Before Islam came to Java & made religion a snooze-fest, the Indonesians were hiding in the deep jungles doing all sorts of crazy things like worshipping large phalluses, eating their enemies & robbing Chinese ships of their gold & women. Other more focused Indos built some of the greatest temples of our time, while some fought epic wars that ended in utter destruction. During these interesting times of Hindu & Buddhist influence, Javanese culture was rich & diverse, ideas were explored & artwork flourished. This 1862 museum showcases some of this wonderful heritage in statues, jewellery & idols which have been spared the fate of being lost to the international black market.
While the Dutch were greedy & cruel they did at least recognise the value in this rich heritage. Rather than sell off everything valuable they did keep some of the heavier stuff & damaged statues nobody wanted & put them on display for people to look at. With the number of thieves, crooks & riots in Jakarta it’s surprising that this place is still bursting full of good stuff. The main letdown is the limited information on these interesting artefacts some of which only require a quick Google search.
Hearing about one object in particular, the statue of Prajñāpāramitā is surely the most beautiful statue in the entire collection. In near perfect condition, it is of the goddess of transcendental wisdom sitting in the lotus position, her body adorned by an assortment of jewellery. Discovered near Singosari temple in Malang, it is reputedly of a woman named Ken Dedes whose beauty & charisma caused the assassinations of 2 kings. It was believed that her incredible beauty could bring great power to any man who possessed her. Today, Ken Dedes’s beauty has transcended both time & space. Her statue was stolen by a Dutch official in 1820 & transported to the other side of the world & displayed at the Dutch National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden for almost 160 years until it was returned to Indonesia in 1978, such a prized possession would have taken an enormous act of good-will to be freely given away, or in this case, returned to her home.
Another impressive statue is a full stone carving of Adityavarman, a minor ruler & cousin of the Majapahit king. He eventually became a senior minister & launched destructive military campaigns just for the fun of violence & plunder. The 4 meter statue depicts Adityavarman as Bhairava, the Hindu god of annihilation with a grin on his face holding a knife standing on top of a bed of skulls. This is either Conan the Barbarian or a Japanese cartoon.
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