History Of Indonesian Kingdoms

History Of Indonesian Kingdoms

Loro Jonggrang(Loro Jonggrang - the main temple of Prambanan. Erected by Rakai Pikatan in
the 9th Century, it can be considered the Hindu counterpart of Buddhist Borobudur).

Borobudur TempleBorobudur Temple(Borobudur temple, the biggest temple in the world)

Now I will write about The History of Indonesian Kingdoms. Beginning in rhe 2nd Centurv A.D.. a number of highly sophisticated civilization emerged in Southeast Asia-civilizations whose cosmology, literature, architecture and political organization were all closely patterned on lndian models. These kingdoms are best known for the wonderful monument which they created: Borohudur, Prambanan, Ankor, Pagan and others, many of which were rediscovered in the I9th Century, and have now been visited by millions. Yet their creators remain largely an enigma. Who build these Indian monuments and how is it that Southeast Asians came to have such a profound knowledge of Indian culture in ancient times?

Part of our bewilderment is undoubtedly the product of longstanding and erroneous conception of South East Asia a prehistoric backwater. This view forced many earlier scholars to conclude that nothing short of masive Indian invasions and migrations to the region could have eftected the sort of changes necessary for Indianized kingdoms to flourish as they did. Thc problem with this hypothesis is that there is absolutely no evidence to support it. South Asia was actually thriving trade and cultural center in prehistoric times.

While the reality of the lndianization probably ever be known the most recent and most plausible theory is that Southeast Asian rulers Indianized their own kingdoms, either by employing Indian Brahmans or by sending their own people to India to acquire the necessary knowledge. The motivation for doing this is clear-Sanskrit writing and texts along with sophisticated Indian ritual andd architectural techniques, afforded a ruler greater organizational control, wealth and status. It also enable him to participate in an expanding Indian trading network.

Support for this hypothesis has come from detailed studies of Hindu period temples, which show that they not only employ many diverse Indian architectural and artistic styles in an eclectic fashion unknown in In India, but that they also incorporate pre-Hindu indigeneous design elements.

The First Indianized Kingdoms

Knowledge of the early Indonesian Kingdoms of the Classical or Hindu period is very shadowy -gleaned solely from old stone inscriptions and vague references in ancient Chinese, Indian and Classical texts. The island of Java, for example, was mentioned in the Ramayana (as Yawadwipa), and in the Alnagest of Ptolemy (as yabadiou). However the first specific references to Indonesian rulers and kingdom are found in written Chinese sources and Sanskrit stone inscriptions dating from the- early 5th Century.

The stone inscriprions written in the south-lndian Pallawa script). were issued by lndonesian rulers in two different areas of the archipelago- Kutei on the eastern coast of Kalimantan and Tarumanegara on the Citarum River in West Java (near Bogor). Both rulers were Hindus whose power seems to have derived from a combination of wet-rice agriculture and maritime trade.

Also. in the early 5th Century. there is the interesting figure of Fa Hsien. a Chinese Buddhist monk who journeyed to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures and was then shipwrecked on Java on his way home. In his memoirs (translated into English by James Ledge as, Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms), Fa Hsien note that there were many Brahmans and heretics on Java, but that the Budhist Dharma there was not worth mentioning. His comment highlight a fascinating feature of Indianized Indonesia-that while some early kingdom were mainly Hindu, others were primarily Buddhist. As time went on the distinction became increasingly blurred.

Another fact of life for the Hinduized states of lndonesia was that their power depended greatly on control of the maritime trade. It appears that Tarumanegara in West Java first controlled the trade for two centuries orr more, but that at the end of the 7th Century a new Buddhist kingdom based in Palembang took over the vital Malacca and Sunda Straits. The kingdom was Sriwijaya and it ruled these seas throughout the next 600 years.

Footprints of Purnawarman
(From the mid 5th Century, inscription and footprints of Purnawarman -
Hindu ruler of Taruma Negara in West Java)

Sriwijaya and the P’o-ssu Trade

The kingdom of Sriwijaya left behind no magnificent temples or monuments because it was a thalassic (maritime) kingdom that relied for its existence not on agriculture, but on control of the trade. Most of its citizens were therefore sailors who lived on boats, as do many of coastal Malay orang laut (sea people) now. Knowledge of Sriwijaya is consequently very sketchy, and the kingdom was not even identified by scholars until 1918. Four stone inscriptions in Old Malay, several in Sanskrit and a handful of statues and bronze icons are all that remain of one of the most powerful maritime empires in history.

Prof O.W. Wolters has speculated that Sriwijaya rose to prominence as a result of a substitution of some Sumatran aromatics for expensive Middle Eastern frankincense and myrrh-the so-colled P’o-ssu (Persian) goods then being shipped to China in great quantities.Be that as it may, Sriwijaya was also located in extremely strategic position and is said to have developed large ships of between 400 and 600 tons. These were by far the largest ships in the world at this time, and they appear to have achieved regular direct sailings to India and China by at least the late 8th Century.

It is significant that the P’o-ssu trade consisted mainly of incense and other rare substances used by Buddhist in China. Sriwijaya’s rulers were also Buddhist,and a passing Chinese monk by the name of I-Ching stopped here for several months to study and copy Buddhist texts. There he found a thousand Buddhist monks and noted that it was a meeting place for traders from all over the world.

Through Sriwijaya, controlled all coastal ports on either side of the Malacca and Sunda straits (eastern Sumatra, western Java and the Malay peninsula), none of these areas was suitable for wet-rice agriculture. The nearest such area was in central Java, and from the early 8th Century onward, great Indianized kingdoms established them-selved here. They first supplied Sriwijaya with rice and later began to compete with her for a share of the maritime trade.

The Sailendras and the Sanjayas

From the beginning, a tension developed in central Java between competing Buddhist and Hindu ruling families. The first central-Javanese temples and inscriptions, dating from 732 A.D., were the work of a Hindu ruler by the name of Sanjaya.Very soon thereafter, however, a Budhist line of kings known as the Sailendras (Lords of the Mountain) seem to have comefrom the north coast of Java to impose their rule over Sanjaya and his descendants.

The Sailendras maintained close relations with Sriwijaya (both rulers were Buddhist) and ruled Java for about 100 years. During this relatively short period they constructed the magnificent Buddhist monuments of Borobudur, Mendut, Kalasan, Sewu and many others in the shadow of majestic Mt. Merapi. Still now this area is blessed with unusually fertile soils, and already in ancient times it must have supported a vast population, who all participated in the erection of these state monuments.

The decline of the Sailendras begand around 830 A.D. culminating with their ouster, in 856 A.D., by a descendant of Sanjaya. Apparently the Sanjayan line of kings ruled continuously over outlying areas of the realm as vassals of the Sailendras, and during this time they built many Hindus temples in remote areas of Java such as the Dieng Plateau and Mt. Ungaran (south of Semarang). Around 850 A.D., a prince of Sanjaya dynasty, Rakai Pikatan, married a Sailendran princess and seized control of central Java. The Sailendras fled to Sriwijaya, where they prospered and successfully blocked all Javanese shipping in the South China Sea for more than a century.

Borobudur Relief
(Temple relief from Borobudur)

They Mysterious Move to East Java

Rakai Pikatan commemorated his victory by erecting the splendid temple complex at Prambanan, which can be considered a Hindu counterpart of Buddhist Borobudur. Both are terraced an ancestor sanctuaries, highly elaborate versions of those constructed by Indonesian rulers in prehistoric times.

A succession of Hindu kings ruled in central Java, then suddenly the capital was transferred to east java around 930 A.D. No satisfactory explanation has been given for this move, though a number of factors might account for it.

As mentioned before, the Sailendran kings, once installed at Sriwijaya, were successful in shutting off the vital overseas trade from Java’s north coast, and may even have been threatening to re-invade central Java. An eruption of Mt. Merapi at about this time may also have closed the roads to the north coastal ports and covered much of central Java in volcanic ash. A partially completed temple has been unearthed at Sambisar, near Prambanan, from under five metres of volcanic debris. Then, too there is the possibility of epidemics and of mass migrations to the more fertile lands of East Java.

Whatever the reason for the move, and eastern javanese empire prospered in the 10th Century and actually attacked and occupied Sriwijaya for two years 990-1 A.D. Sriwijaya retaliated a quarter of a century later with a huge seaborne force that destroyed the Javanese capital, killed the ruler King Dharmawangsa, and splintered the realm into numerous petty fiefdoms. It took nearly 20 years for the next great king, Airlangga, to fully restore the empire.

Airlangga was King Dharmawangsa’s nephew and he succeded to the throne in 1019 after the Sriwijayan forces had departed. With the help of loyal followers and advisors he reconquered the realm and restored its prosperity. He is best known, though, as a patron of the arts and as an ascete. Under his rule the Indian classics were translated from Sanskrit into Javanese, thus marking the flowering of indigenous Javanese arts.

Shrotly before his death in 1049, Airlangga changed his name and became an ascetic without, however, abdicating. To appease the ambitions of his two sons he then divided his empire into two equal halves, Kediri and Janggala(or Daha and Koripan). Kediri became the more powerful of the two, and it is remembered now as the source of numerous works of Old Javanese literature-mainly adaptations of the Indian epics in a Javanese poetic form known as the kekawin.

Sculpture of Ken Dedes(A sculpture of Ken Dedes, the wife of Ken Arok, representing her as a goddess)

Singhasari and Majapahit

In subsequent centuries Java prospered as never before. The rulers of successive east Javan empires were able to combine the benefits of a strong agricultural economy with income from a lucrative overseas trade. In the process, the Javanesse became the master shipbuilders and mariners of Southeast Asia. During the 14th Century, at the height of the Majapahit Empire, they controlled the sea lanes throughout the Indonesian archipelago as well as to faraway India and China.

Despite this, our knowledge of the two great empires of the 13th and 14th centuries, Singasari and Majapahit, would be very sparse were it not for two Old Javanese texts dating from the 14th Century. The first, the Pararaton (Book of Kings), tells of the founding of the Singhasari dynasty by Ken Arok in 1222.

Ken Arok was an adventurer who managed to marry the beautiful Ken Dedes (heir to the throne of Janggala) after murdering her husband. As ruler of Janggala he next revolted against his sovereign, the ruler of Kediri with the full support of clergy, and set up his new capital at Singhasari, near present-day Malang.

The Pararaton goes on to tell of Ken Arok’s successors, particularly of the last king of the Singhasari line, Kertanegara. He was eventually murdered in 1292 by the king of Kediri. Kertanegara was an extraordinary figure, a scholar as well as a statesman, who belonged to the Tantric Bhairawa sect of Buddhism. In 1275 and again in 1291 he sent successful naval expeditions against Sriwijaya thus wresting control of the increasingly important maritime trade.

So powerful did become, in fact, that Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China sent ambassador, a gesture which so enraged the great Khan that in 1293 he sent a powerful fleet to Java to avenge the insult. The fleet landed only to discover that Kartanegara had already died at the hands of Jayakatwang, one of his vassals.

The Chinese remained on Javanese soil for about a year just long enough to defeat the muderous Jayakatwang. Battles raged back and forth across the Brantas valley for many months, eventually producing victory for Kertanegara’s son-in-low, Wijaya, and his Chinese allies. In the end Wijaya entrapped the Mongol generals and chased the foreign troops back to their ships. The Chinese fleet returned to China, and its commanders were severely punished by the great Khan for their failure to subdue Java.

Wijaya married four of Kertanegara’s daughters and established a new capital in 1294 on the bank of the Brantas River between Kediri and the sea (near present-day Trowulan). This was an area known for its pahit (bitter) maja fruits, and the new kingdom became known as Majapahit. The capital citu was constructed entirely of red bricks, only the foundations of which now remain. Aerial photographs reveal that the city had an extensive system of canals and barges were probably used to transport rice and other trade goods down the river from Majapahit to the seaport as the mouth of the Brantas.

Wayang Kulit
(The so-called wayang-kulit style of temple sculpture of Candi Jago)

The Glory of Majapahit

Majapahit was the first empire to truly embrace the entire Indonesian archipelago. Later Javanese rulers, ancient and modern, have always looked upon this kingdom as their spiritual and political forerunner. Majapahit reached its zenith in the middle of the 14th Century under the rule of Wijaya’s grandson Hayam Wuruk and his brillian prime minister Patih Gajah Mada.

Knowledge of Majapahit comes partly from stone inscriptions found among hundreds of temple ruins discovered in the vicinity of the capital, but mainly from a panegyric poepwritten by the court poet Prapanca following the death of Gajahmada in 1365.This next, known as the Negarakertagama, records all kinds of interesting details about the court and the royal family.

One of the most important passages concerns an oath taken by Gajah Mada (the so-called sumpah palapa) to bring all the major islands of the archipelago (the Nusantara or ‘other islands’), under Majapahit’s control. This is said to have been accomplished by Gajah Mada, but historians feel that the subjugation of Nusantara actually involved a kind of trading federation with Majapahit as the dominant partner.

Nevertheless, the trading ports of Sumatra as well as the Malay peninsula, Borneo, Sulawesi, Maluku and Bali all seem to have acknowledged Majapahit’s sovereignty. Not until the end of the 19th Century was a comparable attempt made to unify these disprate areas under a single banner.

Majapahit’s decline set in almost immediately after Hayam Wuruk’s death in 1389. In a vain attempt to forestall the inevitable sibling conflict, Hayam Wuruk had divided his kingdom between his son and his daughter. However, a smouldering struggle for supremacy erupted in 1429, Majapahit had by this time lost control of thewestern Java Sea and the straits to a new Islamic power located at Malacca. Toward the endof the 15th Century, Majapahit and Kediri were conquered by the new Islamicstate of Demak on Java’s north coast, and it is said that the entire Hindu-Javanese aristocracy then fled to Bali.


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