Of the early influences that have made their impact felt on almost every aspect of life, at least in parts of Indonesia, one of the most important was that of Hinduism. In a number of regions such as Bali and Java, that influence is even today clearly discernible in the traditional ceremonies and customs as well as in the various artistic and cultural expressions of those areas.
KUTAI, The Oldest Kingdom at Kalimantan
Some of the oldest relics attesting to the early influence of Hinduism in Indonesia are found in the Kutai Regency of East Kalimantan. Stone statues and inscriptions found near Muarakaman on the bank of the Mahakam, dating from around 400 A.D., provide evidence of the existence of early Hindu settlements in that area. One of those inscriptions, in Sankrit and written in the old Palawa script of India, proclaims that Mulawarman, one of the first Hindu kings to have ruled over the area, at one time presented 1.000 head of cattle as well as parcels of land to his priests. The Muarakaman inscriptions make it clear that the kingdom has was established by Mulawarman’s father, Asyawarman, who had a father by the name Kundungga. Scholars believe those early kings to be indigenous Indonesians, despite the fact that, with the exception of Kundungga, they carried Indian names.
From an account by Prapanca, chronicler to the court of Majapahit, it is evident that in later centuries Kutai became part of power sphere of that mighty East Java-based empire.
TARUMANEGARA, West Java
As far as is known, Tarumanegara was the oldest kingdom to have wielded power on the island of Java. It probably had its center in the Bogor area of West Java, where stone inscriptions were found. One of those stone bears the imprint of a huge foot and the legend, “This footprint, alike to the footprint of the God Wisnu, belongs to Purnawarman, the courageous ruler of Tarumanegara who dominates the world”. Like his Lutai counter-part, Punawarman also donated 1.000 head of cattle to his priests. Another inscription proclaims that at the king’s orders a 20-kilometer-long ditch was dug and completed in 21 days. It probably served for irrigation and to prevent floods.
Most of the population of Tarumanegara worshipped the Hindu God Wisnu, the savior. A curious fact is that in West Java no major Hindu or Buddhist temples of monuments were ever found.
During the 7th A.D. century, three kingdoms coexisted on the island of Sumatra: Tulangbawang in what is now the regency of Lampung, Sriwijaya in the area of the present-day Palembang, and Malayu in Jambi.
The Chinese traveler I-Tsing in a chronicle written in 671 A.D. mentions that on a voyage from China to India, he made a stopover in Sriwijaya to study the Sanskrit language. At that time, Sriwijaya had already established itself as the strongest and most advanced of the three states, and at the end of that same century it conquered Malayu, occupied the island of Bangka, subjugated West Java and established control over two vital sea-lanes, the Malacca (Malaka) and Sunda Straits.
Sriwijaya’s strategic geographic position made it an important link in the traffic between India and China
By 900 A.D. Sriwijaya had further consolidated its position and had become the first great state to exert control over a good part of Indonesian archipelago. Palembang had become a major port, visited by ships from other parts of Indonesian and the world. Sriwijaya’s strategic geographic position made it an important link in the traffic between Indian and China. Apart from being a trading hub, it was also widely known as an important center of Buddhist learning. The same I-Tsing who wrote the account of Sriwijaya in 671 A.D. stayed there for ten years from 685 to 695 A.D. to further his studies of Buddhism and the Sanskrit language and to translate the Buddhist holy scriptures into the Chinese language.
The oldest kingdom that existed on the island of Java was Kalingga, established at around 600 A.D. and ruled by a queen named “Sima”, who embraced the Hindu faith. The kingdom was, however, short-lived and by 700 A.D. it had ceased to exist.
At the beginning of the 8th century, a new kingdom rose in Medangkamulan, in the area of what is now Semarang. Bearing the name of Mataram, on flourished under a succession of rulers, one of the best known of whom was Sanjaya. The son and heir to the throne of Sahana, a king known for his fairness and wisdom, Sanjaya later made himself remembered by subjugating Bali and other regions. Upon his death somewhere in the middle of that same century, Sanjaya was succeeded by Rakai Panangkaran
The Hindu kingdom of Mataram reached the pinnacle of its greatness under the rule of the kings of Sailendra dynasty when the people lived in peace and prosperity. The Sailendra’s were Buddhist and under their reign, some of Central Java’s most beautiful temples and monuments dedicated to the glory of Buddha were built. Among the best known today are Candi Kalasan (Kalasan Temple) and Candi Sewu (Sewu Temple), near Prambanan, Yogyakarta. The crowning glory of them all, however, is Borobudur in the Magelang highlands. All these shrines are believed to have been built from the year 825 A.D. upward, during the reign of King Samarottungga.
For reason unknown, the vigorous Hindu existence in Central Java ended at about end of the ninth century A.D. and the center of power shifted towards the east, where from the beginning of the tenth century onwards a succession of kings rose to exercise their authority.
One of the most important of those early East Javanese kings was Empu Sendok (929-947 A.D.), the founder of Isyana dynasty who had his seat somewhere south of Surabaya. The dynasty lasted for the year of Sendok’s ascent to 1222 A.D. One of the greatest of the Isyana kings was Dharmawangsa, who in 991 A.D. attacked the powerful Sumatra-based kingdom of Sriwijaya to secure control of the western Indonesia sea-lanes, apparently with success.
In 1006 A.D., however, Sriwijaya launched a counter-attack. At the same time, an insurrection broke out in Dharmawangsa’s own court. The king was killed together with many others in his court and a new ruler ascended the throne. However, one of Dharmawangsa’s son-in-law, a pious and virtuous prince named Airlangga, escaped and with a band of followers fled into the forest, where he spent many years preparing himself to reclaim the kingdom.
In 1019, supported by loyal Brahmana officials, Airlangga proclaimed himself King of Kediri, and eventually reigned over a kingdom that spanned not only most of East Java but also Bali and parts of Central Java. He relinquished his throne in 1041 to become a recluse, known by the name of Resi Gentayu. Himself half-Balinese, Airlangga is still highly revered as one of the greatest of kings that ever ruled Bali.
Upon his abdication, King Airlangga divided his kingdom among his two sons. Thus, the kingdom Janggala and Kediri, or Daha, came into being.
In around the middle of the 12th century, however, Ken Arok, a king of a neighboring kingdom called Tumapel, conquered first Janggala and then Kediri. With Tumapel, having established itself as the dominant power in the region, Ken Arok assumed the name of Rajasa. It was during the reign of one of his descendants, Rangga Wuni, that East Java’s reunification was accomplished. The capital, Tumapel, meanwhile kept expanding and as it did so, it acquired the name Singasari.
Rangga Wuni’s successor was Kertanegara, who was not a strong ruler. In 1292 he was dethroned and killed by the viceroy of Kediri. Thus the kingdom of Tumapel-Singasari ceased to exist and Kediri once again became the center of power. However, together with some of the assassinated king’s most loyal followers, Kertanegara’s son-in-law and closest heir, Raden Wijaya, managed to flee to Madura. After a brief period of self-exile, he returned to Java to build the new town of Majapahit, a short distance to the west of Surabaya, where he awaited his turn to evict his father-in-law’s adversaries.
In China, meanwhile, the great Kubilai Khan had gathered a punitive force of some 20.000 men, which he dispatched to Java with orders to castigate Singasari, whose ruler had humiliated him by having the ears of one of his envoys cut off. Unaware of Singasari’s fall, the Chinese troops landed at Tuban. It was the opportunity Wijaya had been waiting for.
Raden Wijaya persuaded the Chinese to join forces with him and by their combined joint effort, Kediri was destroyed. The year was 1293.
Under the name Kertarajasa Jayawardhana, Raden Wijaya ascended the throne of Majapahit as the sole ruler of Java, thereby establishing in the Brantas river delta area nucleus of what was later to be the greatest kingdom in Indonesian history.
Under Kertarajasa’s rule, Majapahit entered a period of peace and progress. Overseas trade blossomed and good relations with foreign powers were established, particularly with China, with whom Majapahit exchanged missions. Kertarajasa died in 1309 after a peaceful reign.
After a period of considerable unrest following Kertarajasa’s death, a woman, Tribuano-tunggadewi, also know as Bhre Kahuripan, assumed power. With her reign began a period of great bloom for Majapahit due to the strong administration of the queen’s premier, Gajah Mada, whose great obsession it was to incorporate the whole of what is now Indonesia into a single state. Within 30 years after the had become a premier, Gajah Mada had a brought not only practically all the islands of the Indonesian archipelago but also parts of the Malayan peninsula and the southern islands of the Philippines under Majapahit’s control.
When upon Tribuano-tunggadewi’s death in 1350, her son Hayam Wuruk ascended the throne, Majapahit was already at the height of its greatness. In 1364, however, Gajah Mada died and the old embers of discord, fanned by personal ambitions, again began to flare in the provinces. Between 1401 and 1406, a struggle for power that had been smoldering between two contenders for the throne, Bhre Wirabumi, and Wikramawardana, burst into an open war which took many casualties. The internal situation grew from bad to worse as economic resources were neglected. Despotism and mismanagement gnawed at the very foundations of the state’s authority and power.
At around the turn of the 15th century, with disorder rampant in Majapahit, a ruler from Kediri by the name of Girindrawhardana, easily deposed Raden Wijaya’s descendants. The history of Majapahit was finished.