Buddhism in Indonesia – History – Spread – Influences

buddhism in Indonesia

Indonesia, world’s biggest archipelago, is famous for its diversity in cultures, races, and religions. People from different cultures with different religions, Islam, Catholic, Christian, Hinduism, Buddhist, and many more, live side by side peacefully.

The openness of the people is one of the reasons. This openness is most likely also one of the reasons these religions could enter and as well spread through the nation. In ancient times, people in Indonesia worshiped ancestral spirits. Ancestors were believed to have supernatural powers that could be used by living people.

These beliefs were followed until Hinduism and Buddhism were brought to the country through trades.
Buddhism is the second oldest religion in Indonesia, arriving sometime around the sixth century AD. The history of Buddhism in Indonesia is closely related to Hindu history.

A number of Buddhist kingdoms were built around the same period, such as the kingdoms of Syailendra, Sriwijaya and Mataram. The arrival of Buddhism began with trading activities around the early first century through the Silk Road between India and Indonesia.  Meanwhile, a number of heritages related to Buddhism can be found in Indonesia, including Borobudur temple in Magelang, sculptures, and inscriptions from the early history of the Buddhist Kingdoms.

Read also:

The History and Development of Buddhism in Indonesia

Buddhism was first founded by the Buddha himself. During the first two hundred years of its history, Buddhism existed only in northern India. The religion started spreading outside the country when King Ashoka ruled the country. The king devoted all his efforts to spreading the Buddha’s teachings outside India, including Indonesia.

See also:

1. The Kingdom of Srivijaya

Buddhism first entered the archipelago around in the 5th century AD according to some inscriptions. It is said that the religion was first brought by a Chinese traveler named Fa Hien. The first Buddhist kingdom that in Indonesia was the Srivijaya Kingdom that stood in the 7th century until 1377.

Srivijaya was a kingdom located in Sumatra, but its power reaches Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and others. The kingdom of Srivijaya was once the center of Buddhist development in Southeast Asia. This can be seen in the record of a Chinese scholar named I-Tsing who traveled to India and the archipelago and noted the development of Buddhism there.

Prior to studying at Nalanda University in India, I-Tsing made a visit to the Srivijaya kingdom. Based on I-tsing records, Srivijaya was home to Buddhist scholars, and became a center of Buddhist learning. This proves that during the time of the kingdom of Srivijaya, Buddhist religion developed very rapidly. In his note, I-tsing also wrote there are more than 1000 priests who study Buddhists in Srivijaya.

See also:

2. The Kingdom of Majapahit

Majapahit was a kingdom in Indonesia that once stood from around the year 1293 to 1500 AD. This kingdom reached the peak of glory during the reign of Hayam Wuruk ruling from 1350 to 1389. Majapahit kingdom was the last Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that controlled the Malay Peninsula and is considered as one of the largest kingdoms in the history of Indonesia.

However, due to internal divisions and also the absence of a substitute ruler that matched the glory of Hayam Wuruk and Gajah Mada, the Majapahit Kingdom began to collapse. After the collapse of the Majapahit kingdom, the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms began to be displaced by the Islamic kingdoms. Majapahit left many the Buddhism sacred buildings, those which were used as means of religious rituals at that time.

After Majapahit Kingdom collapsed in 1478, the Buddhism and Hinduism gradually shifted its position by Islam, and after the development of the Islamic kingdoms in Indonesia, the number of Buddhists was diminishing as replaced by the new Islamic religion brought into the archipelago by traders living in the coastal areas.

See also:

3. Indonesia’s Pre-and Post-Independence Period

It was a monk from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) named Narada Maha Thera who started developing Buddhism in Indonesia after its independence. In 1934 he visited the Indies (now Indonesia) as the first Theravadin monk to come to spread Buddhism after more than 450 years of the last Hindu-Buddhist kingdom in the archipelago.

His arrival began to raise interests in studying Buddhism in the country. This action was then reinforced by an ordained monk called Bhikkhu Ashin Jinarakkhita, and re-started the development of Buddhism in Indonesia, where Buddhism gradually became known again.

See also:

Post the September 30th Movement

After the unsuccessful attempted coup of the September 30th Movement in 1965, any indications of deviation from the monotheistic teachings of Pancasila were regarded as treason. To defend Buddhism in Indonesia, the founder of Perbuddhi (a Buddhist organization in Indonesia), Bhikkhu Ashin Jinarakkhita, proposed an adaptation in the dogma of Buddhism in Indonesia, concerning the divinity in Buddhism, then it was conceived of divinity in Buddhism in Indonesia as “Sang Hyang Adi Buddha”.

He sought evidence and confirmation for this distinctive version of Indonesian Buddhism in ancient Javanese texts, and even from the Buddhist temple complex in Borobudur in Central Java Province.

In the years that followed after the failed 1965 coup attempt, when all Indonesian citizens were required to register with a particular religious denomination or suspected of being communist sympathizers, the number of Buddhist-listed followers rose sharply, several dozen new Buddhist temples were built.

In 1987 there were seven schools of Buddhism affiliated with Indonesian Buddhist Representatives (Walubi), namely: Theravada, Buddhayana, Mahayana, Tridharma, Kasogatan, Maitreya, and Nichiren.
In 1974, Bhikkhu Ashin Jinarakkhita presided over the Great Sangha of Indonesia derived from the Maha Sangha of Indonesia and the combined Sangha of Indonesia.

GUBSI (Association of Indonesian Buddhists) was formed in 1976 as the sole organization of Indonesian Buddhists from Perbuddhi, Buddha Dharma Indonesia, and so on.

See also:

Buddhist Heritage Sites in Indonesia

Buddhist temples are used as shrines. The hallmark of Buddhist temples is the stupa and statue of the Buddha Gautama. Stupa is a stone building where the Buddha statue is kept. Some Buddhist temples are listed as follows:

1. Sewu temple

sewu temple

This second largest Buddhist temple after Borobudur Temple is located in a complex near Prambanan Temple.

It can be assumed from its location close to Prambanan temple which is a Hindu temple that once Hinduism and Buddhism lives in.

Sewu Temple is the second largest Buddhist temple after Borobudur Temple and has been listed as one of world heritage by UNESCO. Sewu Temple is located in Bugisan Village, Prambanan Sub-district, Klaten District, Central Java Province.

This temple was built by Sri Maharaja Rakai Panangkaran during the reign of the ancient Mataram kingdom. Sewu Temple was completed around 714 Saka or 792 AD, based on the discovery of Manjusrigrha Inscription which was found near the perwara temple explaining about Prasada celebration, Wajrasana Manjusrighra that year.

See also:

2. Plaosan Temple

candi plaosan

Plaosan Temple is a located in temple complex located in Plaosan, Bugisan Village, Prambanan Sub-district, Klaten District, Central Java Province, Indonesia.

This temple is located approximately one kilometer to the northeast of Sewu Temple or Prambanan Temple.

The existence of the top of the stupa, Buddha statue, and ancillary temples (companion / small) in the form of stupas indicate that the temples are Buddhist temples.

The complex was built in the 9th century by King Rakai Pikatan and Sri Kahulunan during the Medang Kingdom, also known as Ancient Mataram Kingdom.

See also:

3. Mendut Temple

Formerly named Veluvana (bamboo forest), this temple was founded by King Indra Gananatha in 809, the inscription was issued in 810.

The walls of the back porch are decorated with reliefs of the Kalpavreksa tree (a tree to plead) with the goddess Hariti (symbol of fertility) in the North and the Kuwera goddess (symbol of prosperity) in the South.

In Mendut there are three large statues. In the center is the Buddha Gotama statue with the mudra “Dharmacakra” (spinning the Dharma Wheel).

On his right is a statue of Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara with mudra “Vara” (in Tengger area called Buddha Kesvara). To his left was the Vajrapni Bodhisattva statue with the mudra “Simhakarna”. The three statues in Mahayana are known as “Sang Ratnatraya” or “Tri Ratna”. Outside of the temple is a statue of the goddess Tara (cakti from the Buddha) carved on the North wall, Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara on the east wall and Bodhisatva Manjusri on the south wall.

See also:

4. Borobudur temple


Borobudur Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia. This temple is located in Magelang, Central Java.

Borobudur temple was built before the Hindu religion was developed in Java.

It took about 50 years to finish the construction. Reliefs (embossed painting) contained in the temple of Borobudur reaches 4 km long, and the height of this temple is 42 meters.

The statues put up there reached 500 pieces.

Moreover, Borobudur temple is one of Indonesian Heritage which already known in world stage as part of seven wonders in the world along with Komodo dragon Island.

See also:

5. Muara Takus Temple

Muara Takus Temple is located in the village of Muara Takus, Tigabelas Koto Kampar Sub-district, Kampar District, Riau Province. It is approximately 128 km from Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau Province.

The temple is considered a Buddhist temple from the stupa, which is a symbol of the Buddha. This Buddhist temple is a proof that Buddhism once flourished in this region.

However, archaeologists have not been able to determine exactly when this temple was founded.

See also:

6. Jago Temple

The name Jago is derived from the word “Jajaghu”, founded in the days of Singhasari Kingdom in the 13th century. It is Located at Tumpang District, Malang Regency, or about 22 km from Malang City.

This temple is quite unique, because the top is left only partly, which according to the local story it is caused by being struck by a lightning. Reliefs of Kunjarakarna and Pancatantra can be found in this temple. The entire building of this temple is composed of andesite stone materials.

King Adityawarman put Manjusri Inscription there. Now the statue is stored in the National Museum.

See also:

7. Sari Temple

Sari Temple, also called Bendah Temple, is a Buddhist temple located not far from Sambi Sari Temple, Kalasan Temple and Prambanan Temple, which is in the northeast part of Yogyakarta city, and not so far from Adisucipto Airport.

This temple was built around the 8th and 9th centuries at the time of ancient Mataram Kingdom with a very beautiful shape.

At the top of this temple there are 9 pieces of stupas as seen on the stupa at Borobudur Temple, and arranged in 3 rows parallel.

See also: Balinese Dance – Bali Tribes 

The shape of the temple and carved reliefs that exist on the walls of the temple is very similar to the reliefs in Plaosan Temple. Some of the two-story rooms are just below each stupa, and are thought to be used for meditation places for Buddhist monks (monks) of the early days. Sari temple in the past is a Buddhist monastery, and is used as a place of study and studied for monks.

Sari temple was originally a two-story building. The upper floor used to store goods for religious purposes, while the lower floors were used for religious activities, such as teaching and learning, discussing, etc. The walls of this temple are also coated with vajralepa (brajalepa), a protective layer that is also found on the walls of Kalasan Temple.

See also: Indonesia Wildlife – Native Plants of Indonesia

The outer walls of the body are filled with sculptures and other beautiful ornaments. Doors and windows are flanked by a pair of male and female statues standing in a lotus holding position. The total number of statues is 36 pieces, consisting of 8 statues on the front wall (east), 8 statues on the north wall, 8 on the south wall, and 12 on the west wall (back).

The size of the statues is the same as the size of the human body in general. On the other side the walls are filled with sculptures of various forms, such as Kinara Kinari (bird man), vine, and cumuda (leaves and flowers that stick out from a round vase). Above the window sill and the niches are decorated with a Kalamakara without a lower jaw in a very decorative form and far from a sinister impression.

See also: Bali Myna Bird – Merak Bird

As in the wall of Kalasan Temple, the walls of Sari Temple are also covered by Vajralepa layers, which provide bright colors and preserves stones.

The stairs up to the surface of the foot of the temple have been destroyed. At the side of the ladder is a stone stalk. It is not clear whether the stone stalks were in its original place, but it seems that the bottom of the bush was immersed in the ground. The entrance is in the middle of the long side to the east. Originally, the threshold on the temple wall was located in a prominent viewing chamber.

Currently the display booth is no longer left, so the entrance to the room in the temple can be immediately visible. Decoration on the frame and Kalamakara above the doorway is very simple, because the beautiful decoration is located on the outside wall of the door booth.

Inside the temple there are three lined rooms, each about 3.48 m x 5.80 m. The middle rooms and the other two rooms are connected by doors and windows. These chambers were originally built as storied booths. The height of the wall is divided by two wooden floors supported by fourteen logs across, so that in this temple there are 6 rooms.

See also: Javan Hawk – Indonesia Orangutan

The interior walls of the rooms are plain without any decoration. On the back wall of each room there is a kind of shelf that is a bit high that was used as a place of religious ceremony and places the statue. Downstairs there are some statue mats and niches used to place statues. None of these statues are left today. On the walls of the northern chamber and the southern chamber there is a niche for placing lighting.

Floors and parts of buildings made of wood are now gone, but on the walls are still visible holes where used to plug the beam buffer. On the southernmost walls of the chamber were found carved stones, which served as a wooden staircase end.

The roof of the temple is flat square with 3 pieces of decoration on each side. The frame of the niche is also decorated with sculptures of tendrils and above the verge of the niche is also decorated with Kalamakara. The top of the temple is a row of stupas, which consists of a stupa in every corner and a mid-sided roof. At the time of shooting done, ie in March 2003, Candi Sari is undergoing restoration.

See also:

8. Pawon Temple

Pawon temple is located between Mendut and Borobudur temple, just 1750 m from Borobudur Temple to the east and 1150 m from Mendut Temple to the west. Pawon Temple was restored in 1903.

We can no longer found statues inside the building so it is difficult to identify it further. An interesting thing from this Pawon Temple is the variety of the decorations.

The outer walls of the temple are decorated with reliefs of biological trees (kalpataru) flanked by sacs and kinaras (half-human creatures half birds / human-headed birds).

See also:

9. Tikus Temple

The temple is located in the complex Trowulan, about 13 km southeast of the city of Mojokerto. This temple which was originally buried in the ground was rediscovered in 1914.

Site excavation was done based on Mojokerto regent report, R.A.A. Kromojoyo Adinegoro, about the discovery of miniature temples in a public cemetery. A thorough restoration was carried out from 1984 to 1985. The name ‘Tikus’ or mouse is only a term used by the local community. It is said that at the time found the temple was used as a nest of mice.

No source of written information has been made clear about when, for what, and by whom Tikus Temple was built. However, with the miniature of the tower, it can be estimated that this temple was built in the 13th century until the 14th.

The building resembles a bathhouse, which is a pond with several buildings in it. Almost all buildings are rectangular with size 29.5 m x 28.25 m and are made of red brick. Interestingly, it is located about 3.5 m lower than the surrounding soil surface.

On the top surface there is a wide corridor about 75 cm surrounding the building. On the inside, down about 1 m, there is a broader hall around the edge of the pool. The entrance to the temple is located on the north side, a staircase of 3.5 m wide to the bottom of the pond.

See also: Indonesian Angklung Facts – Gamelan Facts


Several inscriptions of the inheritance of Sriwijaya Kingdom were found in South Sumatra. Archeologists also found the Inscription of Telaga Stone, the Inscription of Talang Tuwo, and the Inscription of Kedukan Bukit in Palembang. All the three tell about the kingdom of Sriwijaya. Two other inscriptions, that is The Inscription of Karang Berahi and The Prasasti of Kota Kapur, also tell anout the territory of Srivijaya.

See also:

Buddhism in New Era

According to the 2000 national census, less than 2% of the total Indonesian population is Buddhist. Most Buddhists live in Jakarta, although some also live in other provinces such as Riau, North Sumatra and West Kalimantan.

However, this may be not the exact number, since Confucianism and Taoism are not considered official religions in Indonesia. People from these religions are considered Buddhists. Thus, the number of Buddhists in Indonesia may be less than 2%.

There are many factors that may be the cause of the shortage of Buddhist population in Indonesia. Lack of Buddhism teachings in the family of children who attend non-Buddhist schools affects them in many ways that they tend to be influenced by common beliefs. Many also consider Buddhist holy ceremonies to be close to incense, flowers, candles, and others.

See also:

That makes people consider it as a religion that needs a lot of money to do the ceremonies. People tend to choose simpler ways. That might be one of the most important factors that drive people away from the religion.