Saturday, 11 April 2015

Hinduism, History and Holiday in an Islamic country

A very short holiday in Jogjakarta in Indonesia gave me an experience I was a bit unprepared for. Jogja as it is known locally, is renowned for Jawanese fine art, Batik, silver filigree work, etc. This city is also famous for two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Candi Prambanan and Candi Borobudur, both dating between 8th  & 10th Centuries. 

The main structures of Candi Prambanan complex
Candi Prambanan is a Hindu Temple complex of 240 temples of varying sizes, built by King Sanjaya for the holy trinity of Hinduism and their vehicles or vaahana. The entire complex is located close to the still active Mount Merapi. The temple complex has been damaged due to neglect in the past as well as shaken, stirred, ash spewed upon. Restored significantly in 19th century, it stands tall and magnificent. This follows the Hindu temple architecture (including vaastu). Not all the sculptures are intact.

Candi Borobudur is a majestic Mahayana Buddhist temple built around & over a hillock, with the hillock  forming the core. The open temple has 9 levels symbolizing the spiritual evolution of human from the lowest levels towards Moksha depicted by the empty big sealed stupa at the summit. This temple apart from plenty of relief panels has 504 Buddha statues. Each group of these statues facing a particular direction have a specific hand mudra. Structurally and architecturally it is indeed a wonderful case study allowing for perfect water drainage during rains, prevention of the structure crumbling due to erosion of the underlying hillock and so on..

A few details caught my attention at these two historical sites.

Candi Borobudur
Every single person belonging to any race, be it child or adult, entering the temple complex premises has to comply with the clothing requirement of having a sarong tied around the waist. No excuses accepted. The extent of cleanliness that is maintained within the entire temple complex is commendable. The guides, who showed me around the temple complexes with so much pride and respect for the places, were Indonesians and Muslims. The relief panels are based on Ramayana, Bhaagavatha and the life of Siddhartha. So, the guides narrated stories from our scriptures perfectly by way of explaining these relief panels. It was fascinating to observe the extent of knowledge about our scriptures these people who were non-Indian and non-Hindus had. There are some variations in the way some names are pronounced and written in Indonesia, like Sita for instance is called Cinta. The degree of influence of Ramayana in an Islamic country was evident in the popularity of a ballet based on this epic, by the way the tickets sold out quickly.

This experience brought me up close and personal to the strong reach of Hinduism & Buddhism in a predominantly Islamic state thousands of miles away from India, more so during an era when technology, communication and transportation were not as advanced as it is today. Also, it was heartwarming how these two temples are respected and held sacred by the people of this city, named after Ayodhya, irrespective of their race and religious leanings.

A truly enriching experience. 


  1. I so enjoyed reading your visit to Jogjakarta in Indonesia. It's truly fascinating to read about the far-reaching effects of India's culture. Must have been a lovely trip indeed. :D

    1. Thank you for your kind words Sundari. It indeed was a good trip. :)

  2. wow...just wow! thanks for this virtual trip. loved your descriptions and the photos.