24 July 2023

Written by Johanes Koraag

Learning is the process of receiving new information in our minds, analyzing it critically, and producing new understandings that will enrich our repertoire of knowledge. Learning in the classroom only provides information that is cognitive, field experience is needed to experience directly the object being studied in order to get a broader perspective than just information. This hands-on learning in the field is often called excursion study.

On Sunday 21 May, the History of Religions class of ICRS taught by Dr. Leo Epafras, Dr. Abdul Wahid, and Prof. Dr. Inajati Adrisijanti invited students to study directly at two ancient religious sites in Yogyakarta, namely the Kedulan Hindu Temple and the Mataram Mosque in Kota Gede. Dr. Abdul Wahid with a background in history and Prof. Dr. Inajati with a background in Anthropology assisted students in exploring the past to understand today's situation so they can make the right decisions in the future.

Back to the Past at Kedulan Temple

Kedulan, a Hindu temple, founded in the 9th century, was the location of the first field study. The students arrived at Kedulan when the sun was just beginning to rise. Antar Nugroho, the lead archaeologist guided the learning process. Patiently and painstakingly, Nugroho explained the history and uniqueness of the temple to younger generations who often think history is a story from the past that has no meaning for their lives today. Enchantingly, Nugroho explained the accidental discovery of the location of this temple, previously hidden in a sand mining area within Mount Merapi’s lava beds.

Nugroho said that although the temple was found in a collapsed condition submerged in the sand of Mount Merapi, the important parts of the temple were found to be quite complete even though they were scattered due to being hit by sand flows. From the excavations, objects such as Lingga-Yoni, Durga Mahisasuramardini statues, Nandiswara statues, Mahakala statues, Ganesha statues, and Agastya statues were found. Because of its special features, conservation efforts are very important and have special meaning because they can provide information about religious and cultural life at that time. The completeness of the important parts of this temple is something that is rarely found in other Hindu temples. Most of the excavated temples are in a dilapidated condition or even their most important parts have been lost. The disappearance of important things in a temple also means the loss of valuable information that can be used as a guide to trace past civilizations.

The Kedulan Temple is located near Prambanan, which is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. The locations of these two Hindu temples provide important clues for us today, that in the 9th century Hinduism was once the religion practiced by the majority of people in the region. Interestingly, between the two Hindu temples there is a Buddhist temple, named Kalasan Temple. The existence of Hindu and Buddhist temples in adjacent areas signifies, that in the past, the relationship between the two religions, which were both rooted in Indian culture, was established in a harmonious atmosphere. Seeing this fact, historians and archaeologists conclude that at that time the followers of these two religions were able to live together, in the same space and time, with equality and, and provide each other with the same space to express their religious beliefs.

The Past Glory of the Islamic Mataram Kingdom

After the curiosity about the journey of Hinduism in the Java region was satisfied at the Kedulan temple, the students continued their exploration of the history of religions at an ancient site that is evidence of the spread of Islam in this region. As the day wore on we arrived at the Mataram Mosque in Kota Gede. This mosque has now been designated as a cultural heritage building, which must be protected from destruction and must be preserved as a reminder of its past glory. The strong influence of the Islamic religion on the government system of the Mataram kingdom was clearly manifested by the establishment of this mosque because this place of worship derives from a special order from the founder of the Mataram Kingdom himself.

The Kota Gede Mataram Mosque is the only physical building from the Islamic Mataram Kingdom of the 16th century that still survives, and even still functions as a place of worship for Muslims. Behind the mosque complex are the tombs of the Mataram kings who ruled at the beginning of the Islamic Empire era, before the tomb complex of the kings was moved to Imogiri, Bantul. This unique mosque is classified as one of the oldest mosques on the island of Java, after the Demak Mosque. There is something unique that distinguishes this mosque from mosques in general, which have dome-style Middle Eastern roofs; the roof of the Mataram Mosque uses a roof that is thick with the nuances of Javanese tradition with a terraced roof. The phenomenon of Islam embracing local culture is similar to what happened in China where mosques use architecture that is in harmony with temple architecture. The Mataram Mosque involves many cultural elements in its ritual details. For example, for the call to prayer they use a traditional Javanese communication tool, the kentungan, which is sounded first, followed by the drum, then the adhan is announced.

Since its inception in 1587, this mosque has functioned not only as a place of worship, but also as a center for education and social activities. To this day, the mosque has a school for early childhood education and a health clinic. This kind of dual function mosque fulfills the teachings of Islam, that what must be considered is the relationship between people and God (Habluminallah) and the relationship between people and their neighbors (Hablunminanas).

Visiting and directly studying the history of religions at the Kedulan Temple and the Mataram Mosque in Kota Gede ultimately resulted in a conclusion that one of the keys to the success of religions from foreign cultures really depends on their ability and willingness to adapt and adopt local culture. Hinduism, which originated in India and Islam, which originated in the Middle East, is still alive and well today because both were able to adapt to the culture of the Archipelago, which preexisted their arrival. In fact, religion and culture are two things that cannot be separated, because all religions are born from the womb of human culture.