Bali temple

Italozazen’s odyssey of bicycle travel as a medium to delve into the intricacies of religion commenced in 1983 in Australia, a prelude to a broader exploration. The journey unfolds across diverse landscapes, revealing roadside temples and vibrant street parades in Indonesia, echoing the cultural tapestry of the region. This fascination with spirituality was kindled in the 1980s during a yoga quest, leading to repeated sojourns in Central India. Each visit, spanning across decades, enriched a intercultural syncretic artistic vision.

By the turn of the millennium, travels extended to Indonesia and Nepal, each region leaving an indelible mark. The integration of regional craft items and textiles into mixed media works reflects a complex interdependency, a theme resonating with certain political science philosophies.

Java, in particular, offers a unique lens to view religion. The island’s iconography reveals a deep connection to Hinduism, prevalent throughout Java and Bali, yet distinct in its local interpretations. These experiences not only influenced your artworks but also offered a deeper understanding of the interplay between culture, religion, and art.

The Intersection of Tradition and Modernity in Javanese Religion

As one traverses the mid-20th century landscape of Java, the transition from tribal-cultural ethos to a modernist-industrial paradigm becomes palpably evident. These towns and villages, once steeped in traditions, reveal a populace grappling with the rigors of modernity. This epoch is characterized by a life marked by struggle, a narrative of resilience amidst rapid transformation.

The inhabitants, anchored in their traditional values and tribal legacies, find themselves at a crossroads. The relentless march of modernization has not only encroached upon their ancestral homelands but has also reshaped them. Agricultural lands and forests, once the heart of these communities, have gradually morphed into burgeoning cities and towns.

This urbanization, swift and unyielding, has significantly impacted the religious and spiritual fabric of Javanese society. The belief system, once a tapestry rich with nature spirits and traditional lore, finds itself in a state of flux. As the natural landscapes transform, so too do the spiritual narratives and practices. This juxtaposition of the ancient and the new, the tribal and the industrial, offers a compelling vista into the evolving nature of religious belief in Java.

Journey Through a Land of Contrasts: Modernity Meets Mysticism

As one pedals through the countryside, the remnants of modernization are unmistakably apparent. Amidst this setting, a vivid tableau unfolds — brightly colored objects, vestiges of human presence, lay scattered along roadsides, in gullies, and beside creeks. These man-made hues stand in stark contrast to the natural splendor of the surroundings: lush green valleys that stretch and twist their way up to the enigmatic, mist-shrouded peaks of ancient volcanoes.

For the cyclist, the journey is a tapestry of challenges and rewards. Arduous hill climbs test the limits of endurance, each pedal stroke a testament to the human spirit’s resilience against the forces of nature. Yet, the effort bears its fruits in the form of exhilarating descents into serene landscapes, where vast pastures and picturesque terraced rice fields unfold like a living, breathing painting.

But there is more than meets the eye in this land. The flora, rich and diverse, harbors secrets known only to a few. Whispered tales speak of certain plants, hidden within this botanical complexity, that hold the power to transcend the ordinary. Shamans, versed in ancient wisdom, reportedly harness these plants to journey into otherworldly realms, touching upon spaces of cosmic significance. This mystical aspect, intertwined with the physical journey, adds a profound dimension to the cyclist’s experience — a voyage not just across land, but across the boundaries of the tangible and the spiritual.

The Evolving Role of Prijaji in Javanese Society

Imagine sitting in a quaint Javanese café, sipping a local brew, as we delve into the intriguing social dynamics of Java. The topic of ‘Prijaji’ comes up, a term that’s evolved significantly over time. It’s fascinating, really. The Prijaji were once closely linked to the semi-mythical kings of pre-colonial Java. They had a certain aura, a mystique about them. But, you see, that’s no longer the case.

The Prijaji, contrary to what some might assume, were never a class of landed gentry or baronial landlords. They were more like town-based bureaucrats, clerks, teachers — the educated middle class. The term ‘noble’ once used in reference to them has almost faded away. In conversation, a local historian shared with me how the Prijaji were instrumental in the colonial era. They were the administrative linchpins, so to speak, for colonial interests.

Europeans, with their varied economic interests in Java, relied heavily on the Prijaji. They needed someone competent, someone who understood the local dynamics but was also compliant enough to manage colonial affairs. It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? The Prijaji, once linked to royalty, transformed into middle management for colonial powers. Their role and status in society evolved, mirroring the shifts in political and economic landscapes.

Sipping my coffee and pondering over this, I couldn’t help but think about the broader implications of such a transformation. How it reflects the complex interplay between culture, power, and history. It’s these nuances, these shifts in social roles and identities that make the study of Javanese culture so rich and fascinating.

Encountering religion in Java through Psychological categories.

Two concepts are related to the inner or subjective realm of human experience. The concepts aim to capture the entire psychological continuum of a person. LIAR is to do with inward-looking contemplation and refinement. The outward manifestation is through language, then music, textile design, dance, etiquette. The contrast is BATIN. It manifests as the uncivilised. Peasants in this regard are not entirely BATIIN and the Prijaji are not entirely LIAR.

The motivation for moral excellence is to emulate the LAIR. Prijaji considers an ever-present potential for BATIN to emerge and cause chaos to the divine order of things. Traditional belief in the spirit world, posits that along side humans, spirits exist. But belief varies about the efficacy of the spirits causal powers ( do they cause objects to move) and if they have good or evil intent. The foreigner is such a potential for BATIN. Travel by ones own power as in cycle travel is a form of engagement with BATIN. Its labour derived adventure tourism, as opposed to mass-tourism. The civilising effect is the immersion in music, textile, dance which is usually conducted through patronage such as organised tour groups.

Analytic social science versus traveller approaches.

A comprehensive social analysis requires a set of field disciplines that accounts for the everyday lives of select people. The traveller approach is more about the immediate impressions of a place and people, and ideal for reportage on current events as well as a traveller journal that can also lead to various art projects.

Encountering religion in Java through nationhood.

There is a distinct sense of direct encounter with nation, particularly when a traveller moves through a series of villages or towns. The act of travel is a desire for meaningful encounter. A form of nationhood within the ephemera of encounter emerges through cultural forms of expression.

The Indonesian encounter had six distinct cultural contributions to national identity.

  1. Shadow play which uses leather or wooden
    puppets. These dramatic plays are Javanese stories based on Indian epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana, or of mythologised pre-colonial Javanese civilisation.
  2. Gamelan orchestra is a percussion instrumental assemble that played throughout the region.
  3. Lakon is about myth and story. It occurs at communal gatherings usually around dusk.
  4. Javanese court dancing is a common sight.
  5. Poems in the form of Tembangs are written.
  6. Batik is a wax and dye method of textile design that has a significant ALUS component.

Encountering religion in Java.

The practice of meditation in Java revolves around a set of rules. It is for the enrichment of spiritual life. Meditation is usually conducted within a group. However advanced practitioners can take on the role of mentor. A contentment in life is the goal through the reduction of passions. Cultivated feelings replace the courser ones (rasa). True-self (Aku) is associated with contentment and has a sociological sense. So if a person minimises comparisons then they reduce their anxiety. Meditation is a method to become aware of the vices. This awareness gives focus so as to detach from those modes of thought that are adverse to experiencing AKU. Informants on the subject tend to view the method as difficult given the nature of the mind.