Mahayana Buddhism & Borobudur in 8th & 9th century Java


The main theme of this research project is the analysis of the Java during the Medang Kingdom. This work includes the discussion of the important elements that can help to understand the features of this period. The topic has been chosen because the problem is interesting to explore. To complete the study, only scholar history resources have been applied in order to provide clear and proven information. The aim of the research is to analyze the culture, society, and religion in Java during Medang Kingdom. Incomparable analysis and cognitive synthesis have been used to conduct it that has helped to divide the material into several units and to distinguish their general characteristics. Consequently, one has been able to define the general features of Medang Kingdom development.

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Many great civilizations existed with consistent style of development that had a number of important and specific elements. In fact, pre-modern Asian societies are the most significant examples of the humanity development. The history of Indonesia occupies an important place among the Asian countries because it had a key significance of spreading the Asian culture around the world. The period of Indonesia during the VIII-IX century connected with a Medang Kingdom. In fact, it was the time when this region was on the important trade ways and there was a period of prosperity. At that time, Indonesia had a comprehensive cultural synthesis, which was a complex fusion of different types of culture that took local, social and political specifics. In fact, Medang Kingdom had special progressive way of development at this stage of history. There were unique peculiarities of the culture, religion, and state condition. The goal of this research paper is to analyze the general aspects of the Medang Kingdom development.

How did the Medang Kingdom begin and what was its geography and society structure?

Around the first quarter of the VIII century, a strong state Kingdom of Medang was formed on the island of Java. It arose in the lands of Kedu plains in the southern part of Central Java, one of the most fertile rice-growing areas of the archipelago. The founder of the Medang dynasty became Sanjaya who professed Hinduism. In fact, Medang Kingdom reached its maximum power in the period of VIII to IX. Its Buddhist monarchs considered themselves to Shailendra dynasty. By the beginning of the VIII century Medang was one of the richest regions of that time. Its ruler Sanjaya moved among the local Java’s princes and took power into his hands. Besides, he was the protector of the Hindu cult of Shiva. In fact, Sanjaya became the founder of the Medang dynasty. He conquered the Javanese, Malay and even Khmer possession. However, after Sanjayas dynasty, the dynasty of Sailendras became the rulers of Medang. In fact, they were Buddhists and this religion started to spread in the Medang. In 856, the ruling of the Sailendras dynasty in the kingdom of Medang was interrupted by the descendants of Sanjaya, the founders of Medang, whose representatives were worshipers of the Hindu god Shiva. After the capture of this territory, they began to spread Hinduism in the Medang. In fact, the structure of this society had its special peculiarities. The kingdom had built up difficult society structure, which portrayed by heterogeneity of their general public, imbalance of social spheres, and the development of national managerial organization in their kingdom. In fact, Javanese recognized social classes with a caste system. There were priests, lords, kings, traders, slaves, and servants. Some historians divide Javanese society into four classes. There was a class of elite, religious power, ordinary people, and slaves. In the first place, there was a large landed aristocracy Rakai. These people had absolute authority over their independent dominions. The process of adding a centralized state in Javanese hampered strife between groups of Rakai in selected areas. They fought for the status of the supreme ruler of the Maharaja. Their political claims to Medang were reinforced by constructions of a large temple complexes that absorbed considerable economic and human resources. However, since VIII role of large feudal owners was shaken. This process has resulted in the growth of the power of monarchs and feudal village elite. Furthermore, the role of small and medium untitled feudal owners, officials, and clergy was highly increased. In fact, the donation was a common process in Medang. The main donors of the land at that time were large secular lords, Rakai. The main recipients of the land were the temples. The gifts of monarchs and their relatives were in second place, but by the middle of IX, their share in donation was close to Rakai’s level. In fact, temples received large donations from the owners and monarchs. They received the individual fields, gardens, swamps, and forests. The large secular landowners and community elite had their private land, the rights to which were equal to the rights of monarchs. However, the elements of the supreme ownership of the land were inherent. The power of the monarchs has grown in the VIII century. For the separation of the power of the nobility, they demanded to experience of the Malay rulers, ethnic alienation of which facilitated the opposition of monarchs to feudal. In fact, donation of land has been the main form characteristic of agrarian relations. Thus, this process defined the existence of other rights. Major owners began to give ground and immunity at the same time. Since the end of the IX century, monarchs became the major donors of immunities. The owners who did not pay taxes received land without peasants. Individuals or groups who did not have the privileges before received land with groups of peasants and simultaneously immunity rights to them. However, the average citizens formed the most of kingdom’s population. The most of them were villagers with a low social status.

What was the development of the architecture and literature during the Medang Kingdom?

The period of VIII-IX century was a time of the addition of classical architecture and the visual arts in Central Java. There were the largest Buddhist and Hindu ensembles in Southeast Asia, Indonesian type of memorial, religious architecture Chandi, harmonious style of monumental stone sculptures and relief. Javanese and Malay masters perfectly mastered the technique of casting bronze sculpture, secrets of ornamental stone, and woodcarving. The period of Medang was the time of greatest prosperity of Javanese architecture. The temple complexes like Buddhist Borobudur become a symbol of this period. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, there were some sacred cults of the deified ancestors. Gradually, there was the emergence of syncretic religions that took shape in the era of Majapahit and affect the architecture of this period. In fact, amazing temple Borobudur was preserved to this day. Borobudur is an architectural ensemble that was built on the island of Java in the days of Buddhism. However, it is not a church in the full sense of the word, because a person cannot enter into it. Borobudur is a giant stone stupa erected at nine stone terraces. This is a huge solid structure, like those, which were erected in different eras in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka. Initially, historians could not believe that people made this complex. In fact, some historians noticed that local people of the island could not build Borobudur, and the creation of his was ascribed to the Indians, who brought Buddhism to these lands. Misconception beginning to dissipate, when the Chinese chronicles historians have found references to the embassies from the states of Srivijaya, who arrived in the Celestial Empire from the middle of VII century. In the capital of the country lived more than a thousand Buddhist monks. Influence of Srivijaya expanded, and thus state captured the other islands of Indonesia, including Java. Srivijaya was one of the largest Asian countries of that time, and its rulers extended their authority throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and part of the present Thailand. Buddhism was introduced in Java, in the territory of the state Medang in the VIII century and flourished there for over a hundred years, during which the complex of Borobudur was built. Its name is an abbreviation of Bhumizan Brabadura, “Indescribable Mountain Centre of the virtues.” However, there are other translations of the name, such as “a lot of Buddhas” or “temple of Thousand Buddhas” and “Monastery on the Mount.” Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument of architecture, a kind of magical display of the world system and the cosmic order from the Buddhist point of view. The temple looks like a huge step pyramid that built on the slopes of an earthen hill. On the top of this temple is Stupa, which portrays the ultimate goal of existence. It consists of two terraces and plinth that symbolize the world of carnal desires, the following four tiers connected with the human struggle for the suppression of desires, and the three circular terraces symbolizes the last stage of initiation to nirvana. At the base of Borobudur is a perfect square with sides of 120 meters, as well as in the pyramid of Cheops. The height of the complex from the top of the hill on which it stands is small because it is only 40 meters. The first terrace is a corridor, fenced on one side with decorated wall, and on the other with high balustrade. In the temple, there are 500 Buddha’s figures that give hand sign to believers. On the eastern side of the pyramid, they are calling the Earth to witness of the correctness of their teaching, and on the south, they are promising to the faithful to fulfill their desires. On the west side, they are frozen in the pose of meditation and to the north, they are inspiring pilgrims to go further on the path of salvation. None of the Indian temple was not presented in detail the Buddhist doctrine, as Borobudur stone galleries of the lower terraces. In fact, there are 120 reliefs that depict Buddha, who decided for the 12 incarnations for the sake of man’s salvation. Borobudur is famous for the reliefs of six lower terraces. Their total length was approximately two kilometers. The bas-reliefs of the temple complex are not only illustrating the biography of the Buddha, but also the story of people who lived in Java during the creation of the Borobudur. Javanese sculptors did not know how contemporaries of the Buddha live. Therefore, they were depicted Javanese peasants, townspeople, and nobles at the bas-reliefs. Today Borobudur is a symbol of national history of Indonesia, and in 1991, it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In fact, the development of ancient Javanese and Malay literary languages and local literature was on a high level during the Medang period. This process was made possible by processing based on the original elements of the influence of Sanskrit on which people wrote the official and religious documents. Besides, historians note the spread of the local language and writing system. In fact, the literature in Medang flourished in the IX. People developed the epic, mythological, religious, and philosophical plots in the ancient Javanese language. These stories were about ancient Indian and autochthonous legends. In fact, there were some famous literature works of that period. Among them are ancient Javanese poem “Ramayana”, prose retellings of the epic “Mahabharata”, different religious and mythological literature, and translations and transcriptions of Buddhist treatises. In the courts of nobles, there were poets, actors, and musicians. In fact, elite made the presentations of the famous doll-shadow theater, which connects various kinds of cultural creativity.

What was the development of the resources and needs during the Medang Kingdom?

The regular individuals of Medang generally were involved in agricultural sphere. Thus, most of people were rise agriculturists, and some people have choose different vocations, as a merchant, warrior, artist, and hunter. The rise cultivation had turned into the general element for the Java’s economy. The communities reported information about amount of rise and according to the quantity, they gave a tax to the state. The conversion of wild land to territories which are suitable for life, and the development of rice fields allowed to raise living standards and number of population in Medang. These factors contributed to production growth, the emergence of crafts, and increase in the economics of central Java. However, the economic orientation of Central Java was not concentrated only in major cities. Trade routes were held in all villages and people allow them to develop. The monetary system consisted of gold coins that were in circulation throughout the island. During this period the Java’s economy was monetized that contributed to the development of trade relations. By the end of the 9th century, Medang’s population developed not only the agriculture but also craft sphere. Chinese chronicles mentioned the cotton fabrics, brocades, cold steel, wood, and bamboo along with the traditional assortment of tropical export. In fact, the foreign trade in Java was across the north coast ports in order to establish trade links with the Moluccas.

What was the development of the religion and social thought during the Medang Kingdom?

In fact, Hinduism and Buddhism were religions followed by the kings and population of the state. However, the average people’s religious rituals were still blended with local shamanism and some pre-Dharmic convictions. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, some people believed in secret cults and prayed to ancestors. Since the start of its development, the rulers of Medang support Hinduism. However, in the period of the Panangkaran’s rulling, Mahayana Buddhism started to growth and spread through the society. Many great temples like Borobudur affirm the Buddhist exaltation in Java. The state perceived the religious power of priesthood. In fact, Hindu and Buddhist clergy rulers directed provincial religious customs and services in the different temples. The elite class of ruler’s family professed the concept of spiritualism. Besides, some rulers appear to drench themselves in different spiritual rituals. For instance, King Panangkaran was affected by Mahayana Buddhism, and even endeavor to become a recluse in the end of his life. Representatives of the other high nobility were additionally impacted by Buddhism and endeavor to become generous rulers. The period between the late VIII to the mid IX saw an intense in the building of the sanctuary complexes. Spiritual energy, state’s riches, and different social reasons persuaded this process. Some historians were convinced that this passionate sanctuary development activity was really a political instrument to rule the Rakai proprietors and to keep them from defying the king.


Consequently, the period of Medang Kingdom was a time of preservation of Java society and the period of heavy recovery. By joint efforts, Java’s population succeeded in return their country on the path of prosperity and raised the economy to a new level. General trend of development of agrarian relations in VIII-IX was the growth of large private lands and rise cultivation. Besides, there was a growth of aristocracy, kings, and priest’s influence. Thus, many peasants worked on their land and paid the taxes to the state. Besides, there was a great growth of national literature and architectural buildings. Moreover, Java’s architectural buildings became known all over world. In fact, the famous temple Borobudur is the great example of the culture of the Medang Kingdom period. The most popular religions of this period were Hinduism and Buddhism. Besides, there were some secret cults in different communities. Therefore, the period of Medang Kingdom became a significant era of Java’s development.

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