A hyang (Kawi, Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese) is an unseen spiritual entity that has supernatural power in ancient Indonesian mythology. This spirit can be either divine or ancestral. The reverence for this spiritual entity can be found in Sunda Wiwitan, Kejawen, and Balinese Hinduism. In the modern Indonesian this term tends to be associated with gods, devata, or God. The realm where the hyangs reside is called kahyangan; now a synonym for svarga or heaven in modern Indonesian.
The term "hyang" now widely associated with Balinese Hinduism developed in ancient Java and Bali more than a millennium ago. However this term actually has an older origin, it has its root in the indigenous animism and dynamism beliefs of Austronesian people that inhabit the Indonesian archipelago. Native pre-Hindu Buddhist and pre-Islamic Indonesians venerated and revered ancestral spirits, they also believed that some spirits may inhabit certain places such as large trees, stones, forests, mountains, or any sacred places. The "hyang" concept indigenously developed in the archipelago and not considered to have originated from Indian dharmic religions.
Before the adoption of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, the natives of the Indonesian archipelago believed in powerful but unseen spiritual entities that can be both benevolent or malevolent. They also believed that the deceased ancestor is not gone away or disappeared completely. The ancestral spirit may gain god-like spiritual power and remain involved in their offspring's worldly affairs. That is why the veneration and reverence to honor ancestors is an important element in the belief system of native ethnic groups, such as Nias, Dayak, Toraja, Papuan ethnic groups, as well as many ethnic groups in Indonesia.
In ancient Sundanese, Javanese, and Balinese society, this unseen spiritual entity is identified as "hyang". These ancestral divine spirits are believed to inhabit high places, such as mountains, hills, and volcanoes. These mountainous regions are considered sacred realms, as the abode of gods and the resting place for the soul of the ancestors.
In Sundanese, the term "nga-hyang" means "disappear" or "unseen". It is suggested that the word "hyang" has linguistic relation with the Indonesian word: "hilang" which means "disappear". In its development, the term "hyang" become the root word for many terms that still known and used in modern Indonesian:
- Reverence. If the word "hyang" is attached with prefixes attribute Sang-, Dang-, Ra-; to form the word Sanghyang, Danghyang, or Rahyang, it is meant to honor ar revere gods or the deceased ancestors. For example, Sanghyang Sri Pohaci and Sang Hyang Widhi refer to gods, while the stylized name Rahyang Dewa Niskala refer to the name of late king of Sunda kingdom. The term Danghyang or Danyang is refer to the guardian spirits of certain sacred or haunted places. The name of Srivijayan empire founder, Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, also contained the name "hyang" which suggested that he possessed supernatural power.
- Place. Kahyangan, from the word ka-hyang-an, is the realm where hyangs resides. Because of the belief that hyang prefer high places, some mountainous regions is considered as the abode of hyang. For example, Parahyangan refer to mountainous region of West Java. Originated from combined words para-hyang-an; para indicate plural, while the suffix -an shows the place, so Parahyangan means the abode of hyangs. The term parahyangan is also used as the type of Pura or Balinese temple. Pura parahyangan is Balinese temple that located in mountainous region as the counterparts of pura segara; Balinese temple located by the sea. Dieng Plateau in Central Java also shared the same origin, it is from the combined words di-hyang which also means "hyang's place".
- Activity. The word sembahyang in Indonesian is synonymous with the Islamic shalat ritual. It actually originated from the combined word sembah-hyang which means "worship the hyang". The Balinese Sanghyang Dedari sacred dance involved some pre-pubescent girls dances in trance condition. Through complex rituals to summons the hyangs spirits, it is believed that the spirits possessed the girls and made them unconsciously dance with complex movements. Sanghyang Jaran is Balinese name for Kuda Lumping dance that also involving performer being entranced by spirit.
In Bali, Hyang are said to only move in straight lines. Accordingly, traditional Balinese buildings have a wall called an aling-aling just inside the doorway, which keeps the spirits out because they only move in straight lines, and hence bounce off. Similar beliefs are found in other spiritual traditions, as in British corpse roads.
- Apsara, divine celestial maiden
- Devata, deities, divine beings or lesser gods in Hindu-Buddhist belief
- Diwata, similar concept in the Philippines
- Kami, similar concept in Japanese Shinto faith
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