Java is the 13th largest island in the world and was formed as the result of volcanic actions. It is made up of a chain of volcanic mountains forming an east-west spine along the island. There are three primary languages but most of the people speak Indonesian as their second language. The majority of the Javanese people are Muslim, however, there is a mixture of different religious beliefs caused by Java’s diverse history.
The earliest archeological artifact is a Hindu statue of Ganesha (1st century AD) found on the summit of Mount Raksa in Panaitan Island in West Java.
The earliest written records, in Sanskrit, mention the kingdom of Tarumanagara in the 5th century A.D. It lay to east of modern day Jakarta and one King Purnawarman was its ruler. He began the construction of irrigation canals for rice fields. He also inscribed his name and made a carving of his footprints, as well as his elephant's footprints on a huge black boulder. The inscription reads, "Here are the footprints of King Purnawarna, the heroic conqueror of the world".
However, Java and other Indonesian islands were mentioned by Indian scholars before this time and there was a continuous migration of Indian settlers between the 1st and 7th century AD. Like many other Southeast Asian kingdoms of that age Tarumanagara was influenced by the civilization of India. The blending Hindu literature and philosophy together with local culture enabled Hindu religion to spread throughout all layers of society in Java.
The Tarumanagara kingdom disappeared sometime within the next three centuries perhaps because of the rise of the Buddhist kingdom of Sriwijaya in south Sumatra but no one knows for sure.
From about the 8th century central Java was ruled by the Sailendra princes. Their small kingdoms were rich and the center of commercial and naval power. They built enormous religious monuments the largest of which is the Buddhist temple of Borobudur. Soon after the completion of Borobudur (built between 750-850 AD) the Temple to Siva at Prambanan was begun although this temple was not constructed by the Sailendras. Then some unknown disaster seems to have occurred at the beginning of the 10th century because there was a sudden end to the production of monuments, inscriptions and other artifacts in central Java.
The last of the major Hindu kingdoms was The Majapahit Empire in eastern Java (1293 to about 1500 AD). Then in the sixteenth century the power of coastal Muslim kingdoms began to grow and the remnants of the Majapahits fled to Bali which still has a Hindu majority today.
The earliest Muslim missionaries were called the Wali Sanga (the nine saints) they are the founders of Islam in Java and some of their tombs are still well-preserved. The type of Islam in Java is mixed with long-standing local beliefs.
The Dutch arrived in the early sixteen hundreds and established the Dutch East India Company with its trading and administrative headquarters in Batavia (now the capital city of Jakarta). By the nineteenth century the Dutch government had taken control of Indonesia and in the mid-nineteenth century endorsed policies to increase the profitability of the colony which increased the production of cash crops. This led to famine and widespread poverty in Java and by the beginning of the twentieth century there were protests which succeeded in changing this policy to one of increased investment and gave the Javanese elites access to a Dutch education. The later Indonesian nationalist leaders came from these western educated people formed the government, when Indonesia became an independent Republic after the end of World War II.
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