Category Archives: c. Hinduism in Indonesia

The Prambanan Temple Complex

The Prambanan Temple Complex with the three towers dedicated to Siva, Visnu, and Brahma (Prambanan, Java, Indonesia)

Prambanan, located in the special district (daerah istimewa) of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is a complex of temples dedicated to the Hindu Trimurti. Also known as Candi Prambanan or Lara Jonggrang, this complex is Hinduism’s largest site of temples in Indonesia (Bhargava 1440). Prambanan gets its name from its proximity to a nearby village. The name Lara Jonggrang directly translates to “slender maiden” and refers to the statue of Durga, the wife of Siva, within the temple (Levy 2018). Prambanan was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999.

Prambanan’s history dates to around 850 CE when Rakai Pikatan, a king of the Sanjaya dynasty Medang Kingdom, built the first temple on the site. The site was later drastically expanded by Dyah Lokapala and Balitung Maha Sambu, the Sanjaya king of the Mataram Kingdom (Bhargava 1440).  With Prambanan being the center of most of the Mataram Kingdom’s sacrificial ceremonies (yajnas), it is believed Prambanan was the Mataram Kingdom’s royal temple. At the height of the Mataram Kingdom, Prambanan was home to many brahmins. Prambanan’s original name was Siwagrha, the house of Siva, and was originally designed to imitate Siva’s home, Mount Meru (Bhargava 1441). According to the Shivagrha Inscription of 856 CE, the temple was also dedicated to Siva.

Contemporary political perspectives suggest the construction and subsequent expansion of Prambanan was in response to the completion of Borobudur, a massive nearby Buddhist complex. Borobudur is Java’s largest Candi, or complex of temples, attributable to the Buddhist dynasty of Sailendra (Lanti 429-430). Contemporary thought also hypothesizes Prambanan’s construction to have been made in celebration of Hindu rule returning to Java following the fall of the Sailendra Dynasty (Lanti 430).

According to Prambanan’s entry on UNESCO, as well as discussed by Jordaan, Prambanan was abandoned sometime between the tenth and eleventh century for a multitude of hypothesized reasons (Jordaan 20). It is suggested that a combination of natural disasters and a shift in political power pushed life in Prambanan to eastern Java, leaving Prambanan behind to decay (Jordaan 20). Prambanan was not rediscovered until the early nineteenth century when Lieutenant-Governor Raffles’ team came upon the temples by chance (Bhargava 1440). It is possible that when C.A. Lons toured Javanese temples in 1733, he could have possibly included Prambanan in his description of overgrown temples (Jordaan 13). However, it is generally agreed that Raffles takes the honour of discovering Prambanan.

Though it was discovered, and a full survey was commissioned, Prambanan was not cared for properly, with locals taking what they needed from the site without consideration for Prambanan’s preservation (Bhargava 1440). Furthermore, the first archeologist to lay his hands on the excavation process was J. W. IJzerman, an engineer and chair of the local amateur archeological association (Jordaan 14). He did so with poor methods by today’s standards and as such, lost important and irretrievable information (Jordaan 14). Even worse, the successor of the operations, Groneman, saw it fit to dispose of a substantial portion of Prambanan’s excavated rubble into the nearby river (Jordaan 15). This rubble included a considerable number of fragments of reliefs and statues from various parts of Prambanan (Jordaan 15). Due to this irreversible loss, scholars at the time considered reconstruction an impossibility (Jordaan 15). Thankfully the magnitude of loss was less than anticipated and in 1918, reconstruction on the main temple dedicated to Siva commenced (Jordaan 16). The main temple’s reconstruction finished in 1953 while ongoing reconstruction and restoration of Prambanan continues to this day (Kempers 197).

Prambanan consists of roughly two hundred and forty temples. Soekmono provides a physical description of Prambanan: “The complex consists of more than 200 shrines of varying sizes, distributed over 2 concentric square courtyards enclosed by walls with gateways on all 4 sides. The inner courtyard is 100 m square and contains the main shrines of the compound. The outer courtyard is 200 m square and contains subsidiary temples built on four tiered platforms that descend gradually from the walls of the central square. The entire compound is enclosed by a further, lower-lying square of 365×365 m, the walls of which are not parallel to the other two enclosure walls” (Soekmono 1). Located in the inner courtyard, there are three major temples dedicated to Siva, Visnu and Brahma, as well as three temples parallel with the three major temples, which are referred to as the vahana temples (UNESCO). The word vahana roughly translates to “mount,” meaning each of these temples are believed to have housed worship to each respective member of the Trimurti’s mount. However, evidence of such worship and dedication to the respective mounts is only found in Siva’s opposing temple (Kempers 193). It is believed that the temple opposite of Siva’s temple is for Nandi, the bull (Kempers 193). The other two temples are referred to as A and B, as there is no evidence of either Brahma’s or Visnu’s vahana in their respective opposing temple.

Statue of Siva in the central tower at Prambanan (Java, Indonesia)

The temple dedicated to Siva stands the tallest measuring in at forty-seven meters. Within the temple dedicated to Siva there are five chambers, four of which are in each cardinal direction while the last is in the middle, accessed via the eastern chamber (Jordaan 5). Within the eastern chamber lies a statue of Siva in his four-armed form. In the southern chamber there is a statue of Agastya, a revered Vedic sage and avatar of Brahma. In the western chamber is a statue of Siva’s elephant son, Ganesa. Lastly, in the northern chamber is the previously mentioned statue of Durga, depicted as the demon buffalo slayer, also referred to as Lara Jonggrang (Kempers 197). This statue gave rise to Javanese folktales surrounding the lore of the statue (Jordaan 12). It is said that long ago a war broke out between the kingdoms of ogre king Ratu Boko and neighbouring Pengging. Following king Ratu Boko’s defeat, a Pengging warrior named Bandung Bandawsa fell in love with Ratu Boko’s human daughter, Lara Jonggrang. After countless proposals of marriage, Lara gave in on one condition – Bandung Bandawsa would construct a complex of a thousand temples in one night. Being the warrior he was, Bandung accepted and began to summon spirits to aid him in his efforts. As the night progressed, Lara came to realise Bandung may complete the task. To fool him and his peons, Lara constructed a fire in the east, giving the illusion the sun was rising. As well, she rounded up all the women she could and began morning practices. When Bandung’s assistants heard the women preparing for the day and saw the “sun” was rising, they fled in fear of the light. Having completed only nine hundred ninety-nine temples (today’s Sewu), Bandung had failed. Upon finding out about Lara’s ploy, Bandung cursed her into becoming part of the thousand requested temples: she became the statue of Durga to be found in Siva’s temple. Also found within Siva’s temple, which spreads into Brahma’s temple, are bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Indonesia’s take on one of the great Hindu epics, the Ramayana.

Detail of Visnu image holding the discus and conch (Prambanan temple complex, Java, Indonesia)

To the north and south of Siva’s temple are two twin temples, both with only one room (Jordaan 7). To the south is Brahma’s temple; to the north is Visnu’s temple. Within both temples, a statue of either Brahma or Visnu can be found which is what gave rise to each temple’s association with their respective god. On the walls of Brahma’s temple is the continuation of the Ramayana from Siva’s temple. Carved into the walls of Visnu’s temple is the story of Krsna as the hero of the Mahabharata (Jordaan 7).

Detail of multi-headed Brahma image (Prambanan, Java, Indonesia).

Along with the six previously mentioned temples that fill the center of Prambanan are two apit temples or “flank” temples, the use of which is yet to be determined. They are positioned at the north and south entrances of the square and they face the center of the square, to cover the main six temple’s “flanks” (Jordaan 7). In the outer courtyard, remains of some two hundred smaller subsidiary temples reside, all of which are similar in make and decoration (Jordaan 9). In the further, lower lying square no remanence of temples have been found. It is hypothesized this was the area used to accommodate those practicing within Prambanan (Jordaan 9).


References and Further Recommended Readings

Bhargava, P. (2012) “Prambanan: A group of hindu temples in central java.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 73:1440-1441.

Jordaan, R. (1996) “Candi Prambanan; An Updated Introduction.” In Praise of Prambanan: 3-116. Leiden: Brill.

Kempers, Bernet (1996) “Prambanan 1954” in Praise of Prambanan: 191-226. Leiden: Brill.

Lanti, Irman G. (2002) “Candi of Java.” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia: 429-430. Great Barrington: Berkshire Publishing Group.

Levy, Michael (2018) “Prambanan.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed on October 28th, 2018.

Soekmono, R. (2003) “Loro Jonggrang.” Oxford University Press. Accessed October 29th, 2018. (1991) “Prambanan Temple Compounds.” Unesco. Accessed October 28th, 2018.

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Hinduism in Java


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Article written by: Nick Davis (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Balinese Hinduism

Hinduism is a widely practiced religion focussed on the order of the cosmos, which is commonly referred to as Dharma. Opposite to Dharma is a disordering force known as Adharma. Finding balance between these two forces is a central goal in Hindu practice. These key elements originated in the Hindu traditions first found on the Indian subcontinent. As Hinduism spread to other areas of the world, it transformed slightly to accommodate to varying cultures. This is evident when observing Balinese Hinduism. Although Balinese Hindus worship the same gods and goddesses, perform similar rituals, and build sacred temples, there are certain elements that differ from Hindu practices in India. For example, Balinese Hinduism has united the Indian belief in divine beings with the Balinese belief in the protective nature of ancestors (Ariati 13). In addition, Balinese Hindus are not entirely vegetarians as most Hindus are, but they still maintain a Dharmic life style. Some of these differences may have occurred due to local beliefs and traditions of Balinese culture. Other differences may be due to the political changes in Bali that have occurred over the past few decades (Bakker 7).

Hinduism is among the five official religions practiced in Indonesia. The religious traditions of Hinduism emerged in Indonesia within the first millennium CE. Although Buddhism and Islam later replaced Hinduism in most of Indonesia, Bali maintained Hindu traditions. The spread of Hinduism has been thought to be due to settlers and colonists immigrating to these new lands. Although this may be true for some areas of the world, it appears to be false in the case of Bali. Recent research has suggested that the spread of Hinduism to Bali was largely due to allies between Hindus of India and the merchant class of Bali (Ariati 11). In particular, it was due to those among the priestly class of India that largely contributed to the spread of Hinduism in Bali. As described in the following quote, Hindu Brahmins were responsible for introducing elements of Indian culture to the island of Bali.

“Cultural and religious circumstances, the introduction of Sanskrit for writing, and the adoption of Buddhist and Hindu mythology were not the domain of traders. It is more likely that the princes who ruled small Indonesian kingdoms were influenced by priests and Brahmins from India. These priests would have been responsible for introducing a religion that allowed the king to identify himself with a deity or bodhisattva, reinforcing his temporal power. More abstract cultural elements also played a role, such as the concept of the cakravatin (universal ruler), varna or social class, the existence of a supreme supernatural power, rasa in aesthetics, and all the detailed artistic renderings of those concepts. Kingdoms that adopted Indic concepts of kingship were found in Kalimantan, Java, Sumatra and Bali” (Ariati 13).

By examining the rituals performed by Balinese Hindus, the differences between the Balinese and Indian Hindu tradition can be understood more clearly. Early rituals performed by the Balinese Hindus have been indicated through inscriptions which were written in traditional Sanskrit language. The oldest known inscriptions that suggest the presence of Hindu rituals in Indonesia predate between 350-400 CE. They describe gifts of cattle to a Brahmin community, which would indicate the use of ritualistic yupa posts. Unlike the traditional cattle sacrifice commonly performed in India, Balinese Hindus did not sacrifice the cattle. Instead, the cattle were purely given as gifts. This demonstrates the adjustment of traditional Hindu rituals to the culture found within the Indonesian archipelago. This newer form of Hinduism found in Bali has developed distinct local characteristics including the worship of ancestors, as well as animist beliefs. These characteristics set Balinese Hinduism apart from Hinduism of the Indian subcontinent. For the most part, Balinese Hinduism depends on five different groups of rituals known as the Panca Yadnya. The five ritualistic groups include: Dewa Yadnya, Manusa Yadnya, Resi Yadnya, Bhuta Yadnya, and Pitra Yadnya.

The first ritualistic group common among Balinese Hindus is dedicated to worshipping divine beings. This ritual, commonly known as Dewa Yadnya, involves temple festivals referred to as Odalan. The timing of such festivals follows the Balinese 210 day sacred year, or Pawukon. Often during Odalan shrines comprised of traditional Balinese decorations and offerings are built within the temples. In order to associate physical design with the varying degrees of sacred activity, the temples are built in three distinct courtyards. Each courtyard is dedicated to a particular activity. The Pendet dances take place in the outer courtyard to welcome the divine beings to the ceremony. The preparation of decorations and offerings take place in the middle courtyard. Finally, all worship occurs in the inner courtyards where the sacred shrines are located (Ariati 14). It is important to note that these temples are not just places of prayer and worship, but of socialization between sekala (visible beings) and niskala (invisible beings). In addition, there are certain rules that are strictly followed by the Balinese Hindus, including that which prohibits menstruating women to participate in this particular ritual. Although many westerners believe this is to exclude women, it is due to the Balinese belief that blood attracts negative spirits, and therefore puts menstruating women in danger.

The second ritualistic category common among Balinese Hindus is known as Manusa Yadnya, which is the ritual of life cycles. Every Balinese Hindu is required to perform these life cycle rituals throughout their life span. Among the most important rituals in Manusa Yadnya are the three months ritual known as Telubulanin, the six months ritual known as Otonan, and the ‘tooth-filling’ ritual which is performed prior to marriage (Ariati 15). These rituals are of particular importance to Balinese Hindus for the purpose of cleansing and purifying one’s physical and spiritual self. As described below, life cycle rituals begin from the moment a person is born.

“In Balinese belief every baby is born with its four siblings called Kanda Empat. Those four siblings are represented physically by the blood, vernix caseosa, amniotic fluid and placenta which are born with the child and personified as potentially divine or demonic beings that can either protect or harm the baby depending on how we treat them.” (Ariati 15)

Another valued ritual is the Otonan ritual which can be thought of as the Balinese birthday. Unlike western birthdays that occur every 365 days, birthdays in Bali occur every 210 days. This ritual is performed for male Hindus throughout their entire life span, but for women, this ritual comes to an end after marriage. The tooth-filling ritual is the next important ritual in Balinese Hinduism. Depending on the level of Balinese language used, this ritual can be referred to as Mesangih or Mepandes. This ritual is performed either before or during the marriage ceremony in order to reduce any influences of six internal enemies known as Sadripu. These negative influences are reduced by filling the six upper teeth that are symbols of the six internal enemies. Each enemy is associated with a particular emotion. Kama is associated with lust. Lobha is associated with greed. Krodha is associated with anger. Mada is associated with drunkness. Moha is associated with spiritual confusion. Finally, Matsarya is associated with jealousy. All of these emotions, or states of being, are considered negative and therefore must be avoided.

As mentioned previously, rituals for divine beings are known as Dewa Yadnya, where as rituals for demonic beings are known as Bhuta Yadnya. The latter is the third significant ritualistic category common among Balinese Hindus. This ritual is aimed at “appeasing the demonic spirits so that they are transformed into protective spirits” (Ariati 14). It is a significant ritual because the Balinese believe in spirits that are both visible (sekala) and invisible (niskala). These spirits can either be inhabited by humans or hosts of invisible beings that reside in land and space. Any being that is invisible can either be divine or demonic. In order to maintain a harmonious relationship with these invisible beings, the Balinese Hindus make offerings to them daily. These offerings become more elaborate on special occasions such as days within the lunar cycles. Offerings are normally given to demonic beings by laying them on the ground. This stems from the belief that demonic beings reside in the underworld below us. The simplest offering, known as bhuta-kala, consists of rice and banana leafs. Among the more elaborate offerings includes blood or flesh collected from the sacrificial animals. Through the gift of offerings, Balinese Hindus are able to transform demonic spirits into divine spirits that act to protect all who participate in the ritual.

The final ritualistic category is referred to as Pitra Yadnya, or post-modern rituals (Ariati 16). This ritual is significant because the aim is to liberate the soul (atman) to allow it to enter the ancestor realm. According to Balinese Hindu beliefs, the body is simply a microcosm of the universe comprised of five elements: pertiwi (earth), apah (water), teja (fire), bayu (air), and akasa (ether). When a person dies, these five elements must be returned to their place of origin to allow the soul, or atman, to be liberated. Ancestors can be worshipped at any family temple referred to as Sanggah or Merajan, depending on the level of language used. These temples house several shrines dedicated to the ancestors. One involves a wooden shrine that is divided into three segments representing the deceased ancestors of the family, as well as the three major Hindu deities: Visnu, Brahma, and Shiva. Depending on the family’s wealth, these rituals can be quite elaborate. If the cost of this ritual is quite high, then it can be assumed that the family involved is quite prosperous.

Several developments have been taking place in Bali over the past few decades. All developments have been taking place within an environment in which the government is dominant. Among the most significant developments include the development of Protestant and Catholic churches in Bali making Balinese Hindus the minority (Bakker 3). With this new development, Balinese Hinduism temporarily became the unofficial religion of Bali. This was largely due to the fact that the government would only recognize religions that focussed on the belief in one god. Although the Balinese Hindus were confronted with many challenges at this time, recent contact with Indian Hindus has helped to restore Hinduism in Bali to its previous state of religious dominance. Another significant feature of recent development in Bali has been the spread of Balinese inhabitants to other islands in the Indonesian archipelago including Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. This spread of Balinese inhabitants has created a spread of religious beliefs as well. Hinduism is no longer isolated to the island of Bali, making it more dominant within the Indonesian archipelago. To ensure the survival of Hinduism on other islands, instructions on Hindu practice and tradition are being taught in various schools. In particular, these teachers of Hinduism, also known as gurus, are ensuring that the concept of Dharma is reinforced (Bakker 8). In doing so, key elements of Hindu tradition are being maintained throughout the Indonesian archipelago, particularly on the island of Bali.




Bakker, Freek L. (1997) “Balinese Hinduism and the Indonesian State: Recent Developments.” In Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Deel 153, 1ste Afl. (1997), p. 15-41. KITLV: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.

Picard, Michel (2011) “Balinese Religion in Search of Recognition: From ‘Agama Hindu Bali’ to ‘Agama Hindu’.” In Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Vol. 167, No. 4 (2011), p. 482-510. KITLV: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.

Wayan P. Ariati, Ni (2008) “Hindu Rituals in India and Bali.” In the Selected Works of Wayan P Ariati, p. 1-20. SIT Study Abroad.


Related Readings

Bakker, F.L., 1993, “The Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals”, Amsterdam: VU University Press. -, forthcoming, The Renaissance of Balinese Hinduism in the Context of Independent Indonesia; Its Relationship with Polities’, Proceedings of the Euroseas

Bagus, G. ., 1993, “Cultural Tourism and Religious Belief Systems in Bali”, in: W. Nuryanti (ed.), Universal Tourism; Enriching

Eisman Jr., Fred B. 1990 Bali: Sekala & Niskala. Vol.: II: Essays on Society, Tradition and Craft. Berkeley-Singapore: Periplus Editions.

Swellengrebel, J., ed. 1960 Bali: Studies in Life, Thought and Ritual. The Hague: Van Hoeve.


Related Research Topics:


Dewa Yadnya

Manusa Yadnya

Resi Yadnya

Bhuta Yadnya

Pitra Yadnya








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Article written by: Jenn George (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its contents.

The Sanjaya Dynasty

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 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.

Additional Readings

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.

Related Subjects

Sailendra Dynasty


The Canggal Inscription

Carita Parahyangan

Kakawin Ramayana

Candi of Indonesia

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Article written by Brad Robertson (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Tenggerese Hindus of Java

The Tenggerese Hindus of Java

The Tenggerese Hindus are inhabitants of the Eastern highlands of Java. Ethnographic research on the Tengger culture is currently in dispute as numerous religions have been present on the Eastern Indonesian Island. Historically these regions have been under the influence of other religious practices but the Tengger people have “preserved a non-Islamic priestly tradition” (Hefner, 1985:3). Although ethnographically there are undisputed resolutions about different religious practices, the Tenggerese religious identity is still sometimes unclear between Hindu, Buddhist, animist, or kejawenJavanists” (Hefner, 1985:3). According to ethnographic research by Hefner in Java, the Tengger people are historically considered “insignificant” as they have “no courts, distinctive art, or literature” (Hefner, 1985:4). Their identity is formed through the festivals, myths and traditions that are performed throughout the region and display the beliefs of the Tenggerese Hindu culture through religious practices as they are continually practiced.

Clifford Geertz presents three different “varieties of Javanese Islam and correlated each with a particular social class” (Hefner, 1987:533). These are categorized and separated as“Abangan, or Javanist Muslim, tradition was described as a syncretic blend of animist, Hindu-Buddhist, and Islamic elements that was predominant among the mass of rural Javanese” (Hefner, 1987:533).  A hierarchy establishes the structure for the community identities and the “Priyayi tradition was identified as an elite heritage strongly influenced by the Hindu-Buddhist values of earlier Javanese courts and linked to Java’s traditional gentry” (Hefner, 1987:533).  Hefner points out that there is a basic distinction between the orthodox and abangan, or “Javanist” traditions. Although both are practiced, the Tengger people have avoided such contact while these traditions were further developed in the wake of the Indonesia’s “New Order” government that took shape after 1956-66” (Hefner, 1987:534). While traditional Muslim schools were developed throughout Indonesia it was the “Hindu-Buddhist monasteries of medieval Java” that contained “secluded compounds in which monks or other adepts studied and composed holy writings” (Bellah, 1965:98).  These schools provided a place where pilgrims could rest and the youth could undergo more teachings from the monks. The Tengger tradition and identity has developed out of a region that has not created a “self-contained political identity” (Hefner, 1985:9). Therefore the community’s preoccupation with the past has weighed heavily on the processes that have shaped the cultural practices and identity of the Tengger people.  The comparison of the Tengger people with their Javanese neighbours has made visible their desire to be considered Javanese. Hefner has stressed that the Tengger people are distinct, despite numerous differences such as “speech, etiquette, and, most importantly, religion” (Hefner, 1985:10).

The identity of the Tenggerese Hindus of Java is divided geographically and there is a struggle in determining a clear separation between Tenggerese and non-Tenggerese culture. Javanese society is separated, isolating the Tengger people in the Eastern highlands of Java. The economic and political ties extend beyond the region and provides difficulties for distinguishing between the Tenggerese and non- Tenggerese people. Mountain Pasuruan in the province of East Java is regency that is “the most heterogeneous in all Java” (Hefner, 1987:536).  The movement down south in the region, and towards the Tengger Mountains provides entry into a region where the cultural terrain changes.  Although “‘Madurese’ and ‘Madurized’ Javanese predominate in the lowlands, the uplands are largely Javanese” (Hefner, 1987:536). The geographical landscape provides a diverse area that is separated by a vast mountain range. Some of “the highest mountain terrains are home to a culturally and linguistically sub variant ethnic Javanese population known as Tengger or Tengger Javanese, re-owned throughout Java for having preserved the only explicitly non-Islamic priestly tradition since the fall of Java’s last major Hindu-Buddhist kingdom five centuries ago”(Hefner, 1987:536).

The highlands in this region are “inhabited by a mixed Muslim population of Madurese and Javanese (the Javanese predominate)” (Hefner, 1987:536).These groups are approximately “sixty thousand people residing in nineteen administrative villages in the mountain sub districts of Puspo and Tutur” (Hefner, 1987:536).  The Tengger people residing in these remote mountain territories focus on practicing farming techniques and subsistence agriculture. Because the majority of the Hindu population has long taken refuge in this area, they maintain the “more fertile and inaccessible terrains higher up the mountain slope, around Mount Bromo, at the center of Tengger highlands” (Hefner, 1987:536).  This area was inhabited by the Tengger people as a strategy of “resistance to the Dutch and the Mataram court in Central Java” (Hefner, 1987:536). The Tengger resistance against the Dutch shows their resiliency against colonization and indicates that they were protective over their culture and communities. Hefner notes that the “Dutch forces throughout their military campaign had decimated the Javanese population from Pasuruan to Blambangan” (Hefner, 1987: 537). Although the Dutch forces “acquired political sovereignty over this entire eastern territory and much of Java’s north coast” (Hefner, 1987:537) the Tenggerese Hindus fought for their religious beliefs and cultural practices.  In Blambangan, moreover, the Dutch encouraged “Hindu conversion to Islam, so as to distance the local population from their former allies in neighboring Hindu Bali” (Hefner, 1987:537).  However, the Tengger people remain with their Hindu population surrounding the area of Mount Bromo. By combining Tengger and Javanese rites and ritual styles the Tengger people were able to revitalize their tradition and maintain their cultural practices in Java.

The Tenggerese people, however; have defined themselves as Hindus. In the 1970’s Java’s half-million Hindus became subject to a “state sanctioned movement for Hindu reform” (Ramstedt, 2004:93).  Their social practices and cultural knowledge is distinctive and Tengger rites and ritual traditions are a clear marker of Tengger identity.  The appreciation of Tengger culture in Javanese civilization is one of the main reasons why the non-Islamic, priestly tradition has survived. Ramstedt notes that the “Parisada Hindu Dharma had taken hold in nearby Javanist areas of the countryside” (Ramstedt, 2004: 93). The Parisada was responsible for the inclusion of religious education into the public schools and initiated an ambitious project geared towards developing programmes that underwent temple construction. In 1984 there was a shift to focus on “Satya Hindu Dharma Indonesia” (Bakker, 1993:317). The council of the Indonesian Hindus was set up in order to design a course for the entire community of Indonesian Hindus.  Meanwhile the people of the island saw “Satya Hindu Dharma Indonesia had the task of propagating and strengthening true Hinduism in Indonesia” (Bakker, 1993:317).

The Tengger preservation of the tradition has permitted the continual practice and maintenance of the ancient traditions of Hinduism. The Tenggerese Hindus believe that there is a significant recognition of a king’s soul being “absorbed after death” (Stutterheim, 1931:2). Stutterheim (1931) looks at popular myth and shows that one practice involves the king as an incarnate and then at death it is believed that he should be “candied” (2). Once the king is candied a special monument contains his ashes and the corpse. This practice is derivative from the death goddess Durga. Only those candied were built in the Hindu temples and are long lasting because most of the Javanese temples were demolished.

Modern urban Hindus talk about Hinduism “being a ‘way of life’ rather than a religion” (Bharati, 1982:45). However, Hefner points out that the Tengger people have struggled to maintain their cultural practices as “the Hindu Tengger [have] been pushed further up into the highlands [and] assimilated into the economically dominant immigrant Muslim population” (Hefner, 1987:537).  The social organization and attitude towards such practices constructs knowledge, and proposes interaction “face-to face” (Hefner, 1985:12). Arguably this factor may be one significant reason why Hefner suggests that “oral traditions are more susceptible to revision and social feedback” (Hefner, 1985:12).

It is the oral traditions that have adapted overtime to the changing demands of society and have survived to carry on tradition. The oral traditions are suggested to be the original source and an “indestructible document belonging to one of the great (i.e. literate) religions” (Hefner, 1985:5). Although all traditions are not passed down orally, the cultural survival of a tradition is most dependent on “intellectual technology” (Hefner, 1985:13). The intellectual technology is the sacred scriptures that have been passed on and practiced. The dedication to scripture is a result of a social and political group’s commitment to “the system of restricted literacy that traditionally underlay the priests’ learning” (Hefner, 1985:13). The face to face process and the significance of cultural knowledge have allowed the Tenggerese Hindus of Java to define themselves through their religious practices that endure “strict discipline and formal training” (Hefner, 1985:13).

Priestly liturgy and popular religion is affected by numerous challenges that face the countryside in Java. The resiliency of Tengger culture can be in part owed to the practice and dedication of the Tenggerese Hindus.  Under the influence of other religions such as Islam, and Buddhism, Tenggerese identity is tested as the Tengger people define themselves in an “Islamizing Java” (Hefner, 1985:14).  However, the Tengger people illustrate their faith through the “hierarchy of languages” as only priests are given permission to “study and recite the prayers of the liturgy” (Hefner, 1985:14).

It is indicative of most communities or mountain sub districts in the surrounding area for the men with wealth to maintain their status by acquiring land. Once they acquire land they sponsor the “celebration of large ritual festivals (slametan) dedicated to the propitiation of village ancestors, territorial guardians, and the spirits of mountain land and water” (Hefner, 1987:538). According to Beatty (1996), the slametan or ritual meal is said to be “at the heart of Javanese popular culture” (271). Slametan takes place just after dark in the front room of a house. Offerings are placed on a mat and mark the beginning of the ritual practice. These annual festivals are carried out by the Tengger Hindus of Java and most importantly recognize and are performed at the “base of Mt. Bromo volcano” (Hefner, 1985:4).

Tengger religious rituals are supported annually and have become very distinct from the Muslim Javanese rites. The Javanese communities separate these rites and rituals as they separate Tengger and non-Tengger neighbouring communities. Festivals are a form of ritual that involves “the invitation of guests, the mobilization of festival labour, the exchange of food gifts” (Hefner, 1985:10). The creation of Mt. Bromo and the people of the Tengger Mountains are rarely taken seriously when the myths question Tengger identity and the legitimacy of their tradition, however; despite differences in religious ritual there are also concerns focused of the rituals of popular cults. By facing towards Mount Bromo or Mount Semeru while presenting an offering to the spirits, the Tengger people were able to show a sign of respect and acknowledgement towards the spirits that reside there. The belief and acknowledgement of the “nature of the spirit world are thus not generated by the liturgy alone, but are informed by concepts borrowed from the religious culture of larger Java” (Hefner, 1985:15).

Tenggerese Priest at a temple at the base of Mt. Bromo

Over the years, rites and rituals performed have had numerous cultural interpretations and popular accounts that are included in the festivities of some major festivals. This is apparent when discussing the regional festival of Kasada which explores how the “rite remembers a first-founding ancestor (cikal-bakal) who helped to establish Tengger society and religion by giving his life for their protection” (Hefner, 1985:16).  Similarly, the annual “all-souls festival in (Karo)” and other mythic accounts of the same rites and rituals have “addressed such Indic deities as Siva, Brahma, Visnu, Mahadewa, and Iswara” (Hefner, 1985:16). These rites and rituals provide a platform for Tengger religious practice to be involved and in turn respect the practices of others in larger Java. The rites and rituals are performed in order to “remove impurities from the souls of the dead, so that those spirits may rise (mentas) to the heavens” (Hefner, 1985:16).  The most remarkable moment in this rite is when the priest calls upon Siva while he is in his demonic incarnation as Kala. Although this is significant the villagers do not acknowledge its importance. Similarly the priest is identified as “resi pujangga, and includes a prayer known as the purwabumi (“prayer of world origins”), identical to a prayer of the same name recited in Bali by a ritual specialist known as the resi bujangga. The ritual parallel indicates that the priestly tradition [for the] Tengger was once linked to a form of popular Sivaism found in large areas of Java and Bali” (Hefner, 1985:16). The links that are recognized view ancestral religions and indicate that the Tengger people are aware of their histories and dependent upon the revival of ancient traditional practices.

The Tengger people have reshaped their cultural heritage in order to adapt to the surrounding plurality of Javanese society. Tengger identity is examined and the role of their tradition is undetermined on a national level as Islam has “played a great role in the redefinition of local and national identity” (Hefner, 1985:17). However, the Hindu reform movement allowed the Tengger people to redefine their heritage in relation to the larger society and the early Indic heritage that was once shadowed over by an Islamizing Java is now revitalizing its tradition through the Tengger Hindus of Java.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Bakker, F.L. (1993) “The Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals: Development in Modern Hindu Thinking in Independent Indonesia”. Amsterdam, Netherlands: VU University Press.

Beatty, A. (1996). “Adam and Eve and Vishnu: Syncretism in the Javanese Slametan”. Cambridge: Wolfson College, Oxford.

Bellah, Robert N. (1965) “Religion and Progress in Modern Asia”. New York, USA: The Free Press: A division of the MacMillan Company.

Bharati, Agehananda. (1982) “Hindu Views and Ways and the Hindu-Muslim Interface: An Anthropological Assessment”. Santa Barbara, California: Ross- Erikson, Inc., Publishers.

Hefner, R. (1983) “Ritual and Cultural Reproduction in Non-Islamic Java”. A Journal of American Anthropological Association Durham, N. C10, 4, p. 665-683.

Hefner, Robert. (1985) “Hindu Javanese: Tengger Tradition and Islam”. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Hefner, R. (1987) “Java? Religion and Politics in Rural East Java”. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 3, p. 533-554.

Hefner, Robert W. (1990) “The Political Economy of Mountain Java: An Interpretive History”. Vol. 20, No. 1 (Feb 1993) p. 207-208.

Mujiburrahman. (2001) “Religious Conversion in Indonesia: The Karo Batak and the Tengger Javanese”. Center for the Study of Christian and Muslim Relations: United Kingdom, Birmingham; Royaume-Uni.  Vol. 12, Issue. 1, p. 23-38.

Ramstedt, Martin. (2004) “Hinduism in Modern Indonesia: A Minority Religion between Local, National, and Global Interests”. London and New York: Routledge Curzon.

Stutterheim, Willem. (1931) “The Meaning of the Hindu-Javanese Candi. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 51, No.1, pp.1-15.

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Article written by Crystal Kensley (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.