Spirituality in Jogja

July 19, 2019
• by
Zannatul Zannat

The Alumni of USC Indonesia have been very generous these past few months, planning fun excursions from a tour of the largest trading hub in Southeast Asia to having tea with the US Embassador. The most memorable of them has to be our 4 day trip to Jogja, the previous capital of Indonesia. Like every region of Indonesia, Jogja has it's own distinct culture and vibe that the city gives off. It is definitely more historical and spiritual than Jakarta.

My friends in Jakarta have told me to be very respectful in Jogja: don't swear, greet every new place you walk into, and don't wear green next to the ocean (there's a sea-spirit whose favorite color is green and will pull you in forever.) All of this is for a very good reason: Indonesians are very spiritual people, and in a place like Jogja where there is so much history, there are many spirits occupying the space. I was skeptical at first, but after hearing multiple first-hand encounters with spirits (don't Google "Pochong") and witnessing their classmates getting possessed, I wanted to err on the side of caution. This spirituality isn't confined to one religion, but across every Indonesian I've met, whether they consider themselves Muslim, Christian, agnostic or atheist.

I kept all this in mind when walking through the Borobudur temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, built in the 9th century. It tells the story of the origin of Buddhism through intricate carvings in stone, and it also features many mini Buddhas encased in large stone domes. I especially liked to see how the ancient people depicted animals and humans' relationship with them.

Another temple we visited was the Prambanan temple, a Hindu temple that reminds me of a castle, and was almost destroyed in the 2006 earthquake but was able to be restored thanks to UNESCO World Heritage Centre funding. You could actually see how the stones shifted from their place when walking through the temple. Our tour guide wouldn't stop making jokes about kama sutra and how detailed the phallic sculptures were. Apparently he'd had this job for over 20 years, all I could do was apologize to the spirits in my head for his behavior.

Borobudur Landscape view

depiction of savannah animals

depiction of cat/monkey

depiction of people gossiping

sunset from Prambanan