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Indonesia History - Majapahit Kingdom - 1293-1500

The rulers of Singosari and Majapahit trace their origins back to the mysterious figure of Ken Angrok, who founded the Rajasa dynasty early in the 13th century. According to the Pararaton, a main source of literary information about this period, Ken Angrok was born in the Malang region, apparently from the union of his mother, Ken Endok, with the god Brahma. Abandoned in a cemetery shortly after his birth, the infant was subsequently adopted by a thief named Lembong, whose questionable talents the child was later to inherit.

The Majapahit dynasty, based in and around East Java, began the foundations of an empire that was to dominate the entire Indonesian archipelago, the Malay peninsula and part of the Philippines, also establishing profitable trade relations with China, Cambodia, Siam, Burma and Vietnam. The Majapahit prime minister, Gaja Mada (1331-1364), united all of the archipelago for 75 years. Majapahit dominance ended with the spread of Islam to Malacca in 1402. Majapahit was the last great Hindu kingdom in South East Asia.

The founding of the kingdom of Madjapahit, which took place AD 1292, appears to have been the result of a quarrel over the throne of the older Javan kingdom of Singosari, and the circumstances connected with this event are so striking as to demand more than passing consideration. Kartanagara, the fifth and last king of Singosari, in the year 1275, sent the pick of his Javanese troops on a great expedition against the west coast of Sumatra. This expedition, which penetrated as far as Menangkabau, but failed to reach the seat of Sri-Vishayan power, was absent from Java for twenty years; and before its return, in 1295, the great events surrounding the foundation of Madjapahit had already transpired.

It appears that Djayakatwang, the tributary king of Kediri, in east-central Java, taking advantage of the absence of Kartanagara's best troops, treacherously rebelled against his overlord and in 1292 seized the throne of Singosari. Now the commander of Kartanagara's small home army was his son-in-law, Raden Widjaya. The latter, who was out of the royal city at the time of its capture, was joined by such troops as escaped, and withdrew westward to the village of Madjapahit, where he established his headquarters. Here he was joined by an able minister of the court, who concealed from him the fact that Kartanagara had already been poisoned by the usurper, and counseled an appeal to the Emperor of China.

According to the Javanese account, it would seem that Singosari was at that time paying tribute to Kublai Khan, the great Mongol emperor of China, who had confirmed Kartanagara in his kingship and regarded him as a friendly vassal. Raden Widjaya followed the minister's advice and dispatched an urgent appeal for aid to Kublai Khan by a Chinese ship then in a neighboring port. In return for the requested aid he ingeniously offered the Great Khan the pick of the most beautiful princesses of Singosarisaid to be the finest of all Java. Whether the offer of the princesses had any weight or not, this appeal brought prompt results. Kublai Khan sent two of his ablest generals, with a great fleet and twenty thousand troops, to Raden Widjaya's aid.

According to the Chinese account, however, which is probably more reliable, though less picturesque, Kublai Khan had dispatched his great expedition, which, in addition to the soldiers mentioned, consisted of a thousand ships with provisions for a year, for the purpose of subduing Kartanagara, who had refused to pay tribute and mistreated the Emperor's envoy. Upon arriving in Java the expedition found that Kartanagara was dead and that his throne was in the hands of a usurper; so the Chinese generals contented themselves by joining forces with Raden Widjayawho had sent them presents and friendly messages-to oust the usurper and lay waste his kingdom of Kediri.

The truth of the matter appears to lie in a solution which renders both the Javanese and Chinese accounts fairly credible; that is, that Raden Widjaya's message with the offer of presents was dispatched not to the Great Khan himself but to his generals, who had already landed at Tuban in Java and were preparing their expedition against Singosari. In any case, the accounts agree in a general way as to the succeeding events. The forces of the Chinese did join with those of Raden Widjaya to oust the usurping Djayakatwang, who was killed, together with his son, and his possessions seizedmost of the prisoners and booty going to the Chinese.

At the end of the war, which lasted from the middle of April to the middle of May, 1293, the Chinese allowed Raden Widjaya to return to Madjapahit for the alleged purpose of preparing the princesses and other presents promised by him to the Emperor. However, finding himself master of the land and surrounded by a good-sized army, Raden Widjaya, with an ingratitude typical of sovereigns, decided to drive the Chinese out of Java. He began by killing the escort that had accompanied him to secure the presents, and then attacked one of the Chinese generals who had remained with a small force in Doha, the capital of Kediri.

The Chinese fought their way to the coast, where the whole expedition was reunited and embarked on the ships. The commanders, having already lost over three thousand men and having gained considerable respect for the difficulties of fighting in tropical Java, decided to return to China without attempting to punish Raden Widjaya. They took with them one hundred of the chief prisoners and booty to the value of more than five hundred thousand silver taels, a great sum in the thirteenth century. The return journey from Java to Ch'uan-chou in Fukien Province was accomplished in sixty-eight days.

After the departure of the Chinese, Raden Widjaya had himself crowned as the first king of Madjapahit, under the name Kertaradjasa Dyaja-warddhana, in the autumn of 1293. He then set about consolidating and extending his kingdom and building a great city at Madjapahit.

One other matter in this connection is worthy of remark. The war with the Chinese was marked by the use of firearms, and it was probably through the acquiring and development of the new offensive weapon that the power of Madjapahit was later extended so widely. This view is supported by the fact that, while no mention of firearms is to be found in connection with Sri-Vishaya, their use is mentioned frequently in the accounts of the wars carried on by Madjapahit.

Seven rulers appear to have reigned in Madjapahit from 1294 until 1451. The greatest of these was the fourth named Hayam Wuruk, or Sri Rajasanagara and it was during his mother's regency (1334-1350) and his own reign (1350-1389) that the empire attained its greatest dimensions. By 1365, Javanese soldiers and ships had completed the conquest of practically the entire Malay Archipelago, excepting only Sri-Vishaya and one or two of its strongest and nearest colonies. In 1377, Sri Vishaya itself and its offshoot, Tumasik (the old Singapore), were captured and so terribly devastated that for centuries afterwards no Malay would dwell upon the spot where they had stood. The site of Sri-Vishaya was probably located at a considerable distance from both the ancient and the present Palembang. It should be noted that the powerful states of Yavana, Champa, Cambodia, etc., on the Indo-China mainland, were probably not actually conquered by Madjapahit, though it is certain that they maintained friendly relations, exchanged embassies and arranged royal intermarriages.

In the islands lying between Java and the Philippines the power of Madjapahit was widely and rapidly extended. The list of tributary states in 1365 includes eighteen on Borneo, six each in Celebes and the Moluccas, one in the Talaut Islands to the south of Mindanao, and three within the Philippines themselves. The chief seat of power in Borneo was Bandjarmasin. After the capture and partial destruction of the older Sri-Vishayan colony there, the city was rebuilt and made a viceroyalty, which was occupied on at least one occasion by a favorite son of the Madjapahit Emperor himself. In the north, Bruni early came under the Javan domain and maintained close relations with it for it a considerable period. A force of Javanese soldiers was stationed there for a time, and a Javanese princess was married to the local ruler. The Philippine colonies are always spoken of under the head of Borneo, and they were doubtless controlled either from Bruni or Bandjarmasin.

The foreign possessions of Madjapahit were ruled by governors who usually lived at a favorable spot on the coast and had the title of "sea-lord". They had both troops and ships under their command, for the purpose of resisting foreign invaders and of putting down local insurrections. Their most important function seems to have been supervision of the export of products. "The subjugated lands usually obeyed the King's commands, but if they did not, the sea-lords made war upon them and exterminated them,and several of the sea-lords made themselves famous in this manner. Probably refusal or neglect to pay the tribute to Java was the usual cause of this fighting; because the tribute had to be paid punctually at certain fixed times" (W. Fruin-Mees).

A tax was also collected from the inland population under supervision of a mantri, or "minister for the interior". The tax-collectors were often priests or monks, who were chosen on account of their tact in dealing with the people. They were utilized almost wholly for secular matters and were generally forbidden to interfere with the native religious beliefs. Only the Sivaite monks were permitted to preach Brahmanistic doctrines in those places where that faith had already spreadin order that there might be no backsliding. The movements of Buddhists, on the other hand, were greatly restricted. They were allowed to go to certain places only, and there for purely worldly purposes only. They were made use of by the Madjapahit government, however, and one of them was even ordered to inaugurate on the neighboring island of Bali the same fundamental system as existed in Java.

With regard to Java, the Chinese intercourse with that country seems to have been fairly continuous from the fifth century down to the European period. The Madjapahit rulers, however, were always jealous of China's relations with their dependencies, and on several occasions killed or maltreated imperial envoys to tributary states. This attitude was partly justified, in that Madjapahit's dependencies often appealed to the Chinese Court to forbid Java from collecting tribute, and sometimes even secured imperial decrees to that effect. Among others, both Bruni and Sulu appear to have tried this scheme of playing off China against Java for their own benefit.

Archeologist Sri Soeyatmi Satari claims that the name Bajangratu is closely connected to King Jayanegara of Majapahit, since the word 'bajang' means a dwarf. According to Kitab (book) Pararaton and folklores, Jayanegara was enthroned at a tender age, when he was still a tiny young boy. The nickname Dwarf King or Bajangratu, however, stuck with him as he grew older. It is also believed that Bajangratu was constructed between 13th century and 14th century, considering that: 1) The temple is assumed to be a peruwatan temple for King Jayanegara who died in 1328; 2). The temple, which takes the shape of a gate, resembles a temple in Blitar which has an inscription of year on it; 3) The relief sculptures decorating the entrance frame are similar to the relief sculptures depicting Ramayana epic seen at Panataran Temple; 4) The relief sculpture that pictures a dragon shows Yuan Dynasty influence.

Surawana Temple is situated in Canggu Village, Pare Subdistrict, Kediri Regency. It is about 25 kilometers to the northeast of Kediri. The temple, whose official name is Wishnubhawanapura, is estimated to be built in 14th century in order to glorify Bhre Wengker, a king of Wengker Kingdom, a nation under the control of Majapahit Empire. The king of Wengker died in 1388. Negarakertagama states that in 1361, King Hayam Wuruk of Majapahit Empire once visited the temple and even stayed there.

The inscription found at the Cetha Temple compound reveals that the temple was erected between 1451-1470, an era in which Majapahit Empire almost came to its end. Cetha Temple is still functioning as a worshipping place and Indonesian Hindus frequent the temple on Tuesdays and Fridays and on the New Year eve of Islamic calendar (1 Sura). Cetha Temple is a Hindu temple built to purify and save the empire from chaotic situation at that time. The fact that the temple is a Hindu one is very interesting as Majapahit kings were Buddhist. It is believed that Majapahit experienced the worst chaotic situation that happened not only in social, political, and cultural aspects of life, but also in religious matters. The empire then was everything but order, until it totally collapsed in 1478.

It is assumed that Rimbi Temple was built in the middle of 14th century in honor of Queen Tribhuwana Tunggadewi Jayawisnuwardhani who ruled Majapahit Empire from the 1329 to 1350. This assumption is founded on two statues found at the site. The two statues, which are kept at Trowulan Museum and National Museum, are statues of goddess Parwati, the reflection of Queen Dewi Tribhuwana.

Majapahit dominance declined with the spread of Islam to Malacca in 1402. On the death of Wikramawardhana in 1429, the throne was taken over by his daughter Suhita, who is recognized as the last direct blood descendant of Raden Wijaya to rule in Majapahit. During her reign, which lasted until 1447, the kingdom appears to have experienced a revival of archaic Indonesian themes in the fields of art and religion., evidence of which can be seen in the remains of the terraced monuments on Mt Penanggungan and Mt Lawu, constructed during the 15th century.

A succession crisis broke out in the mid-fifteenth century. Since Suhita left no children, the throne went to her closest relative, a step-brother named Dyah Kertawijaya, whose period of rule lasted for just four years. After Kertawijaya the sequence of events becomes rather uncertain.

By the late fourteenth century, Majapahit's power had ebbed. Majapahit's disintegration was hastened by the economic competition of the Malay trading network that focused on the state of Melaka (Malacca), whose rulers had adopted Islam. Although the Majapahit royal family stabilized itself in 1486, warfare broke out with the Muslim state of Demak and the dynasty, then ruling only a portion of eastern Java, ended in the 1520s or 1530s.

Bhatara Prabhu Girindrawardhana Dyah Ranawijaya, was the last known king of Majapahit, possibly ruling until around 1520, when the capital was finally overrun by the forces of Demak. Little of the Majapahit Empire's former glory still stands in East Java, however, with the exception of temple ruins and some archeological discoveries.

Some modern ethnic groups of interior Sumatra claim affinity with medieval Javanese empires. The highland Rejangs of Bengkulu Province claim their culture derived directly from Majapahit. The Rejangs' oral history relates that a major change in their customary laws occurred when four `princes' (pangeran) of Majapahit, after losing a dispute at court, fled to the hinterland in search of territory to rule. The four princes offered the Rejang people what they knew best: government.




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