Hinduism in Java

Hinduism in Java

Hinduism has historically been a major religious and cultural influence in Java. In recent years, it has also been enjoying something of a resurgence, particularly in the eastern part of the island.

Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms

Both Java and Sumatra were subject to considerable cultural influence from the Indian subcontinent during the first and second millennia of the Common Era. Both Hinduism and Buddhism, which share a common historical background and whose membership may even overlap at times, were widely propagated in the Malay archipelago.

Hinduism, and the Sanskrit language through which it was transmitted, became highly prestigious in Java. Many Hindu temples were built, including Prambanan near Yogyakarta, which has been designated a World Heritage Site; and Hindu kingdoms flourished, of which the most important was Majapahit.

In the sixth and seventh centuries many maritime kingdoms arose in Sumatra and Java which controlled the waters in the Straits of Malacca and flourished with the increasing sea trade between China and India and beyond. During this time, scholars from India and China visited these kingdoms to translate literary and religious texts.

Majapahit was based in Central Java, from where it ruled a large part of what is now western Indonesia. The remnants of the Majapahit kingdom shifted to Bali during the sixteenth century as Muslim kingdoms in the western part of the island gained influence.

Although Java was substantially converted to Islam during the 15th century and afterwards, substantial elements of Hindu (and pre-Hindu) customs and beliefs persisted among ordinary Javanese. Particularly in central and eastern Java, "Abangan" or 'nominal' Muslims were predominant. 'Javanists', who upheld this folk tradition, coexisted along with more orthodox Islamicizing elements.


Hinduism or Hindu-animist fusion have been preserved by a number of Javanese communities, many of which claim descent from Majapahit warriors and princes. The Osings of East Java are a community whose religion shows many similarities to that of Bali.Most Tenggerese are officially Buddhist, but their religion includes many elements of Hinduism including the worship of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. The Badui have a religion of their own which incorporates Hindu traits.

Conversion to Hinduism

It is interesting to study conversion to Hinduism in two close and culturally similar regions, the Yogyakarta region, where only sporadic conversions to Hinduism had taken place, and the Klaten region, which has witnessed the highest percentage of Hindu converts in Java. It has been argued that this dissimilarity was related to the difference in the perception of Islam among the Javanese population in each region. Since the mass killings of 1965-1966 in Klaten had been far more awful than those in Yogyakarta, in Klaten the political landscape had been far more politicized than in Yogyakarta. Because the killers in Klaten were to a large extent identified with Islam, the people in this region did not convert to Islam, but preferred Hinduism (and Christianity).

The existence of Hindu temples in an area sometimes encourages local people to reaffiliate with Hinduism, whether these are archaeological temple sites ("candi") being reclaimed as places of Hindu worship, or recently built temples ("pura"). The great temple at Prambanan, for example, is also in the Klaten area. An important new Hindu temple in eastern Java is Pura Mandaragiri Sumeru Agung, located on the slope of Mt Sumeru, Java's highest mountain. Mass conversions have also occurred in the region around Pura Agung Blambangan, another new temple, built on a site with minor archaeological remnants attributed to the kingdom of Blambangan, the last Hindu polity on Java, and Pura Loka Moksa Jayabaya (in the village of Menang near Kediri), where the Hindu king and prophet Jayabaya is said to have achieved spiritual liberation (moksa). Another site is the new Pura Pucak Raung in East Java, which is mentioned in Balinese literature as the place from where Maharishi Markandeya took Hinduism to Bali in the fifth century AD.

An example of resurgence around major archaeological remains of ancient Hindu temple sites was observed in Trowulan near Mojokerto,the capital of the legendary Hindu empire Majapahit. A local Hindu movement is struggling to gain control of a newly excavated temple building which they wish to see restored as a site of active Hindu worship. The temple is to be dedicated to Gajah Mada, the man attributed with transforming the small Hindu kingdom of Majapahit into an empire. Although there has been a more pronounced history of resistance to Islamization in East Java, Hindu communities are also expanding in Central Java near the ancient Hindu monuments of Prambanan.

The resurgence of Hinduism in Java is driven in part by the famous Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya.

Many recent converts to Hinduism had been members of the families of Sukarno's PNI, and now support Megawati Sukarnoputri. This return to the 'religion of Majapahit' (Hinduism) is a matter of nationalist pride.

See also

* Hinduism in Indonesia
* Hinduism in Southeast Asia

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