Indonesia is an island nation that stretches between Thailand to the northeast and Australia to the southeast, extending 3,200 miles from east to west, whose population ranks just behind that of the United States. Java is just one of some 3000 inhabited islands in the country. About the size of Florida, it has a population of roughly 136 million: as the world’s most populous island, it is home to 57% of Indonesia’s inhabitants. It is a fertile, equatorial land of high volcanoes and rich alluvial plains, of dense, modern cities and bucolic villages.
The region has long been at the crossroads of foreign influences: South Asians, Chinese, Arabs, and Europeans have all left their marks over the centuries. In 1945 Indonesia declared independence from the Netherlands, which had gradually gained control over the archipelago over a period of 350 years. Java's centralized kingdoms, built on an Indian concentric model since ancient times, were maintained under Dutch rule. Since Independence, the royal courts have continued to exist but are much diminished in their opulence and influence.