East Java, numbering around 400,000, resisted conversion to Islam and remain Hindu. They too share their animist beliefs with their Hindu faith. Some years ago Happy Salma, an actress, model and writer converted to Hinduism after marrying prince Tjokorda Bagus Dwi Santana Kerthyasa. In 2017 the Princess of Java, Kanjeng Raden Ayu Mahindrani Kooswidyanthi, converted to Hinduism. Her conversion ceremony ended with the chanting of Gayatri Mantra. During PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia in 2018 the president of the country Joko Jokowi informed him that his grandson was called Jan Ethes Srinarendra! In January 2020 president Joko Jokowi authorised the Hindu Dharma State Institute in Denpasar, Bali to become the first Hindu University in the country. Many new temples have been built in recent times and they are attracting more people towards the Hindu faith.
There are around 250,000 people of Indian origin in Indonesia. They are mainly in the garment industry, IT, finance and engineering. There are around 40 Indian associations as well as temples and Sikh Gurudwaras. The ancient Hindus and modern day Hindus of Indonesia will cross paths I am sure!
This article follows:
The Great Celtic-India Connection
The Great Maya-India Connection
The Great Greek-India Connection,
The Great Russia-India Connection
The Great German-India Connection
The Great Japan-India Connection.
The Great Ancient Egypt-India Connection.
The Great Slavic-India Connection
The Great Macedonia-India Connection