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Indonesia Heritage Sites

Introduction to Indonesia

  • Indonesia is an archipelago comprising thousands of islands in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has a population of about 255 million people. It is the most-populous Muslim-majority country and the world's fourth-most-populous country.
  • Jakarta is Capital and the largest city of Indonesia. Islam, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism and Protestantism are officially recognized religions.
  • As per the 2010 national census, 87.2% of population were Muslims, almost 10% of the population were Christians, 1.7% of the population were Hindus and 0.9% of the population were Buddhists or others.
  • Indonesians first adopted Islam in the 13th century. By the 16th century, Islam had become the country's dominant religion. Early Portuguese missionaries and colonialists brought Catholicism to Indonesia. The Protestant denominations are a result of Dutch Reformed and Lutheran missionary efforts throughout the Indonesia’s colonial period.

Main cities

  1. Jakarta
  2. Surabaya
  3. Bandung
  4. Bekasi
  5. Medan
  6. Tangerang
  7. Depok
  8. Semarang
  9. Palembang
  10. Makassar


Pre-historical era

  • The remains of tools and fossils indicate that the Indonesian archipelago was populated by Homo erectus, between 1.5 million years back and as lately as 35,000 years back. Homo sapiens came to the region by about 45,000 years back.
  • Austronesian peoples migrated to South East Asia from Taiwan. They came to Indonesia in about 2000 BCE. Perfect agricultural conditions allowed small kingdoms, towns and villages to flourish by the 1st century CE. Indonesia's strategic sea-lane location promoted international and inter-island trade, including links with China and Indian kingdoms, which were established many centuries BCE. Since then trade has fundamentally shaped Indonesian history.

Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms era

  • In 7th century expansion of Srivijayan Empire, began in Palembang expanding throughout Cambodia, Java, Malay Peninsula and Sumatra and retreated as Dharmasraya in the 13th century.
  • Under the southern Indian Pallava dynasty, as trade with India increased Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism arrived in Indonesia in the 4th and 5th century. This is evidenced in the Kantoli, Tarumanagara and Kutai kingdoms of the period. As a consequence of trade and the influences of Buddhism and Hinduism, the strong Srivijaya naval kingdom thrived. The agricultural Hindu Mataram and Buddhist Sailendra dynasties flourished and declined in inland Java, leaving outstanding religious monuments like Mataram's Prambanan and Sailendra's Borobudur.

Islamic era and European colonisation

  • The earliest indication of Islamised people in Indonesia dates to the 13th century. By the end of the 16th century it was the main religion in Sumatra and Java. In many places the growth of Islam was accompanied by the growth of sultanates. Islam mixed with existing religious and cultural influences that formed the predominant form of Islam in Indonesia. When Portuguese traders tried to monopolise the sources of cubeb pepper, cloves and nutmeg in Maluku, the first regular contact between Indonesians and Europeans began in 1512. British and Dutch traders followed. The Dutch established the Dutch East India Company in 1602.

World War II and post-independence

  • Dutch rule was ended by Japanese occupation during the 2nd World War. As a result of the Japanese occupation, four million people expired in Indonesia. In August 1945, after the surrender of Japan, Sukarno proclaimed independence and was selected President.

New Order and Reformation era

  • In March 1968General Suharto, the head of the military, outmanoeuvred the politically weakened Sukarno and was officially appointed as president. In the following 3 decades of significant economic development was due to his New Order administration. Suharto resigned in May 1998 after popular protest against the New Order. After a 25 year military occupation, East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia. The first direct presidential election was held in 2004. Progress was retarded due to terrorism, corruption, social unrest and economic and political instability. In 2014 Indonesian presidential election, Joko Widodo was elected as President.


  • Main parts of Indonesian tourism are culture and nature. Indonesia has one of longest seashores in the world. Natural attractions are supplemented by ethnic diversity and Indonesia's dynamic history. Forests of Kalimantan and Sumatra are popular tourist destinations. Scuba diving in Indonesia is inexpensive and excellent.


  • Indonesia has approximately 300 cultural groups, each with ethnic characteristics developed over centuries and influenced by European, Chinese, Arabic and Indian sources. Traditional Balinese and Javanese dances, for instance, contain aspects of Hindu mythology and culture. Textiles such as songketare, ulos, ikat and batik created within Indonesia in styles which differ by region.


  • Architecture mirrors the variety of culture which has formed Indonesia as a whole. Traders, merchants, missionaries, colonisers and invaders brought cultural changes which had a great effect on techniques and building styles. Traditionally Indian influences on Indonesian architecture had been the most dominant influences. The Indonesia traditional houses are a web of religions, myths, taboos, traditional laws, social relations and customs. The house is the main focus for the family as well as its community.

Hindus in Indonesia

  • In Indonesia, Hinduism is practised by 1.7% of the total population. Hinduism is among the six official religions of Indonesia along with Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism).
  • There were more than 4 million Hindus in Indonesia in 2010.


  • Dynamism and animism were practiced by natives of Indonesian Archipelago. Ancestral spirits were venerated and revered by native Indonesians. They also trust that some spirits might live at certain places such as mountains, forests, stones, large trees or any sacred place.

Arrival of Hinduism

  • Archaeological indication suggests Tarumanagara as among the earliest known Hindu kingdoms in Indonesia. Excavations between 1950 and 2005 indicate that this kingdom venerated Wisnu deity of Hinduism. Javanese ancient Hindu kingdoms completed major infrastructure and irrigation projects, named rivers on the island as Ganges and Gomati and constructed a number of square temples.
  • Hindu influences reached Indonesia as early as 1st century. The Javanese prose work Tantu Pagelaran extensively uses Indian deity names and religious concepts.
  • In the 4th century, the kingdom of Holing (Kalingga), Tarumanagara and Kutai were among the early Hindu states established in the region. Many sutras and sastras of Hinduism were translated into Javanese language.

Hinduism in colonial era

  • Islam to Indonesia was brought by Sufi Muslim traders from Yemen, Oman and India. During 15th and 16th century, different communities in Indonesia were attacked by different Sultans as a result of which four diverse Islamic Sultanates emerged.
  • These Sultanates fought against each other and other non-Muslim infidels. After that the Dutch colonial empire arrived in Indonesia. The Dutch colonial empire gradually started the process of preserving Indonesia's Hindu-Buddhist cultural foundations.

Hinduism in contemporary era

  • After gaining independence from Dutch colonial rule, Indonesia officially accepted only monotheistic religions. It considered Hindus as people without religion. In 1953 the local government of Bali declared itself as an autonomous religious area.
  • Hinduism was declared as the fifth state-recognized religion in 1962 for the sake of Bali, where the majority were Hindus. Between 1966 and 1980, lots of Indonesians in Central and Southern Kalimantan, North Sumatra, South Sulawesi and eastern Java declared themselves to be Hindus. Presently Hindu Dharma is among the 5 officially recognized monotheistic religions in Indonesia.

Hinduism in Bali

  • Balinese Hinduism is a union of Indian indigenous animist customs and religions which existed in Indonesia before the arrival of Islam. It incorporates several of the core beliefs of Hinduism with rituals and arts of Balinese people.


Balinese Hindu temples

  • The Balinese temples are designed as open air worship areas inside bounded walls. Every Balinese belongs to a temple by virtue of affiliation, residence or descent. In rural highlands of Bali, temples in each village are common. There are more than 20,000 temples in Bali. These temples are dedicated to deities found in India and to local spirits. The temple design integrates architectural principles in Indian Hindu temples. Balinese Hindus follow a 210-day calendar. Most festivals have a temple as site.


Balinese Hindu arts

  • Colourful ceremonial dresses, music, dance and other arts are a remarkable feature of religious expression among Hindus of Bali. These expressions celebrate different mudra to express culture, decorum, grace and ideas. Dance-drama is usual. Different stories are expressed. The dance-drama often ends undecided because the purpose is to re-establish balance and accept that the battle between dharma and adharma (good and evil) is inside each person and is never ending. Ceremonies at marriage, puberty and cremation at death provide opportunities for Balinese to exchange their ideas about the afterlife and community.


Hindu Holidays Celebrated in Indonesia

  • Galungan – Galungan is celebrated every 7 months. It celebrates the arrival of the ancestral spirits and the gods to earth. The celebrations are typified by new clothes, dances and offerings. The ancestors should be appropriately welcomed and entertained and offerings and prayers must be made for them.
  • Hari Raya Saraswati – Saraswati is the goddess of literature, science and learning. Saraswati Day occurs every 210 days. Saraswati rules the creative and intellectual realm and is the sponsor goddess of schools and libraries. On this day, offerings are made to shrines and books. Ceremonies and prayers are held from morning to noon. Children bring traditional cakes and fruit to educational institutions for offerings at the shrine.
  • Nyepi – Nyepi is a Hindu New Year Day as per the Saka calendar of Bali. On New Year's occasion the villages are washed, food is prepared for 2 days and in the evening as much noise is made as possible to get away the evil spirits. On the following day, Hindus don’t cook or engage in any activity. Tourists aren’t allowed to leave hotels.
  • Nyepi occurs around March/April each year. The date for Nyepi changes every year.


  • Bali is the largest tourist attraction in Indonesia. The main attractions of Balinese tourism are vivid dances, colourful art, rich culture, elaborate Hindu festivals, temple architecture and natural beauty. As a result, hospitality services and tourism are thriving as one of the most important sources of income.

DBH Survey 2012

  • The survey carried out by Ditjen Bimas Hindu (DBH), the Hindu organisation revealed that there are 10,267,724 Hindus in Indonesia.

Census of 2010

  • As per to the 2010 Census, there were of 4,012,116 Hindus in Indonesia as compared to 3,527,758 Hindus in 2000. In Indonesia, the relative percentage of Hindus decreased due to lower birth rates among Hindus as compared to Muslims.

Census 2000

  • As per the 2000 census Hindus comprised 1.79% of the total population of Indonesia. Bali had 88.05% of its population practicing Hinduism.

Buddhism in Indonesia

  • In Indonesia Buddhism has a long history, with a substantial variety of relics dated from its earlier years. Buddhism is among the six official religions of Indonesia along with Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism). These days, most Buddhists in Indonesia are Chinese.



  • After Hinduism, Buddhism is the 2nd oldest religion in Indonesia. In Indonesia the history of Buddhism is related to the history of Hinduism, since many empires were established around the same period. The arrival of Buddhism in Indonesia began in the early 1st century with the trading activity between Indonesia and India. The Batujaya stupas complex in West Java is the oldest Buddhist archaeological site in Indonesia. The oldest relic in Batujaya originates from 2nd century and the latest dated from 12th century. Afterwards, many Buddhist sites were found in Sumatra and in Central and East Java. Indonesia has seen the rise and fall of powerful Buddhist empires. Srivijaya was the biggest Buddhist Empire ever established in Indonesian history.
  • In Indonesia many Buddhist historical heritages can be found including Bahal temple, Muara Takus and Muaro Jambi in Sumatra, Batujaya in West Java, Sewu temple, the 8th century Borobudur mandala monument and many inscriptions or statues from the earlier history of Indonesian Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms. Buddhism was acknowledged as one of kingdom's official religions during the period of Majapahit, Singhasari and Kediri Empire. The old era of ancient Java had also produced some of the beautiful examples of Buddhist arts such as Vajrapani, Boddhisttva Padmapani, statue of Buddha Vairochana and the statue of Prajnaparamita in Mendut temple.

Decline and revival

  • Islam entered Indonesia in the 13th century and started gaining foothold. Dharmic civilization dominance in Indonesia ended in late 15th century with the fall of Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit Empire. Islam had replaced Buddhism and Hinduism, by the end of the 16th century, as the dominant religion of Sumatra and Java. Lots of Buddhist manuscripts, temples, stupas and sites have either been lost or forgotten, because the region has become mainly Muslim.
  • Narada Thera, a missionary Sri Lankan monk visited Indonesia in 1934 as part of his journey to spread the Dharma. A few local Buddhists used this opportunity to revive Buddhism in Indonesia. On 10th March 1934 under the blessing of Narada Thera, a Bodhi tree was planted and some Upasakas were ordained as monks.

Modern Indonesia

  • After the downfall of President Sukarno, the national leader of the time, Suharto acknowledged Hinduism and Buddhism as classical religions of Indonesia.
  • After more than a thousand years, the first Theravada ordination of bhikkhunis in Indonesia was held in Bandung. Those ordained included Jenti Bhikkhuni from Australia, Sumangala Bhikkhuni and Sukhi Bhikkhuni from Malaysia, Santasukha Santamana Bhikkhuni from Vietnam, Anula Bhikkhuni from Japan, Medha Bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka and Vajiradevi Sadhika Bhikkhuni from Indonesia.
  • Once in a year, thousands of Buddhists from Indonesia as well as neighbouring countries assemble at Borobudur to celebrate national Vesak ceremony.
Current practice

Religious events

  • Vesak is the most important Buddhist religious occasion in Indonesia. Once in a year, during the full moon in May or June, Indonesian Buddhists observe Vesak day honouring the birth, death, and the time when Siddhartha Gautama achieved the highest knowledge to become the Buddha Shakyamuni. In Indonesia Vesak is an official national holiday.

Prambanan Temple Compounds

  • Candi Prambanan, also called Candi Rara Jonggrang is a 9th century Hindu temple in Central Java, devoted to the Trimurti, the look of God as the Destroyer (Shiva), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Creator (Brahma). The temple compound is situated about 17 kilometres northeast of the Yogyakarta city on the border between Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces.
  • The temple compound is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the biggest Hindu temple site in Indonesia as well as among the largest in Southeast Asia. It’s characterised by its pointed and tall construction, characteristic of Hindu temple construction, and by the tall 47-metre high central building within a huge complex of separate temples. A number of visitors from all over the world visit Prambanan.



  • The first building of this biggest Hindu temple of ancient Java was finished in the mid-9th century. Rakai Pikatan started it as the answer to the nearby Sewu temples of Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty and Borobudur of the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty. The construction of Prambanan probably intended to mark the reappearance of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to authority in Central Java after Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty’s control for about a hundred years. The construction of this huge Hindu temple shows that the Medang court had changed its support from Mahayana Buddhism to Shivaist Hinduism.
  • Initially a temple was constructed by Rakai Pikatan at the place about 850 CE. As per the Shivagrha writing of 856 CE, the temple was constructed to honour Lord Shiva, and its original name was Shiva-laya or Shiva-grha. As per the Shivagrha writing, to alter the path of a river near Shivagrha Temple, a public water project was started in the course of the construction of the temple. The river, known as the Opak River, now flows from north to south on the west side of the Prambanan temple. Historians propose that initially the river was curved more to east and was considered excessively near to the main temple. The project was completed by cutting the river along north to south along the outer wall of the Shivagrha Temple. In order to create a broader area for the temple extension, the previous river path was filled in and levelled.
  • Successive Mataram kings, like Daksa and Tulodong expanded the temple compound by adding hundreds of perwara temples around the main temple. Prambanan was the royal temple of the Mataram Kingdom. Most of the state's sacrifices and religious ceremonies conducted there. Scholars estimate that at the peak of the kingdom, hundreds of Brahmins resided in the outer wall of the temple. The court of Mataram and the urban center were situated nearby.


  • Mpu Sindok, who founded the Isyana Dynasty, shifted the court to East Java in the 930s. The probable cause for shifting was a power struggle or an eruption of Mount Merapi volcano in central Java. That was the start of the decline of the temple. Soon it was abandoned and started to deteriorate.
  • In the 16th century, the temples collapsed during a devastating earthquake. Even though the temples did not remain a main centre of worship, the relics dispersed around the area were still identifiable and known to the local people in later times. The ruins and the statues became the inspiration and the theme for the Loro Jonggrang folktale. In 1755, after the split of Mataram Sultanate, the Opak River and the temple ruins were used to demarcate the boundary between Surakarta and Yogyakarta Sultanates.


  • Before formal rediscovery, the Javanese locals in the nearby villages knew about the temple relics but they didn’t know about its history. Consequently, the locals developed legends and tales to describe the origin of shrines, imbued with legends of giants, and a cursed princess.
  • In early 19th century, the temple was centre of international attention. During Britain’s rule of the Dutch East Indies in 1811, a surveyor working under Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Colin Mackenzie visited the temples. After that Sir Thomas ordered a complete survey of the ruins. However they remained abandoned for decades. Sculptures were carried off by Dutch residents as garden ornaments and the foundation stones were used by native villagers for construction.
  • In the 1880s, half-hearted diggings by archaeologists aided looting. Restoration was an uphill task due to the scale of the temple complex, theft and reuse of much of the original stonework at remote construction sites. The rebuilding of the main Shiva temple was finished in 1953 and inaugurated by President Sukarno. The government made a decision to reconstruct shrines only if more than 75% of their original stonework was available.