Exploring the Rich History of Angklung: From Royalty to Religion


Indonesia’s cultural tapestry adorns itself with a vast array of traditional musical instruments, each narrating its unique story. Among them, the Angklung stands as a UNESCO-recognized cultural treasure. In contemporary times, dedicated Angklung enthusiasts are resolute in their efforts to safeguard its authenticity. In this article, we delve into the historical journey of Angklung in Indonesia, tracing its roots and evolution through time.

Unraveling the Etymology and Early Mentions

The term “Angklung” originates in the fusion of two Javanese words: “angka,” meaning tone, and “lung,” signifying broken or incomplete. Collectively, These musical instrument embodies the essence of incomplete or missing tones. During the National Working Meeting (Rakernas) of the Indonesian Angklung Enthusiast Association (PPAI), Dinda Satya Upaja Budi embarked on a historical odyssey, synthesizing insights from various sources.

References to musical instrument can be traced back to the Bali Inscriptions of 1954, published by the Language and Culture Institute, Faculty of Literature and Philosophy at the University of Indonesia. Within these inscriptions lies Prasasti Bebetin A I, dating back to 818 Saka or 896 AD, wherein Angklung, or bamboo, intertwines with the term “pabonjing.” Pabonjing denotes these musical instrument players who were obligated to pay taxes on sacred structures. Furthermore, Prasasti Batuan II b, from 944 Saka or 1022 AD, mentions several artistic terms, including “abonying” or “abonjing,” referring to bamboo Angklung.

Exploring the Rich History of Angklung: From Royalty to Religion

Angklung in Early Javanese History

An alternative perspective suggests that with the arrival of Hinduism in Java, a multitude of musical instruments greeted the newcomers. The reliefs adorning the Borobudur Temple bear witness to this rich musical tapestry, featuring both indigenous instruments and those imported from India. Among the diverse ensemble were drums, single-sided land drums, flutes, Angklung, wind instruments resembling oboes, xylophones (a hybrid of gambang and calung), sapeq, sitar, harps with ten strings, bronze bells of various sizes, gongs, saron, bonang, and more.

Angklung in Religious Ceremonies

Further revelations emerge from the Cibadak Inscription, dating to 952 Saka or 1031 AD, in Sukabumi. This inscription illuminates the utilization of these musical instrument in the religious ceremonies of King Sunda, Sri Jayabuphati.

The Nagara Kartagama Book of 1359 provides additional insights, depicting musical instrument as a form of entertainment during royal receptions.

Modern Transformations and Contemporary Challenges

In the present day, these musical instrument has not been impervious to the currents of change. It has gracefully adapted to the evolving times, giving rise to innovative variations. Initially designed to be played collectively, with each musical instrument producing a solitary note, it is now a common sight to witness individual artists mastering the Angklung. Moreover, digital renditions of these musical instrument have surfaced.

The Indonesian Angklung Enthusiast Association (PPAI) commends the innovative spirit of contemporary artists and millennials, recognizing their role in preserving the legacy of musical instrument. However, PPAI remains steadfast in its commitment to safeguarding the original essence of Angklung as a musical instrument that unites communities.

Preserving the Soul of Angklung

Sam Udjo, Chairman of PPAI, passionately advocates for preserving the communal identity of Angklung. While endorsing the creative endeavors of the younger generation, he underscores the significance of preserving the fundamental principle: “one Angklung, one note.”

PPAI’s endeavors extend beyond artistic expression. The association is actively working to incorporate musical instrument into the school curriculum, collaborating closely with the Ministry of Education and local governments. Presently, Angklung is predominantly offered as an extracurricular activity in schools.

Furthermore, PPAI is forging alliances with government bodies to ensure the sustainable availability of these musical instrument’s raw materials. Sam Udjo points out that specific bamboo varieties, such as black bamboo or apus bamboo, are gradually becoming scarcer.

In Conclusion

The history of Angklung in Indonesia is a fascinating journey from its early references to its contemporary adaptations. It is a testament to the enduring cultural significance of this traditional musical treasure. While embracing innovation, dedicated efforts are underway to preserve its communal soul, ensuring that it continues to shine as a cherished cultural heritage for generations to come.