The Literary Transition: From Hindu-Buddhist to Islamic Manuscripts in Nusantara

The rich cultural and religious history of the Nusantara region, comprising modern-day Indonesia and its surrounding areas, is deeply intertwined with the evolution of its written literature. The transition from Hindu-Buddhist to Islamic beliefs is vividly captured in the manuscripts and inscriptions found throughout the region, offering a glimpse into the changing religious landscape over the centuries.

One of the earliest forms of written communication in Nusantara was the use of script as a means of conveying values and religious teachings. Religious texts, particularly those related to the Vedic religion, were among the first to appear in the region’s literacy landscape. The yupa inscriptions, dating back to the 4th century, are some of the oldest writings found in Indonesia and serve as evidence of the early presence of Vedic religious practices. These inscriptions, issued by King Mulawarman, are closely linked to rituals such as animal sacrifice and worship, as described in the Rg-Veda.

The Hindu-Buddhist period, spanning from the 4th to the 16th centuries, saw a flourishing of literary works that reflected the beliefs and values of the Nusantara society. Didactic texts and religiously nuanced prose were common, along with inscriptions containing mantras or praises for deities. Interestingly, some Hindu-Buddhist scripts were also used in writing Islamic texts, indicating a gradual transition of beliefs in the region.

One of the earliest examples of Islamic adoption in Nusantara is the Nisan Minye Tujoh, an oval-shaped tombstone found in Aceh. This inscription, dating back to 1389 AD, is considered one of the oldest Islamic inscriptions in the region. It contains a poetic passage that commemorates the death of a princess and includes references to Islamic beliefs and practices.

The transition from Hindu-Buddhist to Islamic beliefs is also evident in the syncretic manuscripts found in scriptoriums and manuscript writing centers across Nusantara. Gunung Merapi-Merbabu, believed to be a scriptorium since the Majapahit period, has yielded various Islamic manuscripts that touch on topics such as the science of tawhid and the stories of prophets. These manuscripts, written in Old Javanese script and Middle Javanese, reflect a blending of Islamic and Hindu-Buddhist elements.

Similarly, in Sumatra, particularly in Gunung Kerinci, the oldest Malay manuscript in the world, the Undang-undang Tanjung Tanah, reflects a blending of Islamic and local beliefs. Written in Old Sumatran script or its derivative, Incung script, and using Old Malay or Kerinci language, these manuscripts include references to both Islamic and Hindu-Buddhist deities.

In conclusion, the transition from Hindu-Buddhist to Islamic beliefs in Nusantara is a complex and fascinating process that is reflected in its literary heritage. The manuscripts and inscriptions found throughout the region offer valuable insights into the changing religious landscape and the cultural exchange that occurred over the centuries. They serve as a testament to the rich and diverse history of the Nusantara region.