Indonesian "Hinduism - Online History
Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023

The advent of Hindu religious beliefs

The final effects of these cross-cultural (and commercial) exchanges with Western and especially Southern Asia are usually described collectively as “Hinduisation”. It is now believed that Hinduism was not carried to Indonesia by traders, as previously thought, but by the Brahmins of India who were taught the message of Shaivism and personal immortality. Sanskrit inscriptions, attributed to the 5th and 6th centuries, have been found in East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), a considerable distance from the international trade route, and also in West Java. They state that Indian litterateurs, or their Indonesian disciples, were honored in some royal courts. 

Indonesian "Hinduism
Hindu Temple in Indonesia-image credit-wikipedia

      Rulers, called Rakas, were the chief heads of clusters of villages in areas where irrigation and other needs spurred the development of inter-village relations and supra village authority; Inscriptions, and also Chinese sources, indicate that some of these rulers were involved in the war, perhaps in an attempt to increase their influence. Shaiva Brahmins oversaw the worship of the phallic symbol of Shiva, the lingam (lingam), on behalf of their royal patrons to tap into the favor of the god. These Brahmins were representatives of an increasingly influential Bhakti movement (bhakti) in Indian Hinduism of the time, and they probably taught their patrons how to achieve a personal relationship with God through “penance, strength and self-restraint”. 

    From an inscription in Kalimantan. Therefore, rulers are encouraged to attribute their worldly successes to the grace of Shiva; Grace was gained through devotional practices offered to Shiva and was probably regarded as a guarantee of a superior position in life after death. These Shaivites were a privileged spiritual life and a source of prestige and royal authority.

Indonesian religious concepts

Indonesians, who were accustomed to building terraced temples – a symbol of sacred mountains – to honor and bury the dead, are not surprised by the Brahmin theory that Shiva also lived on a sacred mountain. The megaliths that were already placed on mountain terraces for religious purposes were easily recognizable by the natural stone linga of Shiva, the most revered of all the lingas. Indonesians, who were already concerned with funeral rites and the welfare of the dead and who regarded elaborate rituals of metallurgy as a metaphor for spiritual transformation and liberation of the soul, drew upon Hindu devotional techniques to achieve immortality in the abode of Shiva. will be given special attention. The meditative ascetic of Hinduism may have been the first shaman (priest-healer) to enter Indonesia. Furthermore, the notion that water was a purifying agent as it was purified by the creative energy of Shiva on their mountain tops would have been sensible to mountain-venerable Indonesians, especially if they had already descended from the mountain summits of their gods. The flowing water was divinely endowed with fertilizing properties.

The entry of Brahmins into the Indonesian religious structure was probably first pioneered by Buddhist missionaries to the archipelago, who shared Hindu concern for religious liberation. However, the viewpoints of those who first listened to the Brahmins were certainly aware of indigenous religious concepts. Especially revered as teachers (gurus), Brahmins gained the trust of Indonesians by demonstrating ways to achieve religious goals that were already important in the indigenous system of beliefs.

Nevertheless, Indonesian circumstances and inspiration formed the basis for the adoption of Indian forms. The use of Hindu terminology in the inscriptions reflects no more than Indonesian attempts to find suitable metaphorical expressions from sacred Sanskrit literature to describe their realities. Sanskrit literature imported from India in the form of manuscripts or oral tradition must have been taken especially when court litterateurs sought to describe rulers who had acquired a deeply personal relationship with Shiva. Like other early Southeast Asian peoples, Indonesians found no difficulty in identifying themselves with the universal values ​​of Hindu civilization as represented by sacred literature. While Indian literary and legal works provided useful guidelines for Indonesian creative writing, they did not bring about a complete Hinduization of the archipelago, in comparison with the Indian Brahmanas leading to the formation of the early kingdoms of the archipelago.

India, then, should be regarded as an arsenal of religious skills, the use of which was subordinated to the ends of the Indonesians. Expanding communication meant that increasing numbers of Indonesians became interested in Indian thought. The first reasonably well-documented period of maritime Malay history provides further evidence of the Indonesian adaptation of Indian religious conceptions.

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