Of Shiva, Ganesha & Mt Bromo
Jakarta : Indonesia is the only Muslim majority nation with motto of Unity in Diversity enshrined in its constitution. After spending nearly a month in Java, where more than fifty percent of the country’s population lives, I can say that this motto is not a mere slogan. It is an intrinsic part of the easy going and ever smiling Indonesians social and cultural life.
Muslim majority Indonesia is proud of its Hindu heritage and Hindu religious symbols and names are an integral part of the countrymen’s day today life.
This note is majorly on Hindu heritage that I came across on my short visit to the volcanic region of East Java, home to volcanoes named after Brahma (Mt Bromo), the Hindu god of creation, and Arjun of the Mahabharata fame (Mt Arjuno-Welirang).
On the way to Indonesia’s most popular live volcano Mt Bromo in the Tengger tribe territory of Probolinggo, we walked past a Shivalingam. And after climbing Mt Bromo we made offerings to Lord Ganesha who sat on a pedestal welcoming all at the crater’s brim.
From the brim of Mt Bromo’s crater we saw a vast complex of a temple—Pura Luhur Poten—on the sea of sand’s bed. After climbing down we decided to visit the temple built in the year 2000. This temple was built to help Tengger tribals perform Yadnya Kasada annual ritual at Mt Bromo.
Tenggers are an ethnic subgroup of Javanese. Ninty percent of them practice Hindu rituals. It is said that modern day Tengger tribals are direct descendants of Princess Rara Anteng from the Hindu Majapahit kingdom and her Brahmin husband Jaka Seger. After the fall of the Majapahit empire in 1527, the two escaped from Sumatra to East Java and settled down in the inaccessible area of Mt Bromo.
Local tribals were influenced by Rara and Jaka’s way of life and religious practices and adopted the couple’s life style and embraced Hinduism, leading to its spread among them. Members of this tribe live in Probolinggo, Pasuruan, Malang and Lumajang and these four areas are home to the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
Tenggers believe that their gods and ancestors live inside the forever rumbling and roaring crater of Mt Bromo. They come here to seek their ancestors and gods blessings and ask for protection from natural elements. To appease them they make offerings of local agriculture produce. We too had picked up a bouquet of local flowers and offered it to the volcano. Its crater’s inside wall was strewn with such biodegradable bouquets.
We were stopped at the temple’s gate. Only those willing to offer prayers were allowed inside, we were informed by three men who were enjoying a cigarette at the entrance. When we said that we were Hindus from India and would like to offer prayers as well as see the temple, they all looked at us with wide open welcoming smiles.
A large group of men, women and girls from Bali was inside the open air temple complex. All of them were in their traditional best. One of them, a happy and boisterous man, volunteered to be our host and escort.
One has to tie a dhoti or a symbolic cloth belt around the waist to be eligible to enter the temple. The gentleman arranged two golden-yellow coloured cloth belts for us and accompanied us into the temple, merrily introducing us as “my friends from India. Hindus”.
Me and my son were introduced to everyone present as Hindu gentlemen from India. And thus began a session of photography. Majority of women and girls came forward and requested us to be in their group shots. They were being indulgently watched by their male relatives and friends.
It was one bunch of laughing, smiling, boisterous devotees, enjoying their temple visit to the hilt. The visit was a celebratory social occasion for them. Not a session of rituals and serious prayers.
All of us were walking around in our footwear in the complex. Men were smoking freely while women and girls were busy taking selfies and pictures. There was no pressure of rituals of any kind. Nor anyone chasing you for alms or donations.
One priest with a white headgear, wearing a thick dhoti was there to perform the puja and conduct prayers on request. For a change he was bare feet, but the moment he was free he immediately lit a cigarette and sat down to relax on the platform on which puja plates were kept.
The main deity in this temple is Shiva, with a majestic idol of his son Ganesha nearby. Incense sticks were in use, instead of oil lamps.
Except for their traditional dress and many women and girls wearing Hizabs, which made them stand out in the crowd at Mt Bromo, there was no religious fervour in the air. Neither were any deafening chants of mantras or invocations of god renting the air, nor any play of drums and ringing of bells. It was peace, tranquility and happiness all around.
After visiting the temple we moved on to an astonishingly huge meadow known in the local tourism sector as Teletubies Savannah. A 10-minute drive took us to a land full of soft grass. This massive meadow (Savannah) was surrounded by giant walls of the majestic cradle at a distance.
To retain Savannah’s natural beauty no commercial activity whatsoever is allowed in the vicinity. No vendors. No water or toilet facilities. No thorny bushes or shrubs. No trees. No herds of cattle. Only a bed of verdant green grass spread over hectares promising peace and tranquility was there. Come here to enjoy uninterrupted view of the green grassy plains. Visit this meadow for relaxation, meditation or just to brood and collect your thoughts.
Our driver informed that this year rains had given the area a miss otherwise it would have been a much more mesmerising site with flowers in full bloom. May be it would have looked like our Valley of Flowers, a World Heritage Site in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. However, the Valley of Flowers is open only from June to October, while this Savanna remains open all 365 days a year.