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Kediri, Singhasari and Majapahit

Srivijaya was a network state that emerged in Sumatra as the result of entrepôt trade between China and India and Persia to the west, as well as the Mediterranean states. It flourished from approximately the C7th to the C11th CE and was embroiled in various conflicts with its Javanese competitors to the east and to the Chola dynasty of southern India to its west, among others. Eventually, Srivijaya was reduced to impotence by combinations of assaults from both east and west. However, while Srivijaya is comparatively well-known as a name (even though much of its history is still not clear), its successors are rather less well-known. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the successor states of Kediri, Singhasari and Majapahit. These states were all based on Java and both represent and give shape to the concept of nusantara – the domination of surrounding islands by the central power of Java.

Just as in mainland Southeast Asia, various small states were born, flourished briefly and were then swallowed up by successors. Few details remain of many of these save for the occasional name of a king or hero and a legend or two. One such state which is slightly better known is that of Kadiri, which was a Hinduised state based in east Java. Information about Kadiri is derived mostly from the epic Pararaton – The Book of Kings – which describes how the mighty King Airlangga divided his East Javanese kingdom between his two sons shortly before his death. To the east was Janggala, while to the west was Kadiri (also known as Panjalu), which had as its capital Daha. Airlangga (also known as Erlangga) lived from 991-1049(?). He was born in Bali and married the daughter of Dharmavamsa. When Dharmavamsa’s kingdom was destroyed by the Srivijayans in 1006, Airlangga managed to escape and was able to create his own state further to the east. In 1019, he managed to secure control of the Pasuran area and, using this as a base and with a capital at the hermitage in Wonogiri, he was able to establish control over the whole of eastern Java. His division of the state into two portions is believed to have occurred in 1045.

Kediri was able to conquer Janggala and constituted an important maritime power into the early part of the C13th. Under Jayabhaya and other kings, Kediri was able to expand its territory beyond Java and controlled Bali and the coastal areas of Borneo. However, Srivijaya remained an important power in the region and retained control of Sumatra. The last king of Kediri was Kertajaya who came to grief as a result of his conflict with the Brahmans, whose influence he wished to curb. The struggle gave rise to discontent and a rebel, Ken Angrok, made secret common cause with the Brahmans to overthrow Kertajaya and establish the new state of Singhasari.

Singhasari marked a period of Javanese and indeed Indonesian history in which distinctive indigenous cultural forms strongly began to emerge. Singhasarian art demonstrated combinations of Javanese and Hinduistic forms that were characteristic and striking. This emergence perhaps reached its height with the unique Siva-Buddha cult of Kertanagara, who was rather unfortunately the last king of the state, as a result of insulting the emissary from Kublai Khan, guaranteeing subsequent reprisals and also falling foul of Jayakatwang of Kediri’s rebellion which brought that state back into the dominant position.

Nevertheless, Kertanagara continues to be revered in Java as a great national hero, largely as a result of his resistance of the Mongols. His policies were mainly to align Singhasari with neighbouring powers and to further strengthen himself with ritual and magical ceremonies and practices. He had erected various notable statues of the Buddha and also sent envoys to Melayu and elsewhere to strengthen alliances. E himself married a Champa princess. One of the Buddha statues was placed on the site of the hermitage of Bharada, the magician who was believed to have assisted in the division of eastern Java by Airlangga and thereby inflicted a grievous wound on the land.

Meng Ch’i, Kublai Khan’s emissary, arrived in 1289. Before he could report back to the Great Khan and have troops dispatched to punish Singhasari, Kertanagra had the misfortune to die while involved in a tantric drinking ritual at the hands of Jayakatwang of Kediri. Kertanagra’s role and indeed his name as ‘order in the kingdom’ derived from his birth to parents of either half of Java, with his mother being a princess of Kediri and his father King Vishnuvardhana of Janggala. This origin and Kertanagra’s subsequent role have contributed to his position as a great hero of the Javanese people.
As an adherent of tantrism, Kertanagara was following the Vajrayana or ’The Way of the Thunderbolt.’ Vajrayana originates from the work of Bengali monks living away from monasteries and who favoured the use of necromancy and sorcery as means of constraining the creatures dwelling in heaven to provide them with various kinds of magical power. Their methods included the recitation of formulas (mantras), the correct drawing of magical symbols (yantras) and the Taras – representatives of female essence with magical powers and heavenly incarnations with whom sexual congress could provide a form of ecstasy that led to additional magical powers. As an initiate in the Tantric mysteries, Kertanagara knew full well that, to combat the dark and demonic forces loose in his kingdom, he would need the power that could only be provided by sexual and alcoholic excess. As a result, he is variously described as a louche drunkard or an ascetic saint free from world passions, depending on the religious beliefs of authors chronicling his life (Hall, 1981, pp.81-3).

Majapahit Arises
Jayakatwang’s victory was not complete and one of those who escaped was Vijaya, who seems to have been a resourceful man in that he first allied himself with the Mongol troops who eventually arrived to punish the now deceased Kertanagara and together defeated Jayakatwang. Subsequently, he turned on his erstwhile allies and drove the Mongols off the islands. This was the analysis provided by Vijaya. An alternative view, one held by the Mongols and their commander the Admiral Yi-k’o-mu-su, was that they had greatly weakened the Javanese states until they were no longer a threat to trade and so there was no need for Mongol troops to remain there and continue suffering the pinprick surprise raids of Vijaya and his bandits. Even so, a number of Chinese were left behind for various reasons and there is some evidence that production patterns in the Javanese shipping industry subsequently changed, with greater use of iron nails and more extensive use of bulk heads to divide cargo space (Brown, 2003, p.26).

In any case, portraying himself as victorious, Vijaya founded the new state of Majapahit, which subsequently established itself as an empire controlling an unknown amount of territory, which may be as large as the whole of Indonesia and parts of island Malaysia, according to some authors or just Java and Bali, according to others.

Like other island Southeast Asian states, the issue of territorial domination is not similar to that which took place in the western world or indeed in connection with Chinese expansion. As mentioned elsewhere, most states for most of the time followed the so-called mandala model, which meant that they were organised in terms of concentric rings of diminishing influence surrounding the core area of a king or other ruler and his court. The power of the core derived from its ability to organise mutual bonds of alliance and trade to ensure the security and prosperity of the state. This required networks of communication and exchange but not necessarily domination of wide tracts of land. As mentioned previously, early Java witnessed a system of economic interaction that involved several intermediaries acting between producer and consumer. Srivijaya demonstrated its strength and potency as a state not by its territorial dominions or by the size of its armies, which were always small and frail weapons, but by its ability to mobilise a variety of resources and allies to provide security for communities, traders or individuals wishing to interact with it. Just like Malacca in later years, therefore, Srivijaya relied considerably on ethnic groups such as the orang laut as allies to assist in protecting harbours and sea lanes from the numerous pirates and other predators.

Vijaya’s claim to the throne, one which is stressed in the Nagarakertagama, is his marriage to the four daughters of Kertanagara. It is possible that these marriages refer to tantric rituals conducted with four yoginis or sorceresses, by which means Vijaya was able to demonstrate his magical potency and, hence, fitness to rule. In any case, Vijaya took upon himself the regnal name of Kertarajasa Jayavarddhana. Unfortunately, it appears that his reign was marred by a succession of rebellions – although the chronology of these is contested. Nine rebellions occurred during Kertarajasa’s reign and that of his son and successor Jayanagra (r.1295-1328). The first rebellions appear to have been motivated by grudges held by former allies of Prince Vijaya who felt they had not been sufficiently well-rewarded for their support. However, other motivations may have included Javanese resentment of overseas influence since Jayanagra was the son of the Sumatran paramesvari (first queen) Dara Petak and had been named Prince of Kediri, above full-blooded Javanese candidates. However, this again rests upon interpretation of chronicle records.

Of all the rebellions, the most important was that led by Kuti in 1319. Kuti was sufficiently successful as to seize the capital and force King Jayanagra to flee to Badander, together with members of his bodyguard under the leadership of a young officer named Gaja Mada. This officer, taking the initiative upon himself, subsequently returned to the capital in disguise to announce the demise of the king. This was met with public dismay for Kuti, a Javanese noble, did not receive the widespread public support that he had perhaps led himself to believe and, seizing public sentiment, Gaja Mada led an uprising to drive out the usurper.

King Jayanagra rewarded with Gaja Mada with high office, making him first Patih of Kahuripan and later Patih of Kediri. However, the king also subsequently took possession of Gaja Mada’s wife – it is not clear what her feelings on the matter were – and the Patih took his revenge by suborning a court surgeon to persuade the king that he needed to undergo an operation, during which the knife penetrated rather further than was necessary. Gaja Mada at once had the surgeon quietly disposed of and then awaited the death of Jayanagra. There was no clear heir and only a few princesses acted as puppet monarchs while Gaja Mada secured his role as mapatih (Chief Minister) of Majapahit. This was a role of unprecedented influence and importance and, from this appointment in 1330 until his death in 1364, Gaja Mada was the dominant and most powerful person in the country.

Gaja Mada restarted Kertanagra’s campaign to dominate the peninsula and announced in a great and profound oath that he would conquer not just Bali but Gurun, Seran, Tanjungpura, Palembang, Tumasik (Singapore) and other places. Whether Gaja Mada actually achieved this goal of a Great Majapahit is also a contested matter. According to some, Majapahit created an empire of unprecedented scope in the islands and one which was not matched until the arrival of the Dutch. Others point out that there is only evidence for the domination of Bali and, elsewhere, the records are ambiguous. It is certainly true that, throughout the islands of the archipelago, there are no dominant ethnic groups and no dominant specific culture. Instead, there are numerous overlapping groups interacting with numerous different environmental niches that produce large numbers of quite small variations. This makes it more difficult for one group to dominate another for long periods of time and, also, more difficult to determine when domination has taken place because it has generally not led to cultural assimilation or hegemony. In other words, people retain their own way of life despite who happens to form the ruling class.

In 1350, Hayam Wuruk acceded to the throne to end the period of female regency. Although this did not materially impede the progress of Gaja Mada, it did give rise to the the ‘Bubat bloodbath,’ which has become one of the most notorious incidents in Javanese history. Hayam Wuruk, it is said, asked the King of Sunda to provide a daughter for him to marry and thereby regularise relations between the two states. The King agreed to this and travelled to Bubat with his daughter and retinue with him for the celebration. However, at the last moment, Gaja Mada intervened by insisting that Sunda surrender his daughter in the traditional manner by which a vassal renders tribute to an overlord. Trapped and unwilling to accept these terms, the King of Sunda and his bodyguard sought to fight their way out of Bubat and were all cut down. The daughter may have been required to go through with the marriage or she may have committed suicide beside the body of her dead father. In any case, she did not live long. Sunda was forced into vassalage but soon was able to reassert its independence.

Bubat was an important ceremonial centre. It was a significant and cosmopolitan community with its foreign quarters of Chinese, Indians and others. The King would travel there for large public festivals, when it would be traditional for all sectors of society and all vassals and allies to provide tribute of various sorts, including staples such as rice, salted meat and bamboo, as well as more exotic products. The King would redistribute part of this tribute to the court, to artisans who had contributed their skills and knowledge to developing the state and to personal allies and favoured people receiving the king’s patronage. All the while, bouts of unarmed combat, athletic competitions and folk opera would provide entertainment and there were opportunities for the king to demonstrate his potency by engaging in tantric drinking and coupling rituals (Hall, 1992).

Hayam Wuruk seems to have acted with passivity after this and his reign, after the death of Gaja Mada, appers to be one largely of futility. On the other hand, it was not without its consolations, as he appears to have spent most of his time having the most beautiful girls of the islands brought to his harem to minister to him. Nevertheless, the court poet Prapanca, in his epic poem Negarakrtagama (1365), makes Hayam Wuruk into a great and majestic leader of his state.

Whether or not Great Majapahit did exist at all, it certainly did not exist for long. This was not just because of the impermanence of life and dominion in the islands but also because of the increasing influence of Islam and the changes brought about by the Ming Dynasty rulers who dramatically altered the rules of international trade over which China had such power. Gaja Mada created many additional civic institutions, including reform of the law and improvements in administration, yet by the time of Vikramavararddhana (1389-1429), rapid and terminal decline was endemic.
Majapahit remains of central importance to Indonesian conceptions of nationhood and of their understanding of their own multicultural society:

“The vision of Javanese paramountcy over the islands hat inspired the rulers of Majapahit, and which is enshrined in the term nusantara, has in modern times been realised to a degree far beyond the capabilities of those rulers. In the twentieth century, Majapahit became the historical model and legitimation for the dreams of Javanese leaders. Its moment of glory has been frozen in the imaginations of recent generations as an enduring goal to achieve and preserve (Taylor, 1992).”

References and Further Reading
Brown, Colin, A Short History of Indonesia: The Unlikely Nation? (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2003).
Hall, D.G.E., A History of South-East Asia, fourth edition (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1994).
Hall, Kenneth R., “Economic History of Early Southeast Asia,” in Nicholas Tarling, ed., The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, Vol.1, Part.1: From Early Times to c.1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp.183-275.
Phalgunadi, I. Gusti Putu, The Pararaton: A Study of A Southeast Asian Chronicle (Vedams Books, 1996).
Taylor, Keith W., “The Early Kingdoms,” in Tarling, ed. (1992), op.cit., pp.137-82.

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