The Sanjaya Dynasty was a Hinduism-based dynasty which existed in the central region of the modern day Island of Java, Indonesia (Kartaksuma 407). According to the Canggal Inscription, which was found on the slopes of Merbabu Mountain, the Sanjaya Dynasty was founded by King Sanjaya, Lord of Mataram, in approximately 732 CE (Kartaksuma 407-408). According to the inscription, Sanjaya came to power in central Java following the death of the previous king, Sanna, which left the region in a state of confusion (Van Der Muelen 30). Sanajaya was able to restore order, and encouraged the worshipping of Hinduism in the region. The Cangall inscription contained King Sanjaya’s lingga, which was a representation of the Hindu god Siva, as well as praises of the deities Brahma and Visnu (Van der Muelen 18). This inscription showed that King Sanjaya was an active Hindu, and promoted the religion’s worship during the dynasty’s era. Following the death of King Sanjaya, there were 5 more kings who ruled in the Sanjaya Dynasty: Panangkaran, Rakai Warak, Rakai Garing, Rakai Pikatan, and lastly, Balitung, who died in 910 CE (Van der Muelen 30). The dynasty came to an end largely due to a migration out of central Java towards eastern Java, and it has been speculated that a major earthquake, which caused the eruption of a volcano in the area, led to this migration (Royo 138).
It was likely upon leaving Mataram and entering Eastern Java that those who were once ruled by the Sanjaya Dynasty were integrated into whichever kingdom they settled in, thus effectively ending the dynasty. It is also fair to assume that the Dynasty’s rule was likely weakened prior to this migration, thus not allowing it to take over the region migrated to, nor keep its lower-class under its rule. Lord Sanjaya himself had moved his palace several times and was able to move his Kraton (ruling city) during his rule and still maintain power, thus showing that a strong ruling class might have prevented the dynasty from ending (Van der Muelen 19).
Important to the development of this dynasty was the development of another, the Sailendra Dynasty, which followed Mahayana Buddhist principles. It appears as though these two dynasties competitive rivals, whose competing interests in the region which evidently led to conflict (Kartaksuma, 410). These two dynasties had family ties, specifically King Sanjaya, who had relations to members of the rival dynasty (Van der Muelen, 18). However, these relations eventually came to blows on 856 CE, when the Sanjayas defeated the Saliendras in a battle on the Ratubaka Plateau (Hall 354). During the time then, it would be fair to assume that this rivalry headed the spread of both Hinduism and Buddhism in Java. Interestingly, this rivalry between the two distinct dynasties represented two religions that, in current Indonesia, reflect less than five percent of the population. This rivalry also produced two of Indonesia’s most well-known and recognizable architectural structures: The Hindu Prambanan temple, and the Buddhist Borobudur.
The Prambanan temple was constructed during the rule of the Sanjaya Dynasty, and is a one of the only representations of the Sanjaya Dynasty which can still be seen today. Built approximately during the eighth to ninth century, the complex had over 200 temples within it strictly devoted to Hindu deities (Royo 137-138). Specifically, the Sanskrit epic, The Ramayana, was depicted throughout the complex, but representations were “given their own life and form in classical Indonesia” (Poortenaar 55). This temple was built about a half century after another major religious monument, Borobudur, was constructed by the rival Sailendra Dynasty (Poortenaar, 55). This rivalry can perhaps be used to explain why central Java has the highest concentration of Hindu and Buddhist temples on the Island. The temple itself was largely abandoned towards the end of the Sanjaya Dynasty in the mid-tenth century when the kingdom moved east (Royo 137-138). The complex also faced major damage in the 16th century when it was struck by another earthquake, and remained largely abandoned until it was rediscovered by Sir Stanford Raffles in the 19th century, leading to restoration attempts and eventually mass reconstruction of some of the temples, thus giving it a look which is believed to be fairly historically accurate (Poortenaar 55). It is considered to be one of the most eccentric and obvious symbols of Hinduism in Java, representing a time when Hinduism was hugely important to the region. This can be contrasted with today, where Hinduism is largely an isolated religion to the area, concentrated on the Island of Bali (Poortenaar 56).
It would seem then, that the Prambanan complex, which was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991, is more acknowledged for its historical significance, rather than for its significance to the current religious landscape in Indonesia. According to a 2001 census, Muslims form the dominant religious group in Indonesia at 86.1%, followed by Protestants, Roman Catholics, unspecified groups, and Hinduism at 1.8% (CIA World Factbook). By these statistics, it can be seen that Hinduism only has a small minority of followers in the country. However, political conflict and tension in the 1960’s led the Indonesian government to declare five religions as officially state recognized: Islam, Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism (Hefner 97). This official state recognition, along with conversions in the Java region, have helped Hinduism grow in regions which previously had no history of Hindu tradition and worship (Hefner 93). This is important, if only to show that while Hinduism does not have the significant following it had during the Sanjaya dynasty, it does receive state recognition and even funding despite the fact that it only has a fairly small following when compared with other religions in Indonesia.
The Sanjaya Dynasty then, can be seen as a specific era during which Hinduism was openly worshipped and practiced. Indonesia today is known for its massive Islamic population, but perhaps the Sanjaya dynasty and specifically, the Prambanan complex temples which it left behind, can serve as a reminder of the once thriving Hindu culture that dominated the Island of Java in the eighth to tenth century.
C.I.A World Factbook (2011) Indonesia. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/ publications/the-world-factbook/geos/id.html.
Hall, D. G. E. (1965) “Problems in Indonesian Historiography.” Pacific Affairs 39(3/4) 339-348.
Hefner, Robert W (2004) “Hindu Reform in an Islamizing Java: Pluralism and Peril.” In Ramstedt, Martin (Ed) (2004) Hinduism in Modern Indonesia: A Minority Religion between Local, National, and Global Interests. New York: Routledge-Curzon.
Kartakusuma, Richadiana (2006) “The Influence of Hindu-Buddhism on Javanese Culture and Society: Some Historical Notes from Selected Sources.” In Truman Simanjuntak (Ed) Archaeology: Indonesian Perspective. Jakarta: LIPI Press.
Poortenaar, Jane (2009) “Viewing the Borobudur. In Hellwig, Tineke & Tagliacozzo, Eric (Eds) (2009) The Indonesian Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.
Royo, Alessandra Y Lopez (2003) “Dance in the 19th Century Java: A Methodology for the Analysis and Reconstitution of Dance. The American School of Oriental Research, 66(3) 137-139.
Van der Muelen (1979) “King Sanjaya and His Successors.” Indonesia, 28(Oct), 17-54.
Briggs, Lawrence Palmer (1950) “The Origin of the Sailendra Dynasty: Present Status in Question.” Journal of American Oriental Society, 70(2), 76-89.
Briggs, Lawrence Palmer (1950) “The Origin of the Sailendra Dynasty: Additional Note.” Journal of American Oriental Society, 72(1), 37-39.
Hall, D.E.G (1966) “ Recent Tendencies in the Study of Early Modern History of South-East Asia.” Pacific Affairs, 39(3/4), 339-348.
Hefner, Robert W (1985) Hindu Javanese: Tengger Tradition and Islam. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Soekmono, R (1967) “A Geographical Reconstruction of Northeastern Central Java and the Location of Medang.” Indonesia 4(Oct), 1-7.
The Canggal Inscription
Candi of Indonesia
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Article written by Brad Robertson (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.