Culture From 7 to the current century, India’s influence on Java is seen in its temples, carvings and Bollywood songs.
‘Om Namasivaya!’ proclaimed the inscription on the 1,200 year old rock edict, now kept in the museum at the Dieng Temple Complex in Java, Indonesia. The proclamation promptly grabbed one’s attention because of the familiar words on the rock edict, which was discovered in an unlikely place: on the volcanic Dieng Plateau in Java.
A closer look revealed that the original inscription was in the old Javanese script. The inscription further proceeded to a transliteration of the date as per the Saka Era, as said in Sanskrit, giving the name of the ‘warsa’, ‘tita’, ‘masa’ and ‘paksa’, and seemed to be a record of handing over of title to property. One was excited, surprised and honoured at the extent to which Indian culture had spread even in the 7th century!
Leaving the museum, one walked towards a cluster of ancient temples in the distant on a pathway through some incredibly beautiful gardens. These temples are remarkable as they are probably the only ones in the world, to be named after the many different heroes of the Mahabharata, and not just the five Pandavas.
Records show that initially there were 400 of them, but now only a few are still standing. The latest findings indicate that these temples date back to the 7th Century and show a distinct Pallava style of architecture, though the name of the dynasty or king who actually built them is still unknown.
Niches for icons
These temples of the Dieng Plateau are carved stone structures, with niches for icons on the external walls. Within the sanctum, they all seem to have had a Sivalinga. However most of the icons and the lingams are no longer in place.
In Indonesia, Hindu religious structures are pre-fixed with the word, ‘Candi’, pronounced ‘Chandi’. The temples that one saw are Candi Arjuna, Candi Srikandi (a corruption of ‘Shikhandi’) and Candi Puntadeva in one cluster, while others such as Candi Setyaki, Candi Bima and Candi Gatotgacha are widespread. While walking from the first cluster towards Candi Gatotgacha, one was followed by a small group of giggling, fresh-faced Indonesian school girls, who were taken up with my sari and bindi, and were singing ‘Chaiyan Chaiyan,’ the popular number from the Hindi film ‘Dil Se’. So much for the influence of Indian culture in the 21st Century!
The Dieng Plateau, on which all these structures stand, is a mist clad mountain that is 6,500 feet above sea level. In the local dialect, ‘Dieng’ means ‘Dwelling of the Gods’. The temple complex is located east of the volcano’s crater. During a visit, one sawhot, bubbling springs of sulphur, steam and toxic volcanic gas effusions spurting out from weak spots on the crust of the crater. It is presumed that the beautiful temples of the Dieng Plateau had to be abandoned due to the constant volcanic activity in the region.
Earlier, the cabin crew of the aptly named Garuda Airlines of Indonesia welcomed one with joined palms, and a cheerful ‘Salamat Datang’, as one disembarked at the Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta), Central Java. The island of Java, though not the biggest, is one of the more important centres of activity.
It is the hub from where tourists visit the famed Borobudur Stupa, the ruins of the Prambanan group of temples and the unique, even older, Dieng Temple complex, described above. While Borobudur and Prambanan are easily accessible from Jogjakarta, a visit to the Dieng Plateau involves a trip up the mountain.
Both the Borobudur Stupa and the Prambanan temples are World Heritage Monuments of the UN, which are said to have been constructed in the period from 9th to the 10th Century, and are magnificent. The carvings on the walls, panels, balustrades and doorways are artistry in stone; and they speak volumes of the love, care and pride with which they must have been created by the ancient artisans.
The Prambanan temples, which date back to the 9 Century, were constructed by a Hindu Saivite dynasty, namely, the Sanjaya Dynasty. These temples are dedicated to the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, with their respective vahanas. In fact, the word Prambanan itself, is a corruption of the Sanskrit word, ‘Parabrahmam’. The outer and inner walls and balustrades of the Prambanan temples of Brahma and Siva are full of intricately carved relief, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other Hindu mythological narrations. The Siva temple also houses different sanctums for Ganesa and Durga. In the Vishnu temple, the wall and balustrade reliefs have scenes from the Bhagavatam, or ‘Kresnayana’ as it is locally known.
The Borobudur Stupa was built in the 9th Century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty, and the carvings on the walls are said to show a strong Indian influence of the art of the Gupta period. Borobudur is still a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The structure consists of tiers of square and circular platforms, guiding pilgrims along the ‘Parikrama’ or circumambulatory path. The peripheral and inner walls of the platforms are beautifully carved with scenes from the Jataka Tales and depict stories and incidents from Buddha’s life.
The main stupa atop the highest platform or tier is surrounded by symmetrically placed smaller stupas on the tier below. These smaller stupas have a curved conical top with a trellis pattern, through which can be seen the beautifully carved idols of the Buddha within the stupas. These Buddha idols show him in a seated, serene, meditative posture, with the hands displaying various ‘mudras’ such as ‘abhaya mudra’ or ‘bhumi-sparsa mudra’. The entire structure is awe inspiring.
Neat rows of handicraft and souvenir shops line the parking lot near these temples. Any purchase made by one was always handed over with a smile and the humming of “Tum paas aaye…mmm….Kuch kuch hota hai”! And led one to wryly think that modern day Indian culture too seems to influence the region just as strongly as it did in the past!