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During the early centuries A.D., elements of Indian
civilization, especially Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism,
brought to Sumatra and Java and stimulated the emergence
centralized states and highly organized societies.
disagree on how this cultural transfer took place and who
involved. Apparently, traders and shippers, not just
Indonesian as well, were primarily responsible. Small
states existed in the coastal regions of western Indonesia
time when Indian Ocean trade was flourishing.
But, unlike the Islamic culture that was to come to
nearly 1,000 years later, India in the first centuries
divided into a rigid caste hierarchy that would have
features of Indian tradition to relatively low-caste
sailors. Historians have argued that the principal agents
Indianization were priests who were retained by indigenous
for the purpose of enhancing their power and prestige.
was largely, although not exclusively, ideological. In
Buddhist thought, the ruler occupied an exalted position
the incarnation of a god or a bodhisattva (future Buddha).
position was in marked contrast to the indigenous view of
chief as merely a "first among equals." Elaborate,
ceremonies confirmed the ruler's exalted status. Writing
Sanskrit brought literacy to the courts and with it an
literature on scientific, artistic, political, and
Some writers are skeptical about the role of priests
high-caste Brahmins would have been prohibited by
from crossing the polluting waters of the ocean to the
Some must have gone, however, probably at the invitation
Southeast Asian courts, leading to the hypothesis that
indeed have been a proselytizing religion. In the early
century, the British faced mutinies by their high-caste
troops who refused to board ships to fight a war in Burma.
such restrictions were less rigid in earlier times, or the
role in cultural diffusion was played by Buddhists, who
have had such inhibitions.
Although the culture of India, largely embodied in
Southeast Asia with the Sanskrit language and the Hindu
Buddhist religions, was eagerly grasped by the elite of
existing society, typically Indian concepts, such as caste
inferior status of women, appear to have made little or no
against existing Indonesian traditions. Nowhere was Indian
civilization accepted without change; rather, the more
Indian religious forms and linguistic terminology were
refine and clothe indigenous concepts. In Java even these
forms of Indian origin were transformed into distinctively
Indonesian shapes. The tradition of plays using Javanese
the origins of which may
date to the neolithic age, was brought to a new level of
sophistication in portraying complex Hindu dramas
during the period of Indianization. Even later Islam which
pictorial representations of human brings, brought new
to the wayang tradition through numerous
refinements in the
sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.
Data as of November 1992