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Building the National Character of Indonesia: The Role of Indigenous Religions

  August 14th 2020

Photo illustration by Angga Indratama on

On July 16, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) held the 11th Forum Kamisan Daring, an online seminar in cooperation with CRCS and other organizations such as Komnas Perempuan, Pusad Paramadina, LIPI, and Satunama. This online seminar was moderated by Rev. Kristi, an ordained priest of Gereja Kristen Jawa (GKJ) Gondokusuman, Yogyakarta. The discussion of this online seminar was about the role of indigenous religions in building the national character of Indonesia. There were two speakers and one respondent for this online seminar. The first speaker was Christina Irnawati, she is an adherent of Kejawen from Central Java who also practices hypnotherapy. In her presentation, she explained that since she was seven years old she was curious about the spiritual life of Kejawen. She was interested in drawing closer to Gusti (God), the creator of the universe. She practiced meditation in certain places with the hopes of helping her get closer to God. Christina performed spiritual practices on her own without a spiritual teacher. However, since she graduated from high school, she ceased her spiritual practices. However, she promised herself that after she married and her child reached 17 years old, she would return to this kind of spiritual practice. She kept her promise to herself, returning to Kejawen and her spiritual habits outside of official religion and official religious worship. Christina regularly meditates in nature with the purpose of strengthening the bond between herself, nature, and God.  There is no specific rule, liturgy, or prayer to her meditation, but she usually recites one tembang or Javanese song which she calls tembang singgah-singgah as a starting point of her meditation to connect with nature and God. Related to the role of indigenous religion and character building, she argues that meditation and her spiritual practices help her to be a better person, a better wife, and a better mother because she is able to perform all those roles with patience. She now has a greater appreciation for nature and other people. 

The second speaker was KRT. Rosa Mulya Aji (an adherent of Maneges from Central Java). Aji explained the short history of Maneges. He shared that Maneges was founded by his ancestors, named KRT. Wirahadi, in 1478, in the era of Majapahit. The founding was closely related to the collapse of Majapahit after being attacked by Demak. KRT. Wirahadi moved to Tegal and built a new life with his family and followers by the area of Kali Gung or Gung River. In 1525, the term Kejawen emerged because there was a group of people who embrace Jawa Dwipa and refused to embrace Islam. In 1927, Maneges emerge as a movement in Javanese religion that searched for the genuine Javanese religion, which is not Islam. This group continued to grow and in 2007, KRT. Rosa Mulya Aji became Bahurekso or leader of this group. In 2016, Maneges was registered with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Aji also explained four beliefs of Maneges:

  • God is one, even though there are many religions. God is absolutely right, all good, all wise, and knows the heart of people.
  • Maneges do not believe in the existence of Jinn and Satan
  • Maneges a is purely Javanese religion and not influenced by other religions
  • Natural law is God’s law

Aligned with that, there are 8 main teachings of Maneges:

  • Ora mateni sakabehe, it is forbidden to kill any creature, because all the pain will return to the one who causes pain
  • Ora ngerusak sakabehe, do not destroy nature because it destroys human life itself. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and consuming narcotics is also forbidden.
  • Ora mangan kewan, do not eat animals.
  • Ora ngapusi, do not lie or cheat.
  • Budi lan karya, think good things and be kind.
  • Maca lan meguru, read and learn from everything, even from the bad example of other people and learn not to follow their ways.
  • Tenggang rasa tepo sliro, live with empathy and wisdom.
  • Ngadohi won gala lan kejem, stay away from bad and cruel people.

There are also some concepts of God’s nature according to Maneges:

  • Gusti iku welas asih, God  is all-loving and merciful.
  • Gusti maha adil, God is all fair.
  • Gusti iku agung, God is great.
  • Gusti iku wicaksana, God is wise.
  • Gusti akeh pangapurane, God is forgiving.
  • Gusti iku sae kanti sampurno, God is all kind and perfect. 

Akhol Firdaus, from IAIN Tulungagun, in response to the two presentations emphasized that the role of indigenous religions in shaping the national of character of Indonesia may be summarized as cultural synthesis, a term proposed by Justus M. van der Kroef. Firdaus argued that cultural synthesis is a characteristic of Indonesian society which allowed for the great diversity of religions and forms of spirituality to thrive alongside one another. Every new religion which came to Indonesia was embraced and combined with local wisdom, local values, and local tastes by the Indonesian peoples. Therefore, these religions are quite different in form when compared to their origins. Firdaus also argued that term cultural synthesis emerged from anthropological research and it is thus difficult to claim certain forms of spirituality, such as Maneges, is purely Javanese in origin. The cultural synthesis of Indonesia is related to the nation ideology of Pancasila which also enables Indonesia to appreciate the diversity of religion, spirituality, and culture within the archipelago.