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A Fascinating Story of Indonesia: How Hinduism and Buddhism coexist in this Country

Indonesia offers a look into the beautiful coexistence of faiths; with places like Prambanan temple complex and the Borobudur temple, it's a festival of culture

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Borobudur Temple, Wikimedia
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Indonesia, March 2, 2017: At the Prambanan temple complex near Yogyakarta (locally known as Jogja) in Indonesia, the very famous Ramayana ballet is conducted every night. In Summer the performance takes place in an open-air theatre, but in the cold winters, there are cosy indoor arrangements for the viewers.

The show sets in with the orchestra at the back of the stage, complete with local versions of harmonium and mridangam. Even though it can be hard for a first timer to figure out what to expect, the fascinating performance with over 200 actors in traditional costumes manages to steal hearts.

The performance is marked by dance and movement, with the characters, even the demons seemingly gliding in easy grace- there is no doubt this is a ballet performance. Even without any spoken words, the dramatic and melodic music helps the performance reach for perfection.

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The story begins with Lord Rama and Lord Lakshmana leaving for the forest, while a docile Sita is in tow. Viewers will find the story to be a little less traditional; following their path to Lanka and the end of Ravana. All the battle scenes are spectacularly executed, but Lord Hanuman in his white get-up, burning Lanka in utter flair, manages to steal the show.

In the magnificent Prambanan temple complex, the Hindu temples are dedicated to the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva provide an insight into the Hinduism out of India that we are not that familiar with. All the shrines were built in the 9th and 10th centuries, which manage to portray the intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist cultures.

Prambanan temple complex, Wikimedia

Prambanan is like a forest of temples, with the tall shrines reaching towards the sky. The complex has almost 200 monuments, but very few of them have managed to defy time, most being destroyed by earthquakes over the centuries. Every temple has a significant character of its own, with intricate carving on pillars and walls, Ramayana being the central idea for most of them.

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The Prambanan temples have earned a spot on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Another highlight of a visit to Prambanan is a visit to the region of Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple in world’s largest Muslim country.

Borobudur temple is breath-taking. Decorated with over 500 Buddha sculptures and 2,500 relief panels, located on a flat hilltop overlooking the green hills of Java and active volcano Gunung Merapi, Borobudur is a stand-out Buddhist temple for sure.

Believed to have been built around 800 AD, the Borobudur temple has the shape of a stepped pyramid of five square bases, topped by three circular terraces. 72 miniature stupas containing a statue of Buddha encircle each of these. With the stupa peaks broken, many of these sit exposed, even though some of them are barely visible.

Borobudur was abandoned in the 14th century, staying buried under volcanic ash and foliage for hundreds of years. The credit of its discovery in 1814 goes to Stamford Raffles, the British governor of Java. It became a major tourist attraction after UNESCO stepped in for extensive renovation and preservation work.

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From an aerial view, the temple resembles a lotus, which is considered holy in Buddhism. According to the stories of the travel guides, this temple was built as an ode to Buddha’s path towards Nirvana. Every carving at every step tells a story of the life of the great Lord.

Even after you leave Yogyakarta, the feeling stays with you. It’s really hard to forget the coexistence of faiths in the corner of Indonesia. It’s even harder to forget how easily a place can feel like home, a destination can feel so close to heart.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

 

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)