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Hinduism beyond India: Java

To the casual observer, Hinduism’s presence in Java probably doesn’t seem prominent enough to be of any noteworthiness.

Unlike its neighbor island of Bali, which is 90 percent Hindu, Java is home to Indonesia’s capital and is also the country’s most densely populated island, making it — in many eyes — the heart of the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

A closer look into the island’s cultural history, however, shows that Java has a far more complex and layered Hindu story to tell than what appears on the surface — a story that not only reaches far into the past, but is also sure to be of real significance going into the future.

Hindu kingdoms prospered in Indonesia between the fourth and late 15th century after Buddhist monks and Shaiva priests brought Indic religions to the archipelago during the first millennium CE. These kingdoms were, however, replaced with the arrival of Islam, leaving only isolated clusters of communities that publicly identified as Hindu in the country.

Probably the largest and most well known of these communities is the Tenggerese, who occupy around 50 villages in the remote Tengger highlands of Java’s eastern province.

The Tenggerese are descendants of the Majapahit empire, which was one of the last great Hindu empires that flourished in Indonesia before being driven deeper and deeper into the highlands as Islamic rule took hold on the island.

Legend has it that sometime in the 15th century Princess Roro Anteng, daughter of the Majapahit King Brawijaya, fled to the mountains of East Java with her husband Jaka Seger, and took shelter at a volcano called Mount Bromo, named for the Hindu God Brahma.


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