• When Hinduism arrived in Indonesia, it was embraced by indigenous rulers who viewed it as a powerful vehicle to consolidate their status as rightful authorities. Pre-existing animist beliefs were blended with Hinduism to form a hybrid religion that deviated quite significantly from the kind of Hinduism practised in India
  • Hinduism thrived in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Java between the 5th and 13th centuries until the last major empire, Majapahit (1293 – 1527)
  • The legend goes that Gajah Mada, the prime minister of the Majapahit empire during the 14th century vowed not to eat any food containing spices until he had conquered all of Nusantara

The southeast Asian nation of Indonesia’s plan to relocate its capital from the heavily polluted and sinking Jakarta took its most significant step last week when the country’s parliament approved a bill to shift the capital to an earmarked 256,000-hectare plot of land in East Kalimantan. 

Indonesia President Joko Widodo took to Twitter to confirm the same, adding that the new capital will be called Nusantara which translates to ‘archipelago’ in Javanese. 

According to reports, the name was chosen from a shortlist of 80 others for its easily recognisable character. However, there’s a lot more behind the decision. Minister of National Development Planning Suharso Monoarfa told parliament that the president sought to highlight Indonesia’s diversity through the new capital. “So Nusantara is a unity concept that accommodates all of our diversity, whether in race, language, or ethnicity, and the new Indonesia capital, under that name will reveal that reality,” he said. 

While Nusantara may literally translate to ‘archipelago’ in Javanese, it also, curiously, has roots in Indonesia’s history with Hinduism. According to census data from 2010, roughly 87 per cent of Indonesians identified themselves as Muslim, followed by 9.87 per cent who were Christian. Hinduism was the third-most common religion in the country, accounting for just 1.7 per cent of Indonesia’s nearly 250 million-strong population. 

However, the country, and especially Bali, has a long history with Hinduism. Before Hinduism and Buddhism reached Indonesia’s shores, its indigenous population’s faith was grounded in animist beliefs. But following the establishment of trade networks from China to India during the 1st century, Hinduism reached the western archipelago. 

The religion was embraced by indigenous rulers who viewed it as a powerful vehicle to consolidate their status as rightful authorities. Pre-existing animist beliefs were blended with Hinduism to form a hybrid religion that deviated quite significantly from the kind of Hinduism practised in India. 

Hinduism thrived in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Java between the 5th and 13th centuries until the last major empire, Majapahit (1293 – 1527). The legend goes that Gajah Mada, the prime minister of the Majapahit empire during the 14th century vowed not to eat any food containing spices until he had conquered all of Nusantara. 

Given the reach of the Majapahit empire, he likely meant to include present-day Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand and Timor Leste. Mada would, ultimately, succeed in unifying the entire archipelago or Nusantara, cementing his revered status in Indonesian history. The Majapahit empire, which was the last of the Hindu kingdoms, stayed in power till the early 16th century when it finally fell at the hands of Islamic conquerors. 

Indonesia’s new capital will be established in Kalimantan, an archipelago made up of some 17,000 islands. “The location is very strategic – it’s in the centre of Indonesia and close to urban areas,” said President Widodo. 

Known for its diverse ecology, forests and orangutan population, East Kalimantan is situated roughly 2,300 km from Jakarta on the eastern end of Borneo island. The capital is expected to be set up in the North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara regions.