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9/21/11

History of Indonesia - The Coming of Hinduism & Buddhism

One of the puzzles of Indonesian history is how the early kingdoms on Sumatera, Java, Kalimantan and Bali were penetrated by Hinduism and Buddhism. The oldest works of Hindu art in Indonesia, statues from the 3rd century AD, come from Sulawesi and Sumatera. The earliest Hindu inscriptions, in Sanskrit, have been found in West Java and eastern Kalimantan and date from the early 5th century AD.

Several theories regarding the influx of Hinduism and Buddhism have been proposed. Large scale immigration from India is generally ruled out and there is no evidence for the theory that Indian princes, defeated in wars in India, fled to the islands of South-East Asia and established kingdoms on the Indian model. Certainly Indian traders brought Tamil, the language of southern India, but only Brahmins could have brought Sanskrit, the language of religion and philosophy. Some Brahmins may have followed the traders as missionaries-although Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion. On the other hand Buddhism is a proselytizing religion and was carried far from its Indian homeland.

Another theory holds that the early Indonesians were attracted to the cultural life of India in much the same way Elizabethan English were to Italy, and the Indonesian Aristocracies played an active role in transferring Indian culture to Indonesia by inviting Brahmin priests to their courts. Possibly it was hoped the new religions could provide occult powers and a mythological sanction for the Indonesian rulers – as had happened in India. This theory fits in well with the mythological and mystical view of history which has persisted since the beginning of recorded Indonesian civilization. In the Hindu period the kings were seen as incarnations of Vishnu and even after the arrival of Islam the dynasties traced their lineage on one side back to Mohammed and from there to the prophets and Adam – but on the other side it was traced to the heroes of the wayang, the indigenous puppet theatre of Java, and to gods whom orthodox Muslims considered pagan. One Sumateran dynasty even claimed descent from Alexander the Great and as late as the second half of the 19th century the rulers of Solo were boasting a special alliance with Nyai Lara Kidul, the Goddess of the South Seas, and with Sunan Lawu, the ruler of the spirits on Mt. Lawu.
 

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