The Return of Four Statues from Singasari Temple: Unveiling Nusantara’s History through Repatriation

At the end of 2023, Indonesia witnessed a historic moment as four precious statues from the Singasari Temple returned home after being held in the Netherlands for over two centuries. In a repatriation effort involving collaboration between the Indonesian and Dutch governments, this success not only brought back historical artifacts but also opened a new chapter in understanding the history and origins of these historical artworks.

The Netherlands returned four statues from the Singasari Temple: Durga Mahisasuramardini, Mahakala, Nandiswara, and Ganesha. Alongside these statues, hundreds of other historical artifacts, including keris from the Klungkung Kingdom, art collections from Pita Maha Bali, and loot from the 1894 Lombok Expedition, were also repatriated. This repatriation stands as evidence of the commitment of both the Indonesian and Dutch governments to return long-lost cultural treasures.

The repatriation of these historical artifacts is not merely a physical transfer from the Netherlands to Indonesia; it is a revelation of historical knowledge and the origins of these historical artworks that have remained unknown to the public. This was emphasized by Hilmar Farid, the Director-General of Culture at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology. To reintroduce these artifacts to the public, an exhibition titled “Repatriation: The Silent Witnesses’ Return of Nusantara Civilization” was held at the National Gallery from November 28 to December 10, 2023.

Singasari Temple is closely linked to the Singasari Kingdom, which had a Hindu-Buddhist influence and was founded by Ken Arok. Between 222 AD and 1292 AD, four kings ruled Singasari, reaching its pinnacle during the reign of Kertanegara. This era marked Kertanegara as an exemplary leader, obedient to the law, steadfast in religious observances, and with visionary ideas of expanding the mandala horizon beyond Java.

Singasari Temple is known for its dual religious concept, incorporating both Hindu Shiva and Buddhist Tantric elements. This is evident in various parts of the temple, including the recently returned statues. Some opinions even suggest that Singasari Temple served two purposes, with the lower parts dedicated to the Shiva religion and the upper parts to Buddhism.

Discovered in 1803, Singasari Temple was initially in a neglected state, typical of many Indonesian temples. By the 1930s, the temple’s condition had worsened, prompting restoration efforts. Though a complete reconstruction was impractical due to the loss of original materials, restoration efforts revitalized Singasari Temple up to the second tier, even though it was incomplete, providing a new lease of life.

Nicolaas Engelhard, the Governor of the East Coast of Java, was responsible for taking the statues from Singasari Temple in 1819 as a gift for King William I. While the Prajnaparamita statue was returned to Indonesia in 1978, the other four statues waited for over 200 years to return to their homeland.

The repatriation of the four statues from Singasari Temple marks a significant cultural resurgence for Indonesia, recovering lost heritage after centuries. This repatriation effort not only underscores the commitment of Indonesia and the Netherlands to preserve cultural legacies but also opens doors to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Indonesia’s rich and diverse history. The exhibition “Repatriation: The Silent Witnesses’ Return of Nusantara Civilization” stands as a historic moment to explore and celebrate the cultural wealth returning to its homeland.