Hyang Concept, an Ancestor Worshipping

<Bahasa Indonesia>

A research by Dhani Irwanto, 9 September 2015

Hyang or personified as Sang Hyang (Kawi, Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese) is an unseen spiritual entity that has supernatural power in ancient Nusantara mythology. This spirit can be either divine or ancestral. In modern Nusantara this term tends to be associated with gods, dewata or God, widely associated with Indonesian Dharmism developed in ancient Java and Bali for more than a millennium ago. However this term actually has an older origin, it has its root in indigenous animism and dynamism beliefs of Austronesian people that inhabit the Nusantara archipelago. The Hyang concept is indigenously developed in archipelago and considered not originated from Indian dharmic religions.

Before the adoption of Dharmism, Buddhism and Islam, the natives of Nusantara archipelago believe in the powerful but unseen spiritual entity that can be either benevolent or malevolent. They also believe that the deceased ancestors are not gone away or disappear completely. The ancestral spirit may gain god-like spiritual power and still involved in their offspring’s worldly affairs. That is why the veneration and reverence to honor ancestor is an important element in the belief system of native ethnic groups, such as Nias, Dayak, Batak, Toraja, Papuan, as well as many other ethnic groups in Nusantara.

The etymology of Hyang is alive in modern affairs. Sanghyang and rahyang refer to gods. Dahyang, danyang or dayang refers to the guardian spirits of certain sacred or haunted places. The Javanese word tiyang means “person” is believed to be derived from the words ti and hyang means the descendant of Hyang. Parahyangan or priangan means the abode of the noble Hyangs. Mojang Priangan refers to a girl from Priangan. Dieng Plateau in Central Java is composed from combined words of dihyang means Hyang’s place in a height. Gunung Padang in West Java is from pada-hyang means the sacred place of Hyangs. The word sembahyang, a synonym with Islamic shalat ritual is originated from combined words sembahhyang means worshipping the Hyang. Some Javanese people believe that the word wayang, an antiquity theater, was derived from the words ma and hyang means towards the Hyang. Some figures of gods and deities in the wayang story have their noble titles beginning with Sang Hyang. The term Negeri Kahyangan means the Land of Hyangs or the heaven land. Sangeang Api (or Sanghyang Api), an active volcano complex in Nusatenggara Islands, was found in 14th century Majapahit script of Nagarakretagama.

Spreads of Hyang Concept
Kahyangan (from kahyangan, a place for the Hyangs), in another term is swarga or surga means heaven, is somewhere in the realm that is trusted by the adherents of some beliefs as the abode of the Hyangs. The term Kahyangan is popular in Java, Bali and Lombok in their doctrines of Kejawen, Sunda Wiwitan and Balinese Dharmism as well as in their antiquity story of the wayang. Kahyangan is similar to Banua Ginjang in the Batak and Kaharingan in the Dayak mythologies.


In central and eastern Javanese mythology, Hyang is an unseen spiritual entity that has supernatural power associated with gods. Batara Guru is a Hyang that rules Kahyangan (from ka-hyang-an, the realm of the Hyangs). He gives revelations, gifts and abilities. Batara Guru has a consort named Dewi Uma and begat some children. In wayang kulit (the antiquity shadow-puppet), Batara Guru is the only character whose feet face forward, with four hands, pointed canine teeth, a blue neck and paralyzed legs. He always rides Lembu Andini the divine cow, and is also known by several names including Sang Hyang Manikmaya, Sang Hyang Caturbuja, Sang Hyang Otipati, Sang Hyang Jagadnata, Sang Hyang Nilakanta, Sang Hyang Trinetra and Sang Hyang Girinata. Batara Guru has two brothers, Sang Hyang Maha Punggung and Sang Hyang Ismaya. Their parents are Sang Hyang Tunggal and Dewi Rekatawati. Batara Guru is the father of Dewi Sri, the Rice Goddess in native Javanese mythology.

Batara Guru


For the Sunda Wiwitan beliefs of the Sundanese (western Java), a supreme god named Sang Hyang Kersa created the universe and also other gods such as mother goddess Batari Sunan Ambu and Batara Guru. Batara Guru rules the Kahyangan or swargaloka as the king of gods, while Sang Hyang Kersa remains unseen. According to Sundanese legends, the Parahyangan (from parahyangan, the place for the noble Hyangs) highland, also known as Priangan, was magically created when the Hyangs (gods) are happy and smiling. To fill the land, Sang Hyang Kersa created animals and demons, while the myth of Sang Hyang Sri (also known as Nyai Pohaci Sanghyang Asri) explains the origin of rice and plants on earth as told in Wawacan Sulanjana, an ancient Sundanese manuscript contains the Sundanese mythology. According to the Sundanese legend, the Priangan Plateau was primordially a lake called Danau Hyang (“Hyang Lake”).

Sunda Batara Guru


Balinese Dharmism adherers believe that all the creations of Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa will face the cycle of birth, life and death. The essence of power of Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa is expressed in a set of shrines called Sanggah Pemerajan at outside of every dharmic house. The empty seat (palinggih) at the top of the Padmasana, the main seat, is for Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa.In Balinese Dharmism perspective, the supreme god is known as Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (also known as Acintya or Sang Hyang Tunggal), which means the Almighty God. Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa is associated with the concept of Brahman, that their religion had a single god, though there are various manifestations. Three well known manifestations of Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, namely Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa, which are named as Tri Murti; Brahma is the creator (utpatti), Wisnu is the caretaker (sthiti) and Siwa is the destroyer (praline). Other noted manifestation is Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice.

Acintya_BaliSanggah Pamerajan


In Kaharingan, a folk religion professed by many Dayaks in Kalimantan, their supreme God is called Ranying Hatalla Langit, their ancestral spirits (divine man) Sangiang, their ancient language Sangen and their ancestors Tato-hiang. In addition, Kaharingan has ritual offerings called Tiwah, place of worshipping called Balai Basarah or Balai Kaharingan and holy books called Panaturan, Talatah Basarah (group of prayers) and Tawar (a guide to seek God’s help by giving rice). The main festival of Kaharingan is the Tiwah festival, which lasts for thirty days, and involves the sacrifice of many animals like buffalos, cows, pigs, and chickens as offerings to the Supreme God.

In their religion, the universe is divided into three divisions of life: underworld, human nature and heaven, as symbolized in a tree called Batang Garing.

Batang Garing

Among the many tribes of Dayaks in Kalimantan, those living in the upper reaches of the rivers in the province of Central Kalimantan are the Dayak Ngaju, the Lawangan, the Ma’anyan and the Ot Danum, known as the Barito Dayaks, named after the large Barito river. Among these, the most dominant are the Ngaju, who inhabit the Kahayan river basin by the present city of Palangkaraya. In practice the Ngaju focus on the supernatural world of spirits, including ancestral spirits.

The Kaharingan religion is correlated to the Hyang concept. The names Ranying, Sangiang, Sangen, Tato-hiang and Kahayan are phonetically in close resemblance to and derived from the words “hyang”, “ra-hyang”, “sang-hyang” and “ka-hyang-an”.


The Buginese (southern Sulawesi) developed an extraordinary creation myth called Galigo. According to Sure’ Galigo (an epic of creation myth of the Bugis), Datu Patoto’ is the supreme god; with his wife Datu Palinge’ begat Batara Guru who was sent to earth to cultivate it as human being. His divine name was La Toge’ Langi’. He had at least ten children from his five concubines, but only one son from his beloved consort, We Nyili’ Timo’. He is the father of Batara Lattu’ and grand father of Sawerigading, the main characters in the Buginese Sure’ Galigo. He is also the father of Sangiang Serri, the goddess of rice and fertility in Buginese mythology. However, mankind does not descend from them but from their servants and the servants of other divine rulers.


The present of Batara Guru and Sangiang Serri in the Buginese mythology at least shows its correlation to the Hyang concept.


In the Torajan (central Sulawesi) mythology, their ancestors came down from heaven using stairs, which were then used by the Torajans as a communication medium with Puang Matua, the creator and supreme god. The cosmos, according to aluk (the way), is divided into the upper world (heaven), the world of man (earth), and the underworld. At first, heaven and earth were married, and then there was darkness, a separation, and finally the light. Animals live in the underworld, which is represented by rectangular space enclosed by pillars, the earth is for mankind, and the heaven world is located above, covered with a saddle-shaped roof. Other Torajan gods include Pong Banggai di Rante (god of Earth), Indo’ Ongon-Ongon (a goddess who can cause earthquakes), Pong Lalondong (god of death), and Indo’ Belo Tumbang (goddess of medicine); and there are many more.


In Batak (northern Sumatera) mythology, the universe is divided into three worlds, namely the upper world called Banua Ginjang, the middle world called Banua Tonga and the underworld called Banua Toru. The middle world, where humans live, is also an intermediary between the upper world and the underworld. The upper world is the abode of the gods, while the underworld is the abode of demons and spirits of the earth and fertility. Colors commonly used by the Batak people for household appliances, Hauduk, Ulos cloth and wood carvings are white, red and black are symbols of the three-world.

The creator of the world in the Batak mythology is Mulajadi na Bolon, assisted by a series of other deities which are divided into seven levels in the upper world. Mulajadi na Bolon has three children namely Debata Guru, Debata Soripada and Debata Mangala Bulan; they are known as Debata Sitolu Sada (three gods in one) or Debata na Tolu (three gods). The three gods are under the control of the supreme god Mulajadi na Bolon. It was told that Mulajadi na Bolon sent his daughter Tapionda to earth at the foot of Pusuk Buhit mountain. Tapionda later became the mother of the first king of Batak.

Other noted gods are Debata Idup (the god of life) and Pane na Bolon who rules the middle world. Many other gods are associated with the dharmic gods; among others are Boraspati ni Nato and Boru Saniang Naga. In addition, there are spirits that abode lakes, rivers and mountains.

The term debata is identical to dewata or hyang and there is single supreme god so that the Batak mythology is correlated to the Hyang concept. The present of Debata Guru in the Batak mythology at least shows its correlation to the concept.


Rejangese is one of the oldest ethnic groups in Sumatera living mainly on the southwest coast of the island, on the cool-weather slopes of the Barisan mountain range, in the province of Bengkulu, Indonesia. Most of the Rejangese inhabit the regions of Rejang Lebong, Kepahiang, Central Bengkulu, North Bengkulu and Lebong Regencies. Megalithic sites are ubiquitous in this area influenced by the Basemah culture in southwestern Sumatera.

The Rejangese called them Hejang. Rejangese language is not obviously close to other Malayo-Polynesian languages. Rejangese have their script, known as the Rejang Kaganga alphabet, somewhat similar to Phoenician alphabet. There is no connection to the Dayak Rejang inhabiting eastern and northern Kalimantan.

In their culture, rituals are performed on the occasion of the opening of forest land for slash-and-burn farming (a ritual called kedurai agung) and during the rest of the cycle of rice cultivation. The most important ritual, kedurai mundang biniak, is performed just before the sowing of rice. On this occasion the rice goddess, Nyang Serai, leave the rice and the village and goes to heaven in order to take care of the rainfall. The festivities include a dance performed every evening by seven boys and seven girls from different clans as an expression of clan exogamy. Mundang biniak is held over seven days, and use to be performed only once every three to seven years. In other years seed is blessed by a smaller ritual, membasuh biniak. The ritual cycle ends at the harvest, when Nyang Serai returns to the village and ensures that the rice spirit will not leave the rice being stored in the barns.

The Rejang culture is correlated to the Hyang concept that in the rituals they worshipping the rice goddess, Nyang Serai, identical to Sanghyang Sri, Sangiang Serri and Dewi Sri in other cultures. Some people believe that Rejang is derived from the words ra and hyang, meaning the noble Hyang. A region named Kepahiang as well as Hiang (in the neighboring Kerinci region) having the same pre-historic age also can be correlated.


Nias is an island off the western coast of Sumatera. In their mythology, the universe is made of three superposed worlds. The upper world, Tetehöli Ana’a, is the model, the place of origin of the gods, in the sky, in the clouds and long ago near the earth. That world has several villages with different people who are often opposed to each other. Lowalangi is the god of this upper world. Silewe Nazarata, his sister and/or wife, gave knowledge to humans: she taught them how to cultivate fields, build houses and carve statues. The underworld is dark, sometimes identified with a cave or a large hole peopled with evil spirits. From it come earthquakes. It is the home of Lature Danö, the elder brother of Lowalangi. The middle world, or world of humans, was created by the gods or in certain versions by one of them by means of their skin scales.


Copyright © Dhani Irwanto, 2015. All rights reserved.


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