Tracing Back of India’s Empires and Pilgrims in Java: The Great Impacts of Hindu-Buddhist Culture to Java Kingdoms in Earliest Centuries

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Tracing Back of India’s Empires and Pilgrims in Java: The Great Impacts of Hindu-Buddhist Culture to Java Kingdoms in Earliest Centuries

Throughout the years, the historians and archaeologists have delved into the culture of various different Asian countries and they have learned how the past Asian people lived in accord with their culture and religion. By researching the culture and religion of past Asian people, we are enchanted by the existence of the old Kingdoms and temples in Java island influenced by Indian’s Hindu-Buddhist art and culture.

Before early centuries, Indonesians were animist and dynamist adherents who believed that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence, and they worshiped ordinary objects that were recognized have the sacred power. They worshipped the spirit of their ancestors through memorial stones or megalithic monuments as the media. When Indians of South Asia came with their religion Hindu and Buddha to Indonesia in 2000 years ago or early first century, Indonesians had changed their religious belief. They used stones to construct a monument used to prepare a sacrificial offering to the Hindu god. They also believed Buddha teachings on Mahayana (The Great Vehicle emphasizing salvation through having faith and committing oneself to Buddha) and Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle or Modest Vehicle emphasizing individual salvation through self-discipline and meditation). Since then, Indonesians recognized that Hinduism and Buddhism became their appropriate religions that brought the peace and tranquility.

The influence of India to archipelago made a huge impact to archipelago’s religion which then had an impact to other aspects such as power, culture and art. One of the earliest inscriptions from ancient India of a 3,500-year history that was later known and emerged in Indonesia’s oldest kingdom is Sanskrit language. This language, along with Buddhism and Hinduism of India, migrated to Indonesia and other parts of East Asian and Central Asia in the early 1st millennium CE. Archipelago then attracted a lot of pilgrim and scholars throughout Asia, particularly India and China. The Indians built kingdoms, temples, monuments, and other artifacts in the archipelago. One of the oldest kingdoms in Java island of Indonesia founded by Indian political authority was Salakanagara Kingdom, located on west coast (the present day Banten province) in Java island. The kingdom was firstly ruled by King Dawavarman I in 130 AD and was succeeded by his successors, Dawavarman II to Dawavarman VIII ending in 358 AD. (See fig. 1: The Sea Road to Java Island in The Ancient History)

The Chinese chronicles fully testify to the early date of Indian settlement in Java. According to Heu-Han-shu (Han dynasty), the king of Ye-tiao (Javadvipa) sent an embassy to China in 132 AD indicating the firm foundation of Indian political authority in the island of Java. In 430 AD, the king of Ho-lo-tan, who ruled over the island of Cho-po, identified with Java, sent ambassador to China with gifts which included Indian rugs and cotton. The names of Javanese kings were Indian ending ‘Varman’. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien, who visited Java in 414 – 415 AD observes the flourishing condition of Brahmanism. But Buddhism soon made its influence felt when Gunavarman, the crown prince of Kashmir who took monastic life, came to Java sometimes before 424 AD and converted the king and his mother. Thus, by the fifth century AD, Indian culture and religion became predominant in Java which is fully corroborated by four inscriptions, found near Batavia, written in Sanskrit language.1)

The author suggests that four inscriptions, translated and written in ancient Javanese language with coastal-Cirebon culture, were found in Cirebon Sultanate palace, West Java in early 1970s. They were compiled by Prince Wangsakerta with his committees discussing for 22 years (1677 – 1699 AD). The committees were derived from a wide range of sultanates or kingdoms in the archipelago, even the representatives from Terengganu, Malacca (present-day Malaysia) and Tumasik (Singapore). Prince Wangsakerta was the ruler of Cirebon sultanate and a historian in 17th century. His scripts note that Dawavarman was a rich merchant from Pallawa (South India) arriving in Western Java in 120 AD. He married with one of the daughters of Pulosari hamlet ruler, Aki Tirem Aki (Luhur Sang Mulya). Pulosari is located in Cihunjuran area, and the present day is coastal area of Mount Pulosari in Banten province.2) (see fig. 2: Manuscripts by Prince Wangsakerta. Circa 17th century)

Salakanagara Kingdom and so-called Rajaputra is located in Cihunjuran Village, Cikoneng Village, Mandalawangi District of Pandeglang County in Banten province. This site provides Menhir complex (large standing stones or orthostat) and several water sources, such as three large standing stones, and seven small menhirs. There are seven water sources, which are also known as Sumur Tujuh (Seven Draw Wells). The area is marked with the carved stones, such as inscriptions and epigraphy (Map Stone, Inscribed Stone). The Cihunjuran site is reputedly said to be the center of gathering from the Aki Tirem community, who are latter said as ancestor of Salakanagara and Sundanese ethnic. Moreover, Cihunjuran site was said as a consultation place of Salakanagara spiritual figures, and it is also believed to be the “Mandala” (holy city) of Salakanagara kingdom. While the City of Mandalawangi is believed by historians as the capital of the Kingdom of Salakanagara from 130 AD to 358 AD (See fig. 3: Menhir in Banten site).

Dawavarman VIII reign collapsed in 358 AD after being defeated by Tarumanegara Hindu Kingdom (358 – 669 AD) of Sunda or Western Java region. The first king of Tarumanegara was King Maharshi Rajadirajaguru Jayasingawarman who was derived from Salankayana dynasty of ancient India that ruled a part of Andhra region in India from 300 to 440 CE. As an early Sundanese Indianized kingdom, Tarumanegara territory covers all Western Java regions, including Batavia (modern Jakarta). The existence of Tarumanegara is recorded in stone inscription written in Pallava script (Southern India) that was found in Jakarta in early 20th century, now it is preserved in the National Museum of Indonesia. (see fig. 4: Stone Pallava Inscription from Tarumanegara Kingdom. Circa 4th Century). The king of Tarumanegara married with Sundanese princess daughter of King Dewawarman VIII of Salakanagara. Many kings and Indian immigrants later married with archipelago’s women. The merger of the natives’ manners and customs and the Hindu culture and religion became evidence in 8th century, as seen in the remains of Hindu-Java temples in Java.3) In the later periods, the Indian’s lineages and Javanese then built temples, monuments, and other artifacts. Some include: Dieng, Borobudur, and Prambanan temples.

Dieng Temples (see fig. 5: Dieng Hinduist Temple of Old Mataram Kingdom) is a Hindu temple located on the Dieng Volcanic Complex near Wonosobo region in Central Java. It was founded by King Sanjaya of Mataram dynasty, King Sanjaya Rakai (lord) of Mataram (716 – 746 AD). Among the oldest surviving religious structures ever built in Java, these temples, located in around 1 hectare, are clustered into three groups: Arjuna, Dwarawati and Gatotkaca clusters. These names are taken from the name of Wayang performance names in Mahabarata epic deriving from India. Considering their relief and structures of building, Dieng temples are recognized as a harmonize synthesis of Indian inspiration and Java interpretation, forming a link between Hindu mythology and Javanese animistic cult of ancestor worship. This is a clue that Hinduism did not replace the indigenous culture but rather assimilated and integrated with it to create a highly distinctive Javanese-Hindu culture. Since 8th century, Dieng temples have been considered as the sacred place, the abode of gods and divine ancestors.4)

The second oldest temple tied with Indian culture in Java is Borobudur temple. Borobudur temple, located in Magelang region, Central Java – Indonesia was built by King Śailendra, or Sjailendra (760—775 AD), a Buddhist king from Sailendras dynasty of Mataram Kingdom in 8th century or around 775 AD. The construction was then completed by his successor King Dharanindra (775—800 AD). The Sailendras was a dynasty of Buddhist kings who ruled the kingdom of early Mataram from the late eight to middle ninth centuries. The dynasty was then associated with Srivijaya kingdom in southern Sumatra when the Prince Pramohardhani, reigning with her husband “Rakai Pikatan” (833 – 856 AD) of Medang Kingdom, defeated and expelled mahaputra Srivijaya “Balaputra Dewa” in Sumatra. The kings of Sailendra dynasty were patrons of Hinduism and Buddhism, especially in construction and relief of the great Buddhist stupas in Borobudur temple.

Borobudur temple outspreads with construction of 2,000,000 cubic feet (56,600 cubic meters) of gray volcanic stone comprising 2,670 individual bas relief with 1,460 narrative and 1,212 decorative panels. Each of the bas relief showcases daily life of ancient Java in 8th century, from the scene of exotic courtly palace life, hermit in the forest, to those of commoners in the village. The images of king, queen, princes, nobles, royal court officials, warriors, servants, commoners, preachers and hermit are also depicted in splendid relief. The reliefs also exhibit the images of mythical spiritual beings in Buddhist belief such as bodhisattvas, gods, assures, kinnaras, apsaras and gandharvas that all embellish the temple with iconic scenes and religious patronage. (see fig. 6: Borobudur Temple).

Observing the characteristics of the images in Borobudur temple, they resemble the art images of Gupta period (319 – 543 AD), a dynasty ruling the Magadha (now Bihar) state in northeastern India. Therefore, it is certain that the Javanese art was derived from the art of the Gupta age in India. Though Borobudur resembles more a pyramid rather than a stupa, yet it is Indian, both in conception and architecture. It impresses profoundly by the fine quality of its immense and extensive decoration, elaborate relief-sculptures and several images of Buddha. It is finest manifestation of Indo Javanese art.5)

After 75 years of Borobudur temple was constructed by King Śailendra, the King Rakai Pikatan (833 – 856 AD) of the Sanjaya dynasty (A family of Mataram Kingdom) in Central Java built the largest Hindu temple in the archipelago. To celebrate the restoration of Hinduism, Prambanan was constructed in 850 AD and dedicated to Lord Shiva (The Destroyer), one of the greatest deities of Hinduism. Located at 17 kilometers of northeast of special district Yogyakarta in Central Java, Prambanan temple (Javanese: Roro Jonggrang) comprises six temples in a raised inner courtyard, surrounded by around 224 supplementary temples lying in ruins. The temples are decorated with around 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha sculptures that are surrounded by a fused mandala temple (Holy Temple) arrangement and high towering 47-metre-high spires of Hindu temples. This unique architecture is visibly relied on the Vastu Shastra (ancient Indian science on architecture) that exemplify the Hindu conception of the cosmos in its layout and design. For along centuries in Javanese history, Prambanan has served as the royal temple of the Mataram Kingdom with most of the state’s religious ceremonies and sacrifices place. (see fig. 7: Prambanan Hinduist Temple, built by Mataram Kingdom in 9th Century).

Dieng, Borobudur and Prambanan temples were built by family of old Mataram Kingdom. It is true that in early surviving Indian architecture Buddhist and Hindu style blend, as well as that the Plaosan temple near Prambanan is forthrightly Buddhist-Hindu; but Borobudur for all that is still based on an unconventional stupa design with a mandala floor plan and its bas-reliefs are strictly Buddhist whereas the main Prambanan temples are skharas (decorated towers) with cellas (shrines) and external ambulatories surrounded by parapets on whose inner sides images from the Ramayana and from the Khrisna mythology have been carved.6)

Therefore, during the classical (cultural) periods in ancient Java, the technique and scheme of arts in Java empires had dramatically developed, and their temple buildings became more decorative and more complex. The development of the temple buildings, such as the crafting skills and the change in construction technique and building materials, indicated an increase of influence from other culture, particularly from India. Nearly all ancient complex societies build some forms of monumental architecture, for these buildings were not only religiously important, but also served the purpose as the deliberate symbols of power and wealth of their rulers and their poleis.

India taught archipelago about Hindu and Buddhist religions which made Indonesia’s Srivijaya Kingdom as the center of Buddhism teaching in earlier periods. The peak of Indian influence was called Indonesia’s Classical (cultural) period. Today, most of Hinduists regions still follow India’s religion and culture, such as Bali. Hinduism and Buddhism made a huge impact to Indonesia’s religion which then had an impact to other aspects such as education and culture. Hindu and Buddhist cultures are considered as rich sources in religion that this past archipelago’s faith has been expressed through art until today.


  1. Sailendra Nath Sen, Ancient Indian History and Civilization, New Age International Second Edition, Publishers, New Delhi, 1999, pp. 523 – 524.

  2. Drs. Atja, Edi S. Ekadjati (ed and translator), Pustaka rajya rajya i bhumi Nusantara, Direktorat Jenderal Kebudayaan, Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, 1987,

  3. Masatoshi Iguchi, Java Essay: The History and Culture of a Southern Country, British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data, Leicestershire, 2015, pp. 117 – 118.

  4. Focus on Indonesia, Dieng Plateau: A Sacred Place, Information Division, Embassy of Indonesia, Washington DC, USA, July 1977, p. 25.

  5. Suhas Chatterjee, Indian Civilization and Culture, MD Publication PVT LTD, New Delhi, 1998, p. 510.

  6. Carlos Ramirez-Faria, Concise Encyclopedia of World History, Atlantic, Publisher and Distributors LTD, New Delhi, 2007, p. 390.


Tracing Back of India’s Empires and Pilgrims in Java: The Great Impacts of Hindu-Buddhist Culture to Java Kingdoms in Earliest Centuries