“Where was there a country that could more invite the retreat of holy men, than the evergreen islands which rise in endless clusters on the smooth seas of the Malayan Archipelago, where the elevation and tranquility of devotion are fostered by all that is majestic and lovely in nature?” – Sir Thomas Raffles
Mount Merapi – Central Java
The Indonesian archipelago forms a string of emeralds – 3,000 tropical islands spanning almost 3,500 miles between the Asian and Australian continents. The archipelago extends from Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra in the west to Irian Jaya in the east. Reflecting Indonesia’s geographical diversity, Indonesia’s people form a colorful mosaic of ethnic groups, languages, cultures, religions and traditions. The country simultaneously encompasses the densely populated and fertile island of Java with its terraced paddy fields and home to the descendents of ancient architectural marvels, to the barely populated rain forests of Kalimantan and Irian Jaya, where some tribes continue to live pre-historic lifestyles far from the reach of modern technology. The entire archipelago is subject to the tropical monsoon climate with its alternating monsoon rainy seasons and dry seasons. It is this climate that shapes the rhythmic ebb and flow of life in Indonesia. Indonesia’s culture is the product of its unique location at the crossroads of ancient trade routes between the civilizations of China and India; and the modern role it plays as the most populous nation in South-East Asia and the fifth most populous nation in the world.
Solo – Central Java
Java has a beautiful and fertile landscape – lush paddy fields with intricate rice terraces, soaring volcano backdrops and ancient Hindu-Buddhist temples scattered throughout the countryside, all imbued with a natural spiritual significance. When traveling through the countryside, one can imagine that little has changed in the traditional lifestyles of villagers since Indonesia’s ancient kingdoms flourished during the 8th and 9th centuries. Many of the agricultural practices that exist today stem from these kingdoms – villagers continue to practice traditional wet-rice cultivation methods using buffalos to plough their rice-fields and village dwellings are still built from traditional materials of bamboo and rice husk. Likewise, many existing cultural traditions can trace their origins to the ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Java, or even earlier to the animistic traditions of the ancient Austronesians. Traditional music, dance and art continue to thrive on the island.
One of Indonesia’s cultural gems is the world’s largest Buddhist monument – Borobudur. Built during the 9th Century, this beautiful mandala-temple is a jewel of ancient architecture. The monument provided pilgrims with a concrete method for attaining spiritual enlightenment. Circumambulating the temple and proceeding upward through the ten levels, the pilgrim would gradually prepare his or her mind for the brilliant simplicity and formlessness of the monument’s highest level. Borobudur is testimony to a philosophy that ultimately extols the pursuit of spiritual perfection. It is precisely this spiritual philosophy that has attracted so many foreign visitors to Indonesia to experience the almost mystical ambience of this ancient land.
Ceremonial Offering Bowl 19th Century – Bali