Hindu and Buddhist influences in Indonesia

The Influence of Hinduism and Buddhism in Indonesia – It is no stranger to Hindu and Buddhist culture and religion having existed in Indonesia for a long time. In fact, it has been around since the 5th century to the 15th century. The arrival of Hindu and Buddhist culture and religion resulted in an acculturation of culture with Indonesian culture. Therefore, there are many historical buildings in Indonesia that are Hindu and Buddhist.

Acculturation of Hindu and Buddhist culture with Indonesian culture can occur because the mixing of cultures does not eliminate the original Indonesian culture. In fact, until now there are many Indonesian scientists and people who really want to know more about this cultural acculturation.

The acculturation of Hindu and Buddhist culture with Indonesian culture has had an influence on the lives of Indonesian people. In the following, we will explain more about the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism in the life of Indonesian society.


Hindu-Buddhist Influence on Indonesian Society

We can see Hindu-Buddhist influence from various kinds of buildings, works, or even activities that can be applied in everyday life.


1. Building Arts (Architecture)

Historical records say that in Indonesia there were many ancient kingdoms with Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds. Therefore, there were many buildings built at that time with Hindu and Buddhist styles. Until now, we can still see some of the buildings built during the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom.

The buildings built in the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms were usually in the form of a temple. Each temple building that has a Hindu-Buddhist style has a different function. There are temple buildings that function as places of worship, burials, and some as holy baths.

The temple that functions as a tomb is a Hindu temple. While the temple that serves as a place of worship is a temple with a Buddhist style. If you look at the building with Hindu-Buddhist style, it can be said that the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms were very victorious in their time.

Basically the temple is divided into several parts, namely the foot of the temple, the body of the temple and the top of the temple. The foot of the temple is called bhurloka which means the realm of the mortal world. The body of the temple is called bhurwaloka which means the realm of cleansing the soul, and the top of the temple is called swarloka which means the realm of the holy soul. However, the existence of cultural acculturation makes the temple buildings adapted to the uniqueness of Indonesian culture.

Sinaumed’s, have you ever compared the temples in Central Java with the temples in East Java? The temples in the two regions have several differences, namely:

a. Temple in Central Java

In general, temples in Central Java have a chubby shape decorated with kalamakara or giant faces. Kalamakara decorations are generally located at the entrance to the temple.

The top of the temple in Central Java has a characteristic with the shape of the stupa and the main material is andesite stone. The direction of this temple is facing east.

b. Temple in East Java

Temples located in Central Java usually have a slimmer shape and have simpler decorations compared to the kalamakara at the entrance. If the temples in Central Java are in the shape of a stupa, then the temples in East Java are in the shape of a cube.

The main material for making temples in East Java is brick. Meanwhile, the direction of this temple is more towards the west.


2. Fine Arts and Carving

Based on historical records, Indonesian people have been able to make paintings or drawings. This ability appeared before the influence of Hindu-Buddhist culture. In addition, the oldest painting in Indonesia is located on a cave wall in Maros Regency, South Sulawesi. In fact, dr. Maxime Aubert from Griffiths University of Australia said that the paintings in Maros Regency are more than 38-40 thousand years old.

Before the entry of Hindu-Buddhist influence, Indonesian people already had a habit of painting or drawing with very simple patterns. After the entry of Hindu-Buddhist influence into fine art, then the Indonesian people developed pictures or paintings with more difficult motifs and were influenced by Indian culture.

In addition to having an influence on the fine arts, Hindu-Buddhist also had an influence on carving, sculpture, relief and makara. The form of Hindu-Buddhist art has always developed in its time, so there are lots of motifs.

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a. Statue

Basically the people of Indonesia have known the art of very large stone carvings, such as menhirs and sarcophagi. From the carvings of menhirs and sarcophagi, it can be said that Indonesian people already have a habit of making statues with human-like shapes. Usually the statues made by ancient Indonesian people functioned as stones of worship.

The art of making these statues is growing, especially when Hindu-Buddhist entered Indonesia. In the Hindu period, every statue made was placed in the temples. Usually the statues at this time were divided into two forms, namely three-dimensional and half- tridimensional .

Sculptures with tridimensional shapes give the meaning of gods, humans, and animals. Therefore, the form of a three-dimensional statue is inside the temple. The creation of three-dimensional statues serves to pay homage to the kings who have died. Meanwhile, statues with half- tridimensional shapes are generally found in the temple reliefs.

While the statues at the time of the Buddha were generally in the form of the Buddha. Statues of the Buddha are usually made with the position of the hand that is pointing in a certain direction of the compass.


b. reliefs

Relief can be said as one of the elements in the temples in Indonesia. The reliefs that we usually see are pictures that appear on the walls of the temple. However, the reliefs in Indonesian temples always have meanings in the form of religious teachings, daily life, and stories of the gods.

The reliefs in Hindu-style temples generally explain stories originating from holy books or literary works. The literary works used, such as Mahabharata , Ramayana, Sudamala, Kresnayana , and Arjunawiwaha . You can see examples of reliefs with Hindu motifs that tell the story of Ramayana in the Prambanan temple.

While the reliefs of Buddha, usually tell about the story and life journey of the Buddha, Sidharta Gautama.

c. Makara

In Hindu-Buddhist mythology there is a living creature named Makara. Makara is the embodiment of a large sea animal and is always identified with sharks, crocodiles and dolphins, so it is often used as temple motifs.

With this makara motif, it can be seen that there is a mixture of Indian carving and Javanese carving. The purpose of making makara is to prevent bad traits from entering the temple and to give a sign that this temple is a sacred place.


3. Performing Arts

The influx of Hindu-Buddhist influence can not only be seen from the style of the building, but we can see it through several performing arts. Performing arts that experienced development during the Hindu-Buddhist era, such as wayang, dance, and music.

a. Puppet Art

Before the Hindu-Buddhist era, the performance of wayang art functioned as a form of worship ceremony for ancestral spirits known as Hyang and the arrival of wayang was a form of ancestral spirits.

In the Hindu-Buddhist era, wayang performances were developed according to the times by bringing stories from India, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Even though they come from India, there are several figures from Indonesia who appear in wayang performances.


b. Dance Arts

As with wayang performing arts, dance also existed before the Hindu-Buddhist era entered. The art of performing dance is usually used to express gratitude to the Creator for having been given enough crops. In addition, the process of appointing tribal chiefs usually uses dance performances as well.

Performing arts caused by the influence of Hindu-Buddhist, until now its preservation but well maintained. By preserving the art of dance, it indicates that Indonesia’s cultural heritage will not be easily lost. Dance performances with Hindu-Buddhist influences can be seen in the Ramayana ballet which is held at the Prambanan temple during the full moon.

c. Music Art

JLA Brandes said that gamelan is one of the original performing arts owned by the Indonesian nation. This could be because the Indonesian people already think that gamelan music is the oldest musical art in Indonesia.

The development of gamelan music is growing rapidly, especially when Hindu-Buddhist entered Indonesia. Information about the art of gamelan music can be found in temple reliefs, books, and literary works.

4. Literary Arts and Script

The Hindu-Buddhist era is often known as the beginning of the emergence of script in Indonesia. The oldest script in Indonesia was found in Kutai, East Kalimantan and is located on the Yupa stone inscription. The Yupa inscription is written in Pallawa letters and Sanskrit.

At the beginning of its emergence, the Pallawa script was used to write things on stone inscriptions and in literary works. After experiencing various developments, the Pallawa script developed into the Hacaraka script. The Hanacaraka script is used to write Javanese and Balinese scripts.

With the Pallawa script and Sanskrit language that is often used, it makes people move to develop local literature. Broadly speaking, every literary work in the Hindu-Buddhist era was heavily influenced by the Ramayana and Mahabharata literature from India.

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Stories originating from India are combined with Indonesian culture, resulting in stories that are meaningful and of course interesting to read. Literary works in the Hindu-Buddhist era were usually in the form of books compiled by Mpu Panuluh and Mpu Sedah with the title Bharatayudha


5. Belief System

The belief system that existed during the Hindu-Buddhist era had three very important elements. First , in the pre-literate period, a belief system originated from community groups or tribal chiefs which was marked by the existence of a ritual. These rituals are believed to be a form of respect to the gods.

Second, there is a belief in heirlooms which are considered to have magical powers in them. In the Hindu-Buddhist era, belief in heirlooms was very strong, so many people believed in the power that existed in these heirlooms.

Third , in the Hindu-Buddhist era, religious leaders always had a respected place in society. In addition, religious leaders are highly respected by the community.

From these three historical facts, it can be said that the Hindu-Buddhist influence did not eliminate the original beliefs of the Indonesian people. In fact, the development of Hindu-Buddhist religions can be said to have combined original beliefs or local beliefs that had existed before.



6. Social System

In the Hindu-Buddhist social system, the social roles and functions of community members are grouped based on their degree level.

a. Brahmin

At this level, someone will have the role of being an adviser to the king and religious educator.

b. Knight

At this level, someone will become the administrator and administrator of the government system which aims to maintain royal power. Knights also play a role as defenders of the kingdom, such as the king’s assistants and soldiers.

c. Vaishya

At this level, a person is categorized as an ordinary person who has a profession, such as a trader, farmer, fisherman and artist.

d. Sudras

At this level, a person is categorized as a society that has the lowest degree. Usually someone who gets the rank of Shudra, such as lowly workers, laborers, slaves, and servants.


7. Government System

Before the entry of Hindu-Buddhist, Indonesian society adhered to a system of government in the form of a group leader or tribal chief. In the tribal chief government system, each leader is elected based on who has the most influence on the group.

However, after the entry of Hindu-Buddhist, the tribal government system changed to a royal system. The leader of a community group is in the hands of a king. A king has the right to inherit his throne from generation to generation.

In this royal system, shamans are appointed as advisers and have the title of Brahmin and their position is under the king. Meanwhile, the position of the people remained as waisya and the slaves remained in their position, namely as sudras.


8. Calendar System

In prehistoric times, people always counted days using astronomy. Astronomy is believed to be able to determine the direction of the wind, especially when sailing. In fact, in determining the time of harvest also uses astronomy.

However, the entry of Hindu-Buddhism into Indonesia has had an impact on Indonesian society in the form of time calculations based on the Saka calendar. The Saka year calendar has a total of 365 days. While the Saka year with the Christian year has a year difference, which is 78 years.


Hindu-Buddhist Entrance Path

Hindu-Buddhist influence entered Indonesia through trade routes and was brought by traders and priests from India and China. The entry of Hindu-Buddhist influence through two types of trade routes, namely land routes and sea routes.

1. Land Line

The land route became the route for Hindu-Buddhism to be brought to Indonesia, so that when in Indonesia there was cultural acculturation. This overland route was made by traders via the silk route. The route of this route is divided into two parts, namely the northern silk route route and the southern silk route route.

The northern silk route route started from India to Tibet, then headed north until it reached China, Korea, and Japan.

Meanwhile, the Silk Road route started from North India to Bangladesh, then headed to Myanmar, Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, and headed to Indonesia.

2. Sea Route

In addition to land routes, the spread of Hindu-Buddhist through the sea. This sea route is very synonymous with merchant ship groups and usually sea route travel routes starting from India, then to Myanmar, Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, and the last stop in Indonesian territory.



The entry of Hindu-Buddhist influences the lives of Indonesian people and mixes Hindu-Buddhist culture with Indonesian culture. Even though it has an influence on the life of Indonesian society and culture, it still does not reduce the authenticity or values ​​of Indonesian society and Indonesian culture. The acculturation of this culture shows that Indonesian society is open to new cultures.