Under Indonesia’s Surface, an Intricate Quilt of Faiths





The discovery of the nearly intact Hindu temple was a reminder of the long religious trajectory of the country that now has the world’s largest Muslim population. In few places on earth have three major religions intermixed with such intensity and proximity as in Indonesia’s island of Java. If the sultan of Yogyakarta’s palace lies at the heart of this city, Java’s spiritual center, the world’s largest Buddhist monument, Borobudur, and one of its largest Hindu temples, Prambanan, stand in its outskirts.

About 90 percent of Indonesians are now Muslim, with only pockets of Buddhists and Hindus left. But Hinduism and Buddhism, Java’s dominant religions for a much longer period, permeate the society and contribute to Indonesia’s traditionally moderate form of Islam.

For more than a decade, proponents of a more orthodox version of Islam have gained ground in Indonesia. More women are wearing head scarves and more Indonesians are adopting Arabic-style religious rituals as fundamentalists press for a purge of pre-Islamic values and ceremonies. But Indonesia’s traditional Islam provides a counterpoint.

It all began last August when the private university decided to build the library, “the symbol of knowledge of our religion,” next to the mosque, Mr. Muhammad said. In the two decades the university had occupied its 79-acre campus outside Yogyakarta, no temple had ever been found. But chances were high that they were around. Most of the nearby villages had the same prefix in their names: candi, meaning temple.

By Dec. 11, a construction crew had already removed nearly seven feet of earth. But the soil proved unstable, and the crew decided to dig 20 inches deeper. A backhoe then struck something unusually hard.

The crack the backhoe left on the temple wall would become the main sign of damage on what experts say could be the best-preserved ancient monument found in Java.

Researchers from the government’s Archaeological Office in Yogyakarta headed to the campus the next day, excavated for 35 days and eventually unearthed two 1,100-year-old small temples. In the main temple, 20 feet by 20 feet, a perfectly preserved statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, sat next to a linga, the symbol of worship for the god Shiva, and a yoni, the symbol of worship for the goddess Shakti.

In the adjacent secondary temple, about 20 feet by 13 feet, researchers exhumed another linga and yoni, as well as two altars and a statue of Nandi, the sacred bull that carried Shiva.



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