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Indonesian 'Hindu´sm'

Indonesian religious conceptions.

The question must be asked, however, to what extent such religious ideas were comprehensible to those who first heard them. Indonesians, who had been accustomed to constructing terraced mountainlike temples--symbolizing holy mountains--for the burial and worship of the dead, would not have been perplexed by the Brahmans' doctrine that Shiva also dwelt on a holy mountain. Natural stones, already placed on mountain terraces for the ritual of megalithic worship, would have been easily identified with Shiva's natural stone lingam, the most prestigious of all lingams. Indonesians, who were already concerned with the passage rites and welfare of the dead, and who considered the elaborate rituals of metalworking as a metaphor for spiritual transmutation and liberation of the soul, would have paid particular attention to Hindu devotional techniques for achieving immortality in Shiva's abode. The meditative ascetic of Hinduism may have been preceded in Indonesia by the trance-inducing shaman (priest-healer). Again, the notion that water was a purifying agent because it had been purified by Shiva's creative energy on his mountaintop would have been intelligible to mountain-worshiping Indonesians, especially if they already endowed the water flowing from their own gods' mountain peaks with divinely fertilizing qualities.

Indonesian religious conceptions must certainly have supplied the perspectives of those who first listened to the Brahmans. Confidence in the Brahmans, honoured especially as teachers (gurus), would have depended on their demonstrating means of achieving religious goals already recognized as important in the indigenous system of beliefs. The Brahmans' role was probably prepared during earlier visits by Buddhist missionaries, who also shared the Indian concern for religious salvation.

But Indonesian circumstances and motivation underlay the adoption of Indian forms. The use of Hindu terminology in the inscriptions represents no more than Indonesian attempts to find suitable metaphoric expressions from the sacred Sanskrit literature for describing their own realities. Sanskrit literature, imported from India on manuscripts or by feats of memory, would have been especially culled when courtly literati were seeking to describe those rulers who had achieved an intensive personal relationship with Shiva. One must not be deceived by the accumulating acquaintance with Indian civilization reflected in Indonesian inscriptions and Javanese literature. The Indonesians, like others in early Southeast Asia, had no difficulty in identifying themselves with the universal values of "Hindu" civilization represented by the sacred literature. Indian literary and legal works were to provide useful guidelines for Indonesian creative writing, but they did not bring about a thoroughgoing "Hinduization" of the archipelago any more than Indian Brahmans were responsible for the formation of the early kingdoms of the archipelago.

In the final analysis, therefore, India should be regarded as an arsenal of religious skills, the use of which was subordinated to the ends of the Indonesians. Expanding communication meant that increasing numbers of Indonesians became interested in Indian thought. The first reasonably well-documented period of maritime Malay history provides further evidence of the Indonesian adaptation of Indian religious conceptions.

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