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Nusantara: Indonesia’s New Capital Is A Throwback To Nation’s Hindu Heritage

An illustration of Indonesia's future presidential palace in East Kalimantan, as it relocates its capital to Nusantara, from Jakarta (Image: AFP/NYOMAN NUARTA)

An illustration of Indonesia's future presidential palace in East Kalimantan, as it relocates its capital to Nusantara, from Jakarta (Image: AFP/NYOMAN NUARTA)

Indonesia was home to a Hindu empire which included present-day Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand, Timor Leste to southwestern Philippines

Indonesia on Tuesday passed a law to relocate its capital to Borneo’s Nusantara from the overpopulated and sinking Jakarta. Nusantara, which means archipelago in Javanese, has its roots in Indonesia’s Hindu history.

The name of the new capital city dates back to a story from the 14th century when Gajah Mada, prime minister of the Majapahit empire and its Hindu ruler Hayam Wuruk, took an oath that he would not eat any spice until he conquered all of Nusantara. Mada, in all probability meant that he would stick to his vow until he conquered present-day Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand and Timor Leste to the southwestern Philippines, which he did and unified the entire archipelago – Nusantara, according to a report by South China Morning Post.

Gajah Mada is also a national hero whose exploits were inspirational in Indonesia’s struggle for independence centuries later.

Indonesia’s history was deeply influenced by Hinduism when Indian traders and priests travelled to the southeast Asian nation during the 1st century of the Common Era. The last of the Hindu kingdoms was Majapahit, which remained in power until the early 16th century until Islamic forces conquered most of Indonesia. Indonesia’s national emblem is Garuda – also a deeply respected symbol in Hindu mythology for being the mount of Lord Vishnu.

Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population but it also home to more than 4 million Hindus. Despite Islamic rule, several facets of Indonesian culture reflect on the archipelago’s Hindu history. Bali, Sulawesi (Central, South and Southeast), Central Kalimantan and South Sumatra are among the regions which have large Hindu communities residing. Indonesian Hinduism is a hybrid of Indonesian animist beliefs, Hinduism and Buddhism.

The new capital city will cover at least 216 square miles and is located in East Kalimantan province. “This (capital) will not only have government offices, we want to build a new smart metropolis that can be a magnet for global talent and a centre of innovation,” Indonesian president Joko Widodo was quoted as saying by news agency AFP. The name was chosen from a list of 80 names and due to its recognisable nature, according to minister Suharso Monoarfa.

Balinese sculptor Nyoman Nuarta famed for his Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) statue, was tasked with designing the new presidential complex.

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first published:January 19, 2022, 12:43 IST