In Java, a succession of Hindu kingdoms flourished for 1500 years. In Java, the strongest form of Hinduism was Javanese Shaivism, rooted in the very ancient Shaiva Siddantha tradition.

Javanese Shaivism is a religious system that postulates Shiva as God Almighty, the Ultimate reality, the origin and final destination of all. It made a significant contribution to fields of metaphysics, religion and culture. It is a system of thought that covers  ethics and rituals as well as Yoga.

Among all schools of Shaivism, it is a distinctive system shaped by Javanese specificity. Its principles are written in Sanskrit and Old Javanese (Kawi) sources, and in modern Balinese. Over the centuries, it developed into an advanced form of Shaivism, blending Indian and Javanese forms of spirituality as well as Indonesian Esoteric Buddhism.

Javanese Shiva Mahadeva – Image source: Didi Trowulanesia

The Shaivism of Dvipantara

Since ancient times, the dominant form of Hinduism in Dvipantara (Southeast Asia) was Shaivism. Chinese chronicles attest of a Shaivite kingdom in Vietnam in the 2nd century. It is believed however that Shaivism predates the earliest material remains that have been found in Dvipantara.

It is both the Shaiva (Hindu) and Buddhist Tantra which spread the most throughout the region, as they were most compatible with the existing local religions and practices.

Javanese Shaivism adopted and assimilated the religious beliefs of all the peoples with whom the early Shaivas came into contact. It did not destroy local beliefs (kawruh) but absorbed them.

It was able to assimilate hundreds of differing religious beliefs under its umbrella, because ultimately, as the famous Upanishadic aphorism puts it, ‘Ekam Sat vipra bahudha vadanti‘ (“God is One, and the sages call Him by different names”).

As a result, in Indonesia, “Hinduism” is a synergistic blend of almost all Dharmic spiritual traditions (such as Vajrayana Buddhism, Shaiva Siddantha, Kala Bhairava Tantra, etc.) in a very refined form.

Today, Bali and Java provide spiritualists with precious knowledge about Hinduism and Buddhism which had vanished in India itself.

Javanese Shaivism matured first in Central and East Java, where the teachings of Tantrayana developed. The area of Kahuripan around Mount Penanggungan was a core center of the ancient Javanese wisdom and is considered a sacred region.

Image source: Arif Javanese sculptures

Core beliefs of Javanese Shaivism

  • A belief in one supreme being called ‘Ida Sanghyang Widi Wasa’, or Shiva
  • A belief that all of the gods are manifestations of this supreme being (Hyang, Dewata and Batara-Batari)
  • A belief in the Trimurti, consisting of: Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preserver, and Shiva, the Dissolver of the Universe.
  • Lord Shiva is also worshiped in other, lower manifestations for different purposes, such as Batara Guru and Mahadeva, who are closely identified with the Sun as per the Upanishads.
  • An observance of the Catur Purusartha, or four proper goals of human life: dharma (pursuit of moral and ethical living), artha (pursuit of wealth and creative activity), kama (pursuit of joy and love) and moksha (pursuit of self-knowledge and liberation).

Image source: Mas Bhoemi Wilwatikta

Indonesian Hindus believe in One Supreme God, with the other gods just being manifestations of him, or different layers of Reality that can be more easily addressed for different purposes.

In Sanskrit, He is named Acintya, but Indonesian Hindus know him as Tunggal or Sanghyang Widhi Wasa (the most common name among modern Balinese). Prayers and offerings are not given directly to Tunggal, but to his more precise manifestations as various deities.

Tunggal is God Almighty in the Javanese Wayang (shadow puppets theater). Tunggal is often represented as the Spiritual Sun (as explained in the Upanishads – where the Sun is seen as the best representation for Acintya, or Brahman, and not just a solar deity). In most depictions, there are spiritual flames around him.

The omnipresence of Tunggal, or Acintya, or Shiva, or God Almighty is revered through the padmasana.

Image source – Didi Trowulanesia

Tantrayana, the root of Javanese culture?

It all started in the dialogue between goddess Parwati and Sang Hyang Sada-Siwa about goddess Durga who descended on Earth to save the world from the chaos of human actions. Durga’s role in saving the earth is called Kalimosada, or Kali-Maha-Usada.

From here came Shaktism, where people praised Shakti, the energy of Shiva, and from there came the term ‘Bhairawa’, which means ‘great, magnificent power’.

Tantrayana is focused on the balance of both worldly life and spiritual well-being. Tantrayana praises the various gods and goddesses as the passive magnificent powers of God.

This book presents a comprehensive analysis of the philosophical principles of Javanese Saivism as contained in Sanskrit and Kawi Tutur and Tattva texts. It seeks to bring out major aspects of the religion, and its philosophical inquiry, metaphysics, ethics and epistemology. It states that Javanese form of Saivism is a unique sect of Saivism, and brings out its similarities and differences with four forms of Saivism –  Saiva Siddhanta, Kashmir Saivism, Pasupata Saivism and Vara-Saivism. 

In practice, Tantrayanas emphasize tapa brata. Tapa comes from the Sanskrit root tap, which means heat. Tapa is also meditation. In meditation, a person focuses his mind, and in this process, he generates heat in his body that will cleanse his body, mind and soul. Brata is spiritual discipline.

Tantrayana also focuses on cleansing rituals, that’s why sesajen or offerings are always used in Java as a medium for cleansing. This is why all the scenes in the Serat Centhini symbolize rituals to respect the Earth and cleanse it.

Javanese Yoga developed from such roots. The Javanese practiced Yoga as a comprehensive and holistic system for general wellbeing. They did not create any dogma or doctrine around it, nor did they reduce it to a sectarian teaching.

The 3 tattwas of Shiva

The teachings of Javanese Shaivism consider Shiva as the Supreme Reality, or God Almighty. However, Shiva is an almost identical name used for his 3 highest tattwas, or layers of existence.

  • The first tattwa is Siwattatwa which is non-existent (intangible), and called Parashiva or Parameshvara.
  • The second tattwa is Sadasiwattatwa or Consciousness/Matter. That is why Shiva is said to be married to Parvati (also called Shakti, Uma, Durga, according to the circumstances), or Matter (tangible reality).
  • The third tattwa is the Trimurti (or Trisamaya) , which is sakala (tangible) and directly related to the Creation (manifested as Batara Brahma), Preservation (manifested as Batara Vishnu) and Dissolution (manifested as Batara Shiva Mahadeva) of all things.

Hence Shiva-Mahadeva of the Trimurti is an inferior tattwa (layer) to Sada Shiva, which is inferior to the Absolute Shiva, or Parashiva.

God Almighty in Javanese Shaivism therefore expresses Himself in 3 layers of existence:

  • As the Trimurti – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva Mahadeva
  • As the Cosmic Couple of Sada Shiva and Parvati/Devi/Uma/Durga/Shakti
  • On top of the pyramid, as the first  tattva, is a shapeless, formless, Absolute Truth, called Brahman, or Parabrahman, or Parashiva. This Absolute Reality is denoted by the sound Om.

The Trimurti

The third tattwa from the Godhead in Javanese Shaivism is the Trimurti, which consists of:

  • Batara Brahma, who creates the world. Lord Brahma is only worshiped for practical purposes such as wealth and prosperity, since he represents the aspect of Creation.
  • Batara Wisnu, who maintains the world. Basic householders tend to attach themselves to Lord Vishnu.
  • Bhathara Shiva-Mahadeva, who dissolves the world. People looking for high spiritual achievements rather become worshipers of Lord Shiva-Mahadeva.

This was the core teaching of the early Hinduism, which then developed into various schools.

Depiction of Shiva-Mahadeva as Adi Yogi, the lord of the yogis

Tantric Shaivism and the Shiva-Buddha religion

In Java, Bali and Lombok, Shaivism and Buddhism are considered two different lineages of the same religion. King Sindok is credited for the harmonious merging of the Shaivist and Buddhist cosmologies and is considered the founder of the Indonesian Shiva-Buddha religion.

In particular, the merging of the Kalacakratantra and of local esoteric philosophy (kawruh), can be said to be the source of the union of Shiva-Buddha.

In the upakara and yajna ceremonies in Java and Bali, is clearly visible the influence of Tantra, which is where the merging between Shaivism and Buddhism occurred in Indonesia, and came to be the dominant religion.

The kings of Medang, Kahuripan and Kediri then temporarily embraced Vaishnavism, but during the reign of Sri Kartanegara the Shiva-Buddha religion re-emerged until the time of the Majapahit, when the typical Hindu-Javanese teaching was perfected and called ‘Saiwasiddhanta Jawa’, or Javanese Shaiva Siddantha.

The Javanese Shaiva scriptures

The body of Javanese Shaiva religious scriptures is known as tutur and tattva. In addition to normative Shaivist texts, some of the most well known Javanese scriptures include:

  • The Vrhaspati Tattva was specifically intended for the Javanese people. In this scripture, Pratyahara or withdrawal of the sense objects and senses is given first priority. The emphasis is also placed upon tarka, or Contemplation and Thought.
  • The Tattvajnana
  • The Śiwarātrikalpa of Mpu Tanakung
  • Tanakung also wrote a kakawin about the Siwaratri ritual which explains this Shaivite ceremony in Java.
  • The Smaradahana by Mpu Dharmaja
  • Some of the Javanese Shaiva scriptures are also written in Sundanese script, in a class of text known as Merapi-Merbabu manuscripts.
  • The Dharma Pātañjala, presents a typically Javanese form of Shaiva Yoga.
  • The Arjunawiwāha – The Marriage of Arjuna of Mpu Kanwa

The Sang Dwija Naga Naraswara – the Javanese version of Shiva’s trishula, with Nāga on the sides. Image source: Aurela Arsyifa

The Javanese Yoga

To understand the specificity of Javanese Yoga, there is perhaps no better source than to study the recent translation of the Dharma Patanjala, a Kawi-Sanskrit Shaiva scripture rediscovered a few years ago on a Sundanese palm-leaf manuscript.

While it is the Shaiva Sadangayoga that is usually dominant in Javanese scriptures, the Dharma Patanjala instead attunes the Patanjala Astangayoga to a Shaiva philosophy.

The Dharma Patanjala documents an early tradition of Tattva scriptures, which was previously known only through two Javanese scriptures, the Vrhaspatitattva and the Tattvajnana. This important text sheds light upon our understanding of Javanese Shaiva Yoga and  philosophy.

In this book, Andrea Acri, a researcher at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, presents a study of the relationship between the Tutur and Tattva literature of Java and Bali:

  • Part I – Cultural and doctrinal background of the text
  • Part II – Annotated edition of the text
  • Part III – A systematic study focusing on the interpretation of the doctrines taught in the Dharma Patanjala in comparison with related Sanskrit and Kawi scriptures