Indonesia Arts and Literature


The older literature, both oral and written, is characterized by regional diversity. In particular, the Javanese tradition of stories with motifs from the Indian epic Mahabharata and Ramayana, which also characterized the shadow play wayang, can be mentioned. In addition, there are a rich Islamic theological literature.

Indonesia’s modern literature was given the opportunity to develop when the common Indonesian language (bahasa indonesia) was adopted in 1928. However, the literature on Indonesian mainly reflects the values of the urban middle class and is less accessible to ordinary people than the vibrant literature in regional languages, which is preferably published in newspapers and newspapers. magazines.

Indonesia Population Pyramid

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of Indonesia, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.

The publisher Balai Pustak, established by the colonial authorities in 1908, was responsible for the first literary period of prosperity in the 1920’s with poets such as Sanusi Pan谷 and Mohammad Yamin. A common theme was the break between tradition, mainly the developed the custom adat, and the modern westernized thinking – individual choice vs. the society.

The next heyday began in 1933, when the journal Pudjangga Baru (“The New Author”) was founded by Sumatran writers Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Amir Hamzah and Armijn Pan谷. The dominant theme was the struggle for the country’s development in all areas. During the Japanese occupation of 1942-45, the magazine was banned. The period after the war was dominated by the group Angkatan 45 (‘1945 generation’) with, among other things, the linguistically innovative poet Chairil Anwar. With the body established by the Communist Party in 1950, LEKRA (the “Institute for the Culture of the People”) followed a time when social realism prevailed. The contemporary author in front of others is Javanese Pramoedya Ananta Toer, whose four-part romance suite about the birth of the national freedom movement is banned in Indonesia. The first parts,Bumi Manusia (1980; “Earth of the People”) and Anak Semua Bangsa (1980; “Children of All Peoples”) are published in Swedish.

Drama and theater

Common to Indonesian theater forms is that drama, dance and music are interwoven into a whole in the performance. The traditional theater has both a religious and a profane orientation, both of which can be divided into popular forms and more refined court styles. The themes are usually taken from the Indian epic Mahabharata and Ramayana, but also from stories about the Javanese prince Panji or from works related to the Arabic cultural sphere. In many places, Chinese influence can also be traced.

The shadow game wayang has exerted a strong influence on drama and theater in Java. Dalang, narrator, puppet player and conductor of the Gamelanor Orchestra, is a central artist in the performance. Wayang wong is a later theater type, based on the shadow play and its repertoire, but with people in the roles. Their play is characterized by the attitude and movements of the dolls. Characteristic of the design are the established role types, the Old Orchestra and elements of improvisation in games and text. The performances are traditionally given outdoors and last night until the sunrise, while the audience moves freely. Not infrequently, they act in trans.

During the 20th century, a modern theater has emerged, partly on the basis of the area’s classic theater tradition and partly with the Western theater speech theater as a role model. Modern domestic theater with socially critical content has at times been affected by restrictions and censorship.


The Indonesian island world is a conglomerate of different cultures of varying nature and age. The larger islands have been influenced by Chinese and Indian culture since prehistoric times. The megalithic culture with its typical square axes as well as dossiers and erect stones spread during the younger Stone Age from southern China down over the Malacca Peninsula to Indonesia. By the middle of the first millennium BC the bronze came from the same direction via Vietnam’s soông-so’n culture with typical bronze drums, axes and other objects decorated with geometric ornaments, which appear together with indigenous designs, mainly in the arts. Since the early art was produced in perishable material (wood, textile, bone), very little is preserved.

The oldest preserved art is from the 5th century AD. It exhibits a strong Indian influence, much due to the impulses of Indian merchants who settled on Sumatra, Java and other major islands. During the 600-900’s, the sculpture in particular had a flourishing period under the influence of Pallava in eastern India. The oldest Buddha sculpture found is a bronze from Sulawesi in the older Amaravati style and probably imported. Small Buddhist and Hindu sculptures in bronze, gold and silver and larger in stone have been found as loose finds on both Sumatra and Java as well as on other islands. They are made in late gupta style and is of very high quality. Some are certainly imported, but the work done by the native artists who worked at Borobudur and other major temple facilities is of very high artistic quality and can well be compared to the classical Indian. The sculpture that adorned the large temple complexes of central and eastern Java was gradually released from the Indian role models and gained its own distinctive character since Buddhist and Hindu deities were also represented as local rulers.

Since Islam became the prevailing religion in the island world, this rich art of sculpture, with the exception of Bali, which retained Hinduism in modern times, ceased. Here was developed a wood carving art that reached very high, but which is now strongly influenced by Western tourist taste. Almost nothing is preserved in older painting. However, in the 20th century a landscape and figure painting has emerged, first inspired by India, as at Dewa Gde’Soberat in Bali, and also from Europe as Java’s foremost painter Affandi. In 1938, a painting union (“Persagi”) was formed in Jakarta with S. Sudjojono as leader.

While visual art has lost its leading position after the invasion of Islam, the craft has lived on and still plays a major role. A variety of materials have been used. In the textile arts, batik production has peaked at Java and Bali. Basket braid shows a strong distinctive pattern richness, and in the art of forging, the domestic crisis (a double-edged dagger) is one of the foremost in the forging of weapons. The rich design treasure that can be traced back to the Đông-son has, within the arts, lived on in the present and has been constantly renewed, among other things. through external impulses.

Indonesia’s island world is also rich in so-called primitive art. Particular mention may be made of the Batak wood sculpture on Borneo and Sumatra as well as the Papuan on Irian Jaya, where the art around Lake Sentani, Geelvink Bay and the Asmat area is particularly rich.

Compare Buddhist art, Hindu art and primitive art.


Indonesia’s island world has been populated for at least 12,000 years, but preserved building memories can only be found from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age in the form of megalithic tombs and cans. The dwellings were then constructed of wood or bamboo, in pole construction and with roofs of straw, reeds or bamboo. This tradition lives on in the island’s rich, folk architecture. Replicas and reconstructions of typical buildings from Indonesia’s various provinces can be found in Jakarta’s open-air museum Taman Mini.

Since Hinduism and Buddhism made their entrance, temples and cult buildings were gradually erected in more permanent building material. Particularly during the 600-900’s, a large number of chandi, a combination of temples and mausoleum in volcanic stone and brick, were built. The oldest and now restored complexes are located in central Java on the volcanic Dieng Plateau, where temples were built to honor Shiva’s god in the 7th century under the influence of the Indian Pallavian dynasty. Good examples are chandi Arjuna and chandi Sumar, both compact square buildings on a pedestal with three upwardly stepped sections and with crowned stupa. Chandi Kalasan from the 8th century has a more complex shape with surrounding smaller temples with rich sculptural decoration. The largest Buddhist establishment is Borobudur, built about 760 – about 850 in mandala form in central Java. Nearby is the less chandi Mendut, with rich sculptural decoration and representing an esoteric variant of Buddhism. Of the later colossal facilities, Chandi Lara Jonggang from the 9th century is the most famous Shiva temple with 232 larger and smaller temples within a square. Although temple architecture in Indonesia gained strong influence from India, it also exhibits its own style features, especially in the sculptural embellishments emanating from domestic art tradition.

In eastern Java, temple construction continued until Buddhism was suppressed by Islam in the 15th century, while Bali remained Hindu. There they continued to build extensive temple complexes in both stone and wood. In eastern and central Java, there are a few early, significant Muslim establishments, the Sendangduwur mosque complex and the 15-meter-high minaret in Kudus. The mosques show a mix of domestic and Muslim style. Since Indonesia was conquered by the Netherlands in the 17th century, architecture gained a European feel, especially in fortifications and urban buildings. An example is Batavia (now Jakarta), which was built in 1619 following Dutch model. Today’s Indonesia partly exhibits completely modern western urban development, while the houses in the countryside are erected in native old style.

See also Buddhist architecture.


The diverse music in today’s Indonesia bears traces of the island’s diverse cultural history. The oldest influences on Indonesian music are the Muslim and Arabic / Persian, which are especially noticeable in the coastal regions hymns and love songs and in instruments such as lute, oboe and frame drum. Later, music from Europe and India has also been influential.

In the form of music especially associated with Indonesia, namely the Gamelan, instruments from the pre-Islamic (animistic, Hindu, Buddhist) cultural epochs, such as lamellophones and hanging gongs, have been combined with instruments spread in connection with the spread of Islam, such as fiddle and gong games, the latter probably imported from the mainland.

A gamelan is built as a unit, with its own design of the range of the scale. A large old man in Java contains a special instrument set for the five- and seven-tone (slendro and pelog) scales, respectively. While Javanese gamelan music has a calm, meditative character, it is characterized by strong changes in tempo and dynamics in Bali as well as by a floating sound that is produced by each instrument occurring in two variants that differ slightly in pitch.

These gamelans are renowned worldwide for their sophisticated ensemble playing with well-run proprietary forms of melodic stratification and metric framing, where gongs and other percussion instruments merge with (in Java) vocals, fiddle and flute into a sonic device.


Despite a general influence today from K-pop (South Korean pop) and J-pop (Japanese pop), Indonesian popular music is very regionally varied, in addition, traditional and modern, secular and religious styles live side by side or intertwine. At the bottom are often Western music traditions, but these are eclectically mixed with indigenous, Indian, Chinese, Hawaiian or other features.

In the early 1900’s, there was a burlesque musical theater form called comedy pedigree performed by traveling theater companies around Indonesia and Malaysia. As a musical element, among others, was performed kroncong, a sentimental folk style with Portuguese roots; the style was named after the ukulele-like instrument that creates the basic rhythm of the style. Kroncong was popularized throughout the 1930’s film industry, and during the 1945-49 independence struggle many patriotic songs were written in this style. “Bengawan Solo”, a crown song by Gesang (1917-2010) from 1943, is one of Indonesia’s most famous songs.

The pioneers of modern Indonesian popular music (Indopop) were the Beatles-influenced group Koes Bersaudara (later Koes Plus) with great time during the 1960’s and 70’s. The group was temporarily arrested in 1965 when Sukarno banned western genres.

At the same time, under the influence of Indian and Malaysian film music, the music and dance genre dangdut developed, where tabla is the main rhythm. The genre was established in the 1970’s by the “king of dangdut”, Rhoma Irama (born 1946) who added to the music Arabic features and a more rocky attitude. His texts were initially socially critical but later received a pronounced Muslim message. Today, dangdut can include a variety of styles such as reggae and hip hop. One of the genre’s biggest stars from the 21st century is singer Inul Daratista (born 1979). Dance venues with dangdut are found in all major cities, especially in Java.

Sukarno’s call to promote domestic tradition led to a tradition revival in the 1970’s. In its spirit, the neo-traditional Jaipongan style was created from Sundanese old-fashioned tradition. This rhythmically sophisticated style with a controversial sensual performance dance has influenced some dang dut artists.

Some of the modern names of the early Indo pop are Chrisye (1 949-2007), Iwan Fals (born 1961) and Anggun (born 1974). A legendary singer and songwriter of the butcher character is Titiek Puspa (born 1937). During the 1980’s, the reggae-stressed group of Black Brothers became West Papua’s great representatives.

Since the 2000’s, singer Agnez Mo (actually Agnes Monica, born 1986) and alternative pop band NOAH (formed in 2000 as Peterpan) have been among the best selling artists.

Regional and religious Indo pop styles include pop-Sunda (synth-based pop with the sound of gamelan), qasidah modern (Muslim pop with Arabic features) and batak (percussion-based pop from Sumatra). Hawaiian music has a large audience in the country; its influence is noticeable in popular music from Ambon.

Indopop has a large market in Malaysia.


Indonesia is hugely rich in diverse dance forms, corresponding to the different peoples with their own traditions who populate the countless islands. The dance often has religious significance and is associated with important personal or social events. Hinduism with its many dance rituals gained entry in the first centuries AD. Its influence permeates the high cultures of Balis and Java. On islands where later Islam became dominant, such as Sumatra and Sulawesi, more prehistoric dance ceremonies remain.

Dance dance is Bali, with the dance dramas topeng, where the dancers wear masks carved in thin wood, and barong, in which an entire village participates. The latter has two main roles, Barong, a mythical animal representing the good powers of life, and the witch Rangda, the destructive evil. The drama consists of their struggles. Among Bali’s most well-known dance forms is also the temple dance legong, which is performed by girls who have not yet reached puberty, as well as the men’s dances baris, warrior dances, and ketjak.

At Java’s three princes’ heads, Indian dance-influenced court ballet reached its highest refinement, often performed by princes and princesses. In the interpreter’s love poems and noble figures in slow, restrained choreography, with motifs derived partly from Indian epics and partly from domestic legends. Distinctive are stylized face masks in colors with symbolic meaning.

Most of the islands’ dance art is still unknown abroad. In the islands that are well-frequented by tourists, the dance has become more of a dance performance.

Indonesia Arts and Literature