Indonesia, the greatest archipelago of the world, and a power in the south-east Asian circle has always been at the crossroad of a hybrid culture. Its local culture has dominated but at the same time it has been touched upon by the influence of various cultures. This has made Indonesia a cauldron into which many spices are being poured together for the ultimate flavor. Owing to its strategic geographical location, it has been at the helm of trading and traders from various parts of the globe have brought along their own culture to the game. Moreover, the influence of various religions has also deepened the culture pool that this country of islands has become.
Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and shades of Confucianism are manifest in its culture. Abangan and Kaharingan beliefs are clearly a pastiche of different religious beliefs. Muslims form the largest religious group in the country with nearly 86% of the population following Islam, thus making Indonesia the most heavily populated Muslim-majority country in the world map. Over a period of time, such beliefs have assimilated the best of all the religions and moved ahead. Whichever Indonesian art form you look at, you will find the beautiful hybridization of cultures. For instance, just look at the dance forms developed in Java or Bali. The popular dance forms of these regions will give you a feeling that you are shuttling through the Buddhist as well as Hindu imageries.
However, there is a major difference between the dance forms of Javanese and Bali origins. Javanese dance forms are characterized by slow-paced and continuous movements of which the dancer is in complete command of as he or she moves to the rhythm with his or her eyes cast downwards and with the limbs making only measured movements while staying close to the body. On the other hand, Balinese dance forms burst with energy as the dancers move quickly to the tune in high-stepping steps with arms moving up and eyes wide open. Moreover, Balinese dances just as its theatre has a religious origin while Javanese dance forms are treated as a sacred heirloom from the ancestors. The most traditional dance forms in the nation depict episodes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana from India along with major mythological events from Indonesian history.
Over the years, masters have believed that true art is the one that is expressed through the vantage points of various cultures. In this light, Indonesian art has been helped a lot by the way cultures have fused into its landmass. The effect of western culture has been so profound that in parts it has begun to dominate the ethnic beauty of the true Indonesian culture. Not only has the western culture seeped into art forms but also in the way religion, politics and administration is being taken care of in this archipelago.
As an instance, the impact of Indian movies and dance form Dangdut can never be talked about enough. The rhythmic dance forms that track a melody through expression of limbs is a favorite in India. In Indonesia, such dance form is intermixed with Arabic melodies to produce a strain of infinite beauty. Despite this avalanche of foreign culture, tribes like Mentawai, Toraja and Asmat have beautifully retained the local flavor. The lives of these tribes are still marked by meticulous practice of daily rituals that regulate their hunting expeditions in the dense tropical rainforests.
Coming to the indigenous arts of Indonesia, the elaborate and animated paintings of Bali deservedly command the limelight. These landscape paintings captured various intricacies of Nature in beautiful details and often depicted different themes from the traditional dances as well. The history of sculpture in Indonesia dates back to the Bronze and Iron Ages and it is quite common to find stupefying examples of these in the 8th and 10th century temples that dot the country and focus on various phases of the life of Buddha. Another popular artistic and cultural legacy that has its origin in Indonesia is the unique batik dyeing and sonket cloth that have become a staple of fashion industry around the world.
A discussion of any culture will remain incomplete without a mention of its culinary tradition. Thus, coming to the Indonesian cuisine, any connoisseur can trace the influence of Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and European cooking on the Indonesian fare and flavor. Rice is the staple food of locals who prefer having it with some meat and vegetables that are often prepared with chili and coconut milk as basic ingredients. In summation, it can be clearly contested that the hybridization of various cultures has given birth to something quite eccentric yet brilliant in Indonesia.