The Most Continuously Staged Performance in the World

In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. PHOTO: Griyayunika

In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. PHOTO: Griyayunika

Java is one of the main islands in the archipelago nation of Indonesia, home to the country’s capital, Jakarta, and almost 60% of its population. The powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit flourished here from about the 13th to the 15th centuries, leaving its impact on culture, language and landscape. Temples in honour of Vishnu and Shiva are scattered through the islands, words from Sanskrit make appearances in the language, and names from the Mahabharata and Ramayana dot establishments and shops across cities. Still, in modern-day Indonesia, Hindus account for less than 2% of the population.

What is this culture that everyone in Java speaks of? In the nation’s most populous island, syncretism is locked into the DNA. It is bizarre for the Javanese to think of their religion and their cultural history as incompatible; Hindu stories are part of their legacy, even though their religious affiliation might lie elsewhere.

It is unclear how Hinduism arrived in Indonesia, but it had taken hold by the 5th century. As it flourished, Hindu and then Buddhist rulers controlled several island kingdoms until the 12th or 13th centuries. Meanwhile, Islam had been slowly arriving in waves over the centuries through trade, consolidating its hold to some extent by the 15th century, with sultanates then proceeding to dominate.

Indonesia officially recognises six religions, including Hinduism, which made it to the list in 1962, and whose adherents are largely located in Bali, Java and Lombok. The Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia, a representative religious body, has existed since 1964, working to preserve Hindu customs and establish ties with Hindus elsewhere.

Though Bali is the heart of Hindu Indonesia, Java continues to have several Hindu and Buddhist temples, including the magnificent Borobudur Temple complex, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Hinduism is encoded into the Javanese cultural fabric through the arts, including Wayang kulit, the traditional shadow puppet shows, which feature episodes from the Hindu epics and myths. Wahyudi Sastradinama, 60, a puppet maker in Yogyakarta, spoke of it as a “city of tolerance”. Like most others, he, too, has been fasting and praying during the holy month, and continuing to shape and paint his beloved puppets as always. “Culture and religion are separate for me,” he said.
Read more on how Hinduism and Islam converge beautifully in the dance form of Ramayana ballet here.

One thought on “The Most Continuously Staged Performance in the World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s