Prabowo promises top priority for protection of Majapahit heritage site when he becomes President of Indonesia

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The audience at the Padusraksa Bajangratu gate. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

IO – “I guarantee that when my brother is president of Indonesia the Majapahit archaeological remains at Trowulan will receive special attention and protection from the central government. It will be a priority and his government will administer severe sanctions towards any party disturbing or damaging the site. It is a national asset that belongs to the people of Indonesia which my brother values deeply. During his presidency the Trowulan site will be monitored directly by Bina Garaha (the president’s office),” declared Hashim Djojohadikusumo with emotion. Hashim who is the patron of several organizations that support excavation and preservation of the Majapahit site at Trowulan compares it with the buried archaeological remains at Pompei and sees it also as a potentially never-ending excavation site for there is so much to excavate, research and preserve in Trowulan, and indeed other parts of Indonesia.

This year marks the 725th anniversary since the founding of the ancient Hindu Buddhist kingdom in 1293. Majapahit fell to the Islamic kingdom of Demak in 1500. The seaborn empire was one of the greatest empires of Indonesia and reached its crowning glory from 1350 to 1389 under King Hayam Wuruk and his astute prime minister Gajah Mada. At the time it counted ninety-eight tributary areas which also included present day Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, southern Thailand, parts of the Philippines and Timor Leste. Its capital was located in what is now the Trowulan area which is located about one and a half hours by car from Surabaya.

Under the clay soil of Trowulan lie the most important sites of ancient Majapahit. This includes several sites that have been restored such as the 16,5-metre tall Paduraksa Bajangratu gateway, Candi Tikus and Candi Burah. In his book: “Travels of Friar Odoric of Pordenone” the Italian Franciscan monk Mattiussi who visited Indonesia between 1318–1330 described the stairs and palace interior of the Majapahit king as coated with gold and silver, and even the roofs were gilded. Clay pottery and brick masonry were popular features in Majapahit art and architecture. Most important buildings were made of brick. Although brick had been much used during Indonesia’s classical age, it was Majapahit architects of the 14th and 15th centuries who mastered it. The Indian Pala Empire influenced the art and style of 11th century Kediri and Singhosari and Majapahit art was a continuation of these traditions.

To this day the name Majapahit is revered in Indonesia. The ancient kingdom has remained relevant to modern day Indonesia firstly, because during the Majapahit Empire the islands of Nusantara were one kingdom. So, it is not a totally new notion that Nusantara should form one country or kingdom; this had in fact already taken place before the colonial period.

Brick kilns at Dusun Grogol, Kejatirejo. Such kilns dig up layers of clay destroying shards and other Majapahit artefacts contained in the clay. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

Dr Adriannus Wawarunto, the dean of the Faculty for Humanities of the University of Indonesia attended the commemoration and added, “The second relevance of Majapahit to present day Indonesia is that Indonesia’s state motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika on which the unity of the country hinges – derives from Majapahit.”

During the Majapahit era people worshipped according to the teachings and beliefs of Buddhism, Hinduism and Karsyanrsi or Javanism (a Javanese religious tradition, syncretizing animistic, Buddhist, Hindu and later Sufi beliefs and practices rooted in Javanese history and religiosity.) Although Islam was not an acknowledge religion  at the timer its followers were allowed to practise its rituals and beliefs in Majapahit. The evidence for this is derived from 15th century Muslim graves discovered in Trowulan. In the village of Sidodadi, Trowulan is a grave complex known as Makam Tujuh Tralaya. It is a collection of Muslim graves whose tombstones are engraved with Arabic inscriptions as well as the sun symbol of Majapahit. The oldest dates back to 1407.

Majapahit’s tolerance was expressed in a quotation in the Kakawin Sutasoma, an old Javanese poem written by Mpu Tantular during the reign of Hayam Wuruk in the 14th century. The relevant verse in the kakawin or Javanese poem which teaches religious tolerance, especially between Hinduism and Buddhism is as follows:

It is said that the well-known Buddha and Shiva are two different substances.
They are indeed different, yet how is it possible to recognise their difference at a glance,
since the truth of Buddha and the truth of Shiva are one?
They are indeed different, but they are one, as there is no duality in Truth.

In 2013 the Minister of Education and Culture declared an area in and around Trowulan measuring 11 kilometres x 9 kilometres as a national heritage site and this month Trowulan is commemorating Majapahit’s 725th anniversary. Andi Muhamad Said who heads the Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Jawa Timur or East Java Office for Cultural Preservation disclosed that the size of the heritage area may still change with time. He also said, “The draft decree of the Minister of Education and Culture regarding the zonation of the Trowulan cultural preservation area is ready and we are now only waiting for it to be ratified by the Minister. It can then be incorporated into the regional government’s spatial plan which will then result in zoning regulations. Some areas for example will no longer be open for industry or housing.”

It is an extremely slow process however, and everyday more damage to the site occurs. Catrini explains, “In the past it was big industry like the iron works that the government licensed in 2012. Luckily, the people here and non-governmental institutions were able to campaign against it and the license was revoked in 2014.

Now the problem is more that the government does not do enough to explain to the people living in the area the importance of the site and that it is protected by law. Consequently, there is still a lot of damage done by the many brick kilns in the area. They dig up clay to be used in making bricks and destroy many layers of buried artefacts in the process. This sort of excavation and removal of soil has probably also affected the water levels in Lake Segaran, a Majapahit era reservoir which virtually dried up this year. There was also the sale of three trucks of ancient Majapahit bricks in Kumitir Village. The problem is that the government just doesn’t consider the site a priority.”

This slow disintegration of the site, the damage, the lack of excavations is what infuriates Hashim. For him it is also a personal matter. Hashim says that according to family tradition the Djojohadikusumo family has a special connection to Majapahit and even further back to the Kingdom of Singhosari as does also the family of his wife, Ani Hashim. His love of heritage and its importance to the nation caused Hashim to set up a number of heritage organizations, one of which is called Mandala Majapahit.

Catrini Pratihari Kubantubuh is the executive director of the Arsari Djojohadikusumo Foundation as well as the head of the Badan Pelestarian Pusaka Indonesia or Indonesian Heritage Trust. With her background in architecture, Catrini who is from Bali also has a deep passion for Majapahit so much so that she is currently preparing a doctoral thesis on Trowulan as a contested space. She explains that it is contested in many senses including an economic, environmental and heritage sense. Catrini explained Mandala Majapahit activities, “It began with a research program for the history of Majapahit from 2008 till 2012. We involved four universities namely the University of Indonesia, Universitas Gajah Mada, Universitas Hasanuddin in Makasar and Universitas Udayana in Bali. We also built a Majapahit room at the village hall in Sumberjati with books about Majapahit, photographs of the sites and artefacts. We are involved in the creation of such rooms at the universities too.”

Mandala Majapahit also publishes books, supports and organizes lectures and talks, exhibitions research etc. The Yayasan Arsari together with the Badan Pelestarian Pusaka Indonesia, Mandala Majapahit, Majapahit Islam and Save Trowulan organized a two-day event to commemorate Majapahit’s 725th anniversary.

Before the event Hashim and Ani Djojohadikusumo met with the village leaders of Sumberjati Village who expressed their enthusiasm for the Mandala Majapahit Room at the village hall. The hall was also decorated with photos of Majapahit sites and artefacts. They told Hashim and his team that because of the lectures for the village children they and the villagers felt reconnected to their Majapahit heritage which they had in large part forgotten and they asked for the village cooperation with Mandala Majapahit to be extended another 5 years.

Wawan Haryanto, a village leader explained with a broad smile, “At first only village government services for example the village health centre – used the room and the hall for their activities and meetings but it gives everyone such a sense of pride in our heritage and they are very pleasant rooms so then officials from the district officer’s level and then the regent’s level also began to want to use them for their activities and meetings.”

Representatives of the four universities were also present. UGM is planning to do research regarding Majapahit’s historical relations to Madura, an inventory of Majapahit artefacts owned by the inhabitants of Trowulan and an international conference in 2020. Universitas Hasanuddin in Makasar would like to do further research on Majapahit’s connections to the Luwu kingdom in South Sulawesi and its trade in ferro-nickle ore with Majapahit. Universitas Udayana in Bali is preparing to train more guides with regard to Majapahit and its historical connections to Bali. The University of Indonesian would like to prepare a Mandala Majapahit room and is considering related research topics.

On the 9th of November a dance performance and speeches were held at the Paduraksa Bajangratu gate. The ancient Majapahit gateway was lit up in different colours and the Candileya dance group performed an opening dance dressed in the clothes and hairstyles of the Majapahit period. The group is an offshoot of the famous Sanggar Krida Beksa Wirama dance group which was created in 1918 by Gusti Tedjo Kusumo, the son of Sultan Hamengkubuwono VII of Jogjakarta. It is the royal dance group and Candiliya which was set up two years ago still practices at the Amabrrukmo Pendopo which belongs to the palace. The group is led by Fifi Sutjipto a Muslim lady who normally wears a scarf but when she dances, she removes the scarf and dresses in the costume and wears her hair in the style of the period of the dance. Fifi is on the board of both dance groups and is very concerned about preserving the arts and traditions which are her heritage. “A dance is not only the dance and the movements and music. The costumes are also an important part of it. When I dance I dress and wear my hair in a manner that befits the dance. If it is necessary, I remove my scarf in order to preserve the dance and the traditions associated with it,” she says firmly.

The dancers danced while an artist painted a canvas with the 725 pennants and banners that had been put up to commemorate Majapahit’s 725th anniversary. The band Palguna Caitra performed for the audience, singing about tolerance, diversity and peace. The audience was an interesting mixture of people from all over Sumatra, Java, Madura and Bali. Most were either very interested in Majapahit or felt themselves to have some connection to it. Everyone was dressed mostly in black (the Majapahit colours were black, red and white) or batik. There were groups and organizations with exotic names such as Singa Liar Majapahit, Laskar Tjakraningrat (from Madura), Laskar Erlangga, Macan Putih and many more.

On the following night several dance groups performed more dances and the Komunitas Peduli Pelestarian Majapahit (The Majapahit Preservation Community) performed a drama based on Mpu Prapanca’s 14th century play Nagarakertagama. The event was begun with prayers recited by a Hindu priest, a Buddhist priest, a Muslim kyai and a young Christian girl represented the Protestants and the Catholics with a Christian prayer. All through the night both from the audience as well as the performers the air resounded with calls of “Assalamualaikum (Peace be with you), Om Swastiastu (May you be safe, prosperous and happy), Shalom (Peace, harmony, wholeness), Rahayu, Rahayu (Peace and Good health) and of course: Merdeka! (Freedom!). The sweet sound of tolerance and freedom…

(Tamalia Alisjahbana)