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Pancasila : Upholding Indonesia’s Founding Principles


Pancasila : Upholding Indonesia’s Founding Principles

Garuda is the official emblem of the Indonesian state. As such it is embedded with a coat of arms containing the 5 principles of the state –Pancasila—and its motto –Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

( Written by Jean Couteau, original provided by NOW! Bali Magazine )

Indonesia’s Garuda differs largely from the legendary depictions of Garuda. It is a Javanese eagle and not an anthropomorphic figure such as in mythology. Its face is stern and looks to the side, emphasizing its strength as a national symbol. More significantly, what the bird is carrying in its claw is not the elixir of immortality (amerta). It is the motto of the Indonesian state:

Bhinneka Tunggal Ika –Unity in Diversity.

Garuda Wisnu Kencana, showing the god-bird depiction of Garuda from Hindu lore.

The meaning of the motto is clear: despite being a largely Muslim country, Indonesians stand together despite their many differences.

It is derived form an old, pre-Islamic Javanese piece of literature, translated to English as saying:

“the essence of Buddha and Shiva are of different substance; they are different indeed, but how can they possibly be separated; Buddhism and Shivaism are different but one; they are two but one, because the truth cannot become two.”

This reference to an ancient concept of tolerance reminds the nation to be peaceful and to embrace, in kindness, their differences.

On Indonesia’s Garuda, a coat of arms is embedded on its chest. What does one see? Five elements, the Pancasila : a central star, a chain, a banyan tree, a bull’s head and two twigs, one of rice, the other for cotton. Together they symbolize the five principles of the Indonesian nation, the Pancasila.


(1) Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa

The star represents the Oneness of God; its 5 tips refer to the official religions in the country: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Although now Confucianism has also been accepted. This implicitly underlines that the state, even though not formally secular, should be officially neutral in matters of religious.

(2) Kemanusiaan Yang Adil dan Beradab

The chain is the symbol of humanitarianism, a just and civilized humanity.

(3)  Persatuan Indonesia

The banyan tree represents national unity. A sacred tree with deep connections, reaching down into the deepest layers of Indonesian identity. In Java, banyan trees used to be planted on the main square of the kingdom’s capital city. In Bali, banyan trees are thought to be “living beings”. They each have a shrine addressed to its soul.

(4) Kerakyatan Yang Dipimpin oleh Hikmat Kebijaksanaan, Dalam Permusyawaratan Perwakilan

 The bull (banteng) represents the principle of democracy. It is a symbol of strength, but also seen as a social animal. It says that Indonesia is led by the wisdom of its chosen representatives.

(5) Keadilan Sosial bagi seluruh Rakyat Indonesia

The two twigs of rice and cotton are the principles of social justice, representing sustenance and livelihood.


This complex symbolic system of Pancasila is Indonesia’s most important contribution to modern humanity.

It encourages the idea that identity is indeed multi-layered. Being Indonesian means there is no contradiction in being a Javanese Christian, or perhaps a Muslim Batak, with Chinese blood

In a world where most multi-cultural states are wrecked by unending conflicts about one’s loyalty toward one’s state, religion and ethnicity, Indonesia stands as an island of peace, and is proud to be so!

“Indonesia’s founding principles, Pancasila, are indeed well thought out. Representing a true want or ‘keinginan’ to be a good and fair nation. But, words are only words; it is in the individual’s power to make these words a reality, to represent our ideals of what it means to be Indonesian.”
– WowShack

Original story – Garuda : The Myth & The Symbol
Jean Couteau, NOW! Bali Magazine

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