Encountering Religion in Java.

Bali temple

Encountering religion in Java is based on a personal account as well as interpretations. These are based on ethnographic studies that span from the mid 20th century to the present. Indonesian encounters began in 1992 with my last visit in 2016.


Encountering religion in Java

Bicycle travel to encounter religion

Travelling through Indonesia by bicycle is an ideal way to encounter religion. This all began in 1983 in Australia, but back to the story. Roadside temples, street parades, along with puppet theatricals too are easy to spot. A focus on a yoga quest, in the 80’s, gave an opportunity to visit Central India on four separate occasions in that decade, with subsequent visitations for each decade there after to date. There after it was Indonesia, along with Nepal which also influenced my artworks from 2000. The use of craft items and textiles from the region was integrated into a series of mixed media works. It had a sense of complex inter dependency advocated by a school of thought in the field of political science.

Encountering religion in Java is about viewing the iconography. The relationship to Hinduism throughout Java and Bali is significant. Although there are notable differences too.

Historical social systems.

Encountering religion in Java through tradition.

The traditional folk from the mid 20th century towns and villages resided somewhere between tribal-cultural, and that of the modernist-industrial factory worker. It had been a life marked by struggle. This emerged amidst an array of obligations to traditional values and tribal inheritances. The demands of modernisation encroached on what were homelands. It transformed agricultural and forests locales into a series of cities and towns. The immediate impact of urbanisation involved the transformation of a belief system involving a plethora of nature spirits.

The impacts of modernisation amidst primal religious mysticism

An abundance of ramshackle infrastructure is evident throughout the country side. Brightly coloured objects are strewn along roadsides, gullies, and creeks. This is in contrast with lush green valleys that gracefully meander up to misty volcanic peaks. The cyclist traverses gruelling hill climbs. Although a pleasant descent into vast pastures of picturesque terraced rice fields is the reward.
A botanical complexity has its secrets. Reportedly, use of certain plants can transport the shaman into unearthly realms, with cosmic significance.

Social roles.

Prijaji is neither a class of landed gentry nor baronial landlords. Town-based bureaucrats, clerks, teachers, are to name a few, but the term noble has all but disappeared. Where once it had links to semi-mythical kings of pre-colonial Java, this no longer is the case. Prijajis were the administrative instruments for colonial interests who needed a competent and compliant middle management to serve a variety of economic interests in Europe.

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.

Encountering a religion through travel.

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.