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Buddhist arts in Indonesia

By Devik Balami at
Buddhist arts in Indonesia

Brief history of Buddhism in Indonesia

Indonesia, as other Southeast Asian countries, was also strongly influenced by Indian art and culture from the 1st century. At that period, both Hinduism and Buddhism spread in Indonesia but the first to enter Indonesia was Hinduism and later Buddhism spread in the country. The spread of Buddhism was started with the trading activity, which began in the early 1st century on the maritime Silk Road. In the 8th -13th century, Sri Vijaya, who had adopted Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, ruled western Indonesia, especially Sumatra and Java islands, but later on, the empire became more powerful and dominated most of the areas around the Southeast Asian peninsula through maritime power. With the expansion of the territory, Sri Vijaya Empire spread Mahayana Buddhist art to other areas. It is recorded that numerous statues of Mahayana Bodhisattvas from this period are believed to be strong refinement and technical sophistication.

It is recorded that in the 7th century, Chinese Buddhist monk, I-tsing paid a visit to the pilgrimage site in India. While on his journey, he witnessed powerful empire of Srivijaya. He learned that the empire had helped the people to know and understand about Buddhism in that region.

Another monk, Dharmakirti, born in around the 7th century in Sumatra became a revered scholar monk in Srivijaya. He later moved to India to become a teacher at the Nalanda Univerity and as well as the poet. He has done lots of notable works in the Buddhism sector and one of them is reinterpreted the work of Dignaga, the pioneer of Buddhist Logic. He was influential among Brahmins as well as Buddhists. His theories are normative in Tibet and are still studied in the present day as a part of the basic monastic curriculum.

With these references, it can be assumed the Srivijaya Empire was the largest Buddhist Empire ever formed in the Indonesian history.

Buddhist arts in Indonesia

It is assumed that the oldest Buddhist temple in Indonesia is Batujaya stupas complex situated in Karawang, West Java. It is estimated that the oldest relic in Batujaya was constructed in the 2nd century CE while the latest one was constructed in 12th century CE.

Another important Buddhist monument in Indonesia is Borobudur temple located in central Java. This temple is regarded as the largest Buddhist structure in the world. It is believed that the temple is built around 780 - 850 AD. The design of this temple is based on the Buddhist concept of the universe. Borobudur is decorated with long series of bas-reliefs. Mandala temple, another Buddhist temple in central Java houses 505 Antique Buddha statues in seating posture. The temple also has unique bell-shaped stupa with Buddha statue inside of it. Central Java has another important Buddhist pilgrimage site, Sewu Temple. In this temple, statues of Bodhisattva, Tara, and Kinnara are installed with very graceful and serene expression. Along with the statues, there are bas-reliefs as well.

In Sumatra, there also the Buddhist temples installed with antique Buddhist arts. The most famous temples are Muaro Jambi, Muara Takus, and Bahal temple. Apart from these temples, there are numerous statues or inscriptions from the earlier period of Indonesian Hindi-Buddhist Kingdoms.

The statues of Vairocana Buddha and Bodhisattva- Vajrapani, and Padmapani in Mendut temple are also fine examples from Sri Vijaya Empire. Another beautiful example of Javanese Buddhist art is the serene and delicate statue of Prajnaparamita which was created during the period of Singhasari Kingdom.

Even though Sri Vijaya Empire was powerful and was engaged in spreading Buddhism through Buddhist arts, most of the Buddhist arts were built during the Sailendra dynasty in Java.