Samskriti, Sanskrit and Indonesia

  • Article tells about the presence of Sanskrit words in Indonesian language - Bhasha.

“(… the archeological evidence) confirms the origin of Civilisation and even of humanity itself in the Indies…. that is, India and Indonesia…” Prof. Arysio Nunes dos Santos in "Atlantis, the Lost Continent Finally Found”.

To date, "Sanskrit in Indonesia by Dr. J. Gonda, Professor of Sanskrit and Indonesia Linguistics, Utrecht (Holland) remains one of the most often quoted work on the subject. No doubt, it is an interesting read.

The Professor must have spent years researching the subject, not to miss the time and energy spent on learning the fineries and subtleties of the languages and the idioms. As any other professor and researcher before 1950s, he too starts with the premise that the Indonesian Archipelago, or Dvipantara as it was known in the ancient times, was influenced by India, thus coining the phrase "Indian Cultural Colonization” of the archipelago.

Almost seven decades after the publication of Dr. Gonda’s work in the year 1952, this premise is now being challenged.

The New Technology, satellite pictures, archeological findings, etc. prove beyond any doubt that there was no such thing as cultural invasion and colonization.

Beyond their current political boundaries, the Indian Subcontinent in its entirety and the Indonesian/Malaysian Archipelago - were once connected and not separated by the seas.

Let us consider the following points to understand our history, or rather histories better:

Sundaland, a name coined to identify a large chunk of Southeast Asian landmass submerged by rising sea levels between 15,000 and 3,000 BC.

Interestingly, the word Sunda means Elephant Trunk in several Prakrit or natural languages as the predecessor of Sanskrit. Please look at the picture here, it does look like an Elephant Trunk.


As the Result, over a Period of about 9,000 Years before the gradual submergence of most of its landmass, the peoples of Sundaland migrated to safer places.

What does this imply? We are talking about the migration of the peoples of Svarnabhumi (Sanskrit, the Land of Gold), the Yavan (Prakrit/Sanskrit for Yava or Barley Growers) upward, northward, to the modern state of Bengal, even beyond…. Perhaps, even beyond the mighty Sindhu River. The Greek are referred to as Yavan in several Sanskrit texts. 

In his book "Eden in the East”, British Geneticist and Expert in DNA Studies Prof. Stephen Oppenheimer (1947) wrote, “Southeast Asia (is) the source of the elements of Western civilisation.”

The Later Fragmentation of Sundaland due to natural disasters created what became known as Yavadvipa, the Barley Island. Currently, the most populated island in the Indonesian Archipelago is Pulau Jawa - the Island of Jawa.

It got separated from the island now called Sumatra (Prakrit/Sanskrit, meaning the Island of Precious Metal, Gold) and is today the second most populated island in the Indonesian Archipelago.

A proper understanding of this history is important so as to appreciate the common cultural roots, the samskriti that we all share. For, it is this very samskriti, our common cultural roots, our natural history that gave rise to the Prakrit or Natural Languages, and, later Sanskrit as a language to unite us all.

Sanskrit, as the Very Term Indicates, is a refined, polished, customized language absorbing words from Prakrit or Natural Languages. Later, in the 6th to 5th century B.C., the great grammarian Panini codified the language.

His work Ashtadhyayi is considered the first ever treatise on the grammar. Yes, that is correct, on the grammar of any language. Around the same time, a script was also developed, i.e. the Devanagari Lipi, to complement the language and its grammar.  

Coming back to Dvipantara or the modern Indonesian Archipelago, several of the older languages here like Javanese (also spelled Jawanese) and Balinese still retain the traces of Brahmi Lipi or Script that precedes the popular Devanagari Script today.

We are Aware of the Ongoing Debate on whether Sanskrit is older than the Prakrit languages or the vice versa. This will continue until the Sanskrit scholars and experts on languages look beyond the borders of Bharat, not to speak of the present state of India, and study the languages of ancient Persia, Dvipantara, and other regions sharing the same Sanatani, same Dharmika roots.

Without entering into an unnecessary debate, if we focus on the similarities of the lofty customs and traditions, or the samskriti of the vast region referred to as the Jambudvipa in the ancient times - we can easily conclude that, indeed, the entire region from ancient Persia to the outer limits of Australia, and even beyond, sprouted from the same cultural and civilizational heritage.

Angkasa in Bhasha Indonesian or Akasha in Sanskrit/Hindi.

Let some now examine some very common words in Bahasa (Bhasha) Indonesia having similarities with modern Sanskrit and Hindi words:

1. Agama meaning Religion, and Aagama meaning Traditional Doctrine. 

2. Ananda and Nandana - Son 

3. Angka and Anka - both meaning Number

4. Angkasa and Akasha - Sky 

5. Arti and Artha – Meaning.

6. Bahagia meaning Happy, and Bhagya meaning Good Fortune

7. Bahaya meaning Danger, and Bhaya meaning Fear

8. Baruna and Varuna, both meaning the Lord of Waters

9. Bayu and Vayu, both meaning the Lord of Winds

10. Biji and Bhija, both meaning Seed. 

11. Cempaka and Campaka - Magnolia Flower

12. Cendana and Chandana, both meaning Sandalwood 

13. Cerita and Carita - Story

14. Citra in Indonesian means Image, in Sanskrit it means Picture

15. Dana and Dhana – Money.

16. Desa in Indonesian - Village; Desha in Sanskrit - Country

17. Dirgahayu and Dhirga Aayu - Long Live

18. Duka and Dukha - Sadness/Pain

19. Eka in both Sanskrit and Javanese means One or Mono

20. Esa in Ancient Javanese and Indonesian - Mighty; Isha in Sanskrit – Lord.

National symbol of Indonesia is Garuda. Every Vishnu temple has Garuda. 

21. Gajah and Gaja, both meaning Elephant

22. Garuda in both Sanskrit and Indonesian means Eagle-like Legendary Bird

23. Genta in Indonesian and Ghanta in Sanskrit - Bell

24. Gerhana in Indonesian and Grahana in Sanskrit - Eclipse

25. Gita in both Indonesian and Sanskrit – Song.

26. Graha in both Indonesian and Sanskrit - House or Mansion

27. Guru in both Sanskrit and Indonesian means Teacher

28. Hasta in both Sanskrit and Indonesian - Hand

29. Husada or Usada in Indonesian and Aushadha in Sanskrit means Medicine

30. Indra in Indonesian and Indriya in Sanskrit - Sense Organ.

31.  Isteri or Istri and Stri in both Indonesian and Sanskrit - Woman

32. Jagat in both the languages - Universe

33. Ja(a)la(a) in Indonesian, and Jaala in Sanskrit - Net

34. Jiwa and Jiva - Individual Soul

35. Jaya in both - Hail, Glorious, Victory.

36. Ka(a)ca(a) in Indonesian and Kaacha in Sanskrit - Glass

37. Kala in both - Time

38. Kencana and Kanchana - Gold

39. Kendi in Indonesian and Kundi in Sanskrit - Pitcher

40. Loba and Lobha – Greed.

41. Madya and Madhya - Middle

42. Manusia and Manushya - Human being

43. Neraka and Naraka - Hell or Underworld 

44. Pustaka in both the languages - Book

45. Pertiwi and Prithvi – Earth.

46. Rasa in both can mean Taste, Emotion, or Flavor

47. Samudra in both - Ocean

48. Tri in both - Three

49. Utama and Uttama - Most Important 

50. Wahana and Vaahana - Vehicle

51. Yudha and Yuddha – War.

Out of 25,000+ Entries  in the Kawi (Old Javanese) - English Dictionary by Prof. P.J. Zoetmulder, S.J. (1982), almost half are mistakenly referred to as Sanskrit Loanwords. They actually stem from the same Prakrit roots as Sanskrit.

Most of these words are found in the modern Bahasa Indonesia. And, they are not perceived as words of foreign origin.

Similarly, as mentioned earlier, the samskriti, the values held high by modern Indonesians to date bear witness to our common roots, culture and civilization.

About the AuthorProud of his Sindhi-Indian ancestry rooted in the Glorious Sindhu Civilization and Culture Anand Krishna was born in Solo (Central Java), and is his Karma Bhumi, his work field. Beside the mother Organization, Anand Ashram Foundation (affiliated with UN), Anand Krishna has inspired several other social and educational institutions. The 4th President of Indonesia, KH Abdurrahman Wahid recognized his contributions and said, “If we want to have peace, then we must hear what Anand Krishna is saying”. He has a legacy of 180+ books to date with more than 1.5 million copies sold in the past 20 years. Anandji has an ashram in Ubud, Bali.

Also read

1 What is Samskriti

2 Ganesha Temples in Indonesia

3 History of Sanskrit

4 Architecture of Indonesian Shiva Mandir in Prambanan

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