Java Story

Love Engine | Friday, 05 December 2014 - 23:24:05 WIB | be read: 5208 reader

The heart of the nation, Java is an island of megacities, mesmerising natural beauty, and complex, profound traditions in art, dance, spiritualism and learning.
Generally the cities are pretty uninspiring: pollution levels are high and they’re plagued by environmental issues. That said, personal security is rarely an issue, and it’s perfectly safe to explore most Javanese towns at night, snacking with locals on the street. And this is the one corner of Indonesia (Bali excepted) with vibrant nightlife and an exciting music scene, so the big cities are good places to catch a new indie band or local DJ.

Leaving the cities you’ll find a Java of bewitching landscapes – iridescent rice paddies, villages of terracotta-tiled houses, bubbling streams and patches of dense jungle-clad hills. Verdant and fecund, this is one of the most fertile regions on earth, with three annual crops possible in some areas. And with over 40 volcanoes forming a spiky backbone, almost every journey in Java passes a succession of giant, often smoking cones.

Transport is better than in most parts of Indonesia. By road it can be slow going, though, unless you’re on one of the new toll roads. The rail network is reliable and frequent, with trains ranging from dirt-cheap trundlers to fairly swift air-conditioned services. Javanese people tend to be the best-educated and most worldly in the country, so it’s an excellent place to really get to grips with Indonesia and learn what makes it tick. Switchedon young Javanese have set up several excellent new community tourism initiatives, which present an ideal opportunity for travellers to hook up with locals.
Java has a history of epic proportions and a record of human habitation that extends back 1.7 million years to when ‘Java Man’ (see the boxed text, below ) roamed the river banks of Sungai Bengawan Solo in Central Java. Waves of migrants followed, moving down through Southeast Asia.

Early Javanese Kingdoms Blessed with exceptional fertility from its mineral-rich volcanic soil, Java has long played host to intensive sawah (wet rice) agriculture, which required close cooperation between villages. Out of village alliances, small principalities emerged, including the Hindu Mataram kingdom, founded by the ruler Sanjaya, in the 8th century. Mataram’s religion centred on the god Shiva, and produced some of Java’s earliest Hindu temples on the Dieng Plateau ( p169 ). The Sailendra dynasty followed, overseeing Buddhism’s heyday and the building of Borobudur ( p171 ). But Hinduism and Buddhism continued to coexist and the massive Hindu Prambanan complex ( p194 ) was constructed within a century of Borobudur.
Mataram eventually fell, perhaps at the hands of the Sumatra-based Sriwijaya kingdom. The Javanese revival began in AD 1019 under King Airlangga, a semi-legendary figure who formed the first royal link with Bali and divided his territory into two kingdoms, which he gave to his sons Janggala and Kediri. Early in the 13th century the legendary commoner Ken Angrok briefly succeeded in uniting much of Central and East Java, defeating Kediri and bringing Janggala under his control. Javanese culture flourished brightly, and striking Shiva-Buddhist temples were built (see p238 ). However, much of West Java still remained under the influence of the Sriwijaya kingdom at this time. The emergence of an expansionist new power, the much-celebrated Majapahit kingdom, pushed aside the Sriwijaya and Singosari kingdoms. Ruling from Trowulan ( p228 ), it became the first Javanese commercial kingdom, with its own ports and shipping lanes, trading with China and most of Southeast Asia, and growing to claim sovereignty over the entire Indonesian archipelago. Today its influence endures as a representation of a Javanese golden age, its royal colours of scarlet and white used on the Indonesian flag and its name invoked by nationalists.

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