Trundling into History in Trowulan (Part 1)

Trowulan’s Wringin Lawang Temple at sunset

Islamic chants blaring through loudspeakers and ground-shaking blasts of huge firecrackers welcomed us as we walked through a dusty road in Mojokerto, East Java. It was the first day of the Eid ul-Fitr celebration in most of East Java. And it was no exception in this area, home to the only city site of the Hindu-Buddha classical age in Indonesia that can be found — the former center of the far-reaching powers of Majapahit Kingdom in the late 13th to the 15th century: Trowulan.

A 15-meter long string of small and big firecrackers being lighted to celebrate Eid. A little bit of history: The use of firecrackers in celebration began with the Chinese using them to scare away evil spirits on new years’ eves to make way for a “clear space.”

In two days, Odino and I went to see 14 must-visit spots around the 11 x 9 km wide site in Mojokerto’s Trowulan Subdistrict. Odino and I found ourselves captivated by the hundreds of thousands of the kingdom’s remnants. A few of them are structures that have long been rebuilt and well-tended, while some are still in the process of excavation. This is the first part of BEKABULUH’s reports on the fourteen spots. For those who are more adventurous, we highly recommend exploring further outside every enclosure as you might find intriguing objects of archaeological interest hidden from plain sight in almost every location. Just make sure you don’t take home or spoil anything.

When we came here, some of the sign posts to Trowulan were obscured by big posters of politicians trying to win the local elections, which caused us to go astray. Here’s a map so you don’t have to experience the same.


1. Segaran Pond

The sun had just risen, creating a mirror image on the calm surface of Kolam Segaran, or Segaran Pond, which marked our first encounter here with artifacts from the great kingdom. It’s a 375 x 125 meter pond, vast enough to live up to its name (segara means “sea” in Javanese), created by walls around 3 x 1.5 in height and thickness that form a perfect rectangular cube. Researchers believes that the walls were built simply by rubbing wet bricks together until they stuck to one another. All of the grand structures found around the site use red bricks as the only building material, allowing the Majapahit builders to realize different architectural designs that served different purposes in a highly efficient fashion.

According to local stories, during Majapahit’s golden era, Segaran Pond served as a recreational center where guests were told to toss the golden plates, bowls, and cutlery into the pond after their meals. Sounds like someone in the kingdom liked to show off. However, due to its size and the existence of two adjoining channels that look to be part of a simple water regulation system, experts believe that the pond once functioned as a reservoir. Besides, it is now well-known that the Trowulan Site was a city that had a canal system. Therefore it is highly possible that Segaran Pond is only one of the several (about 18 to 32) dams that this city must have once had.

Today, locals come here to jog, fish, or eat delicious dishes such as sambal wader or botok udang at the many simple eateries around Segaran.

photos of Segaran Pond by Odino:

Using Segaran Pond as starting point, let’s continue our way to the next spots:


2. Tikus Temple

A sign by Segaran Pond told us that we had to go east to see Candi Tikus, or Tikus Temple. This led us to getting lost to sugarcane plantations lined by row after row of huge tents that served as simple brick factories. If you look at the map, what we should have done was follow the road south to reach a crossroads and then turn left. But we were happy to find spots where we could take some good pictures of the brick factories as we trundled away with our analog and digital cameras, even though the heat and the dusty road got me cranky from time to time.

Trowulan’s current brick-making industry just seems fitting with the fact that most of the ancient buildings here are made from red bricks. Researchers agree that clay played an important part in the old city’s every day life. A massive amount of parts of buildings, kitchenware, and decorative elements for either religious or profane purposes that have been unearthed are made from this raw material. They’re all believed to be made locally, as the devices used to cast and burn some of the items have also been discovered.

brick factories amid a sugarcane plantation

Observing all sides of Tikus Temple, located in Temon Village, Trowulan, Odino and I were fascinated by the way the bricks were arranged in an ornate fashion to create this water temple. The small, elaborate temple that used to have water shooting out from carved andesite taps around its base is placed inside a pond-like structure that would capture the water. Together they stand as a symbol of Mahameru, the Mountain of the Gods, that provides water to bring life to this world.

“For a temple so beautiful,” Odino said, “it sure have an ugly name.”

Tikus means “rats.” In 1914, locals reported to an authority that an epidemic of rats was happening here. They said that the rats made their nest inside a mound. When the mound was taken apart, they realized that the rats had been living inside not just any mound, but a mound that had dried-up water channels through which they could go in and out. Due to the history of its discovery, many farmers now come to this temple to pray that their rice fields or vegetable gardens would be free from the pest.

photos of Tikus Temple by Odino:


3. Bajangratu Temple

Majapahit had a young boy named Jayanegara as its second king. In the local language, a young, unmarried man is called a bujang or bajang, and ratu means “king.” Another local theory behind the naming of this temple is that Jayanegara once fell at this temple, causing him to have some kind of physical defect, which in Javanese is also called bajang.

Whatever theory people choose to believe, many historians agree that the paduraksa-style gate, meaning a gate topped by a roof, is related to a line in Pararaton, an ancient text containing short biographies of the rulers of Singasari and Majapahit kingdoms. The line says that there is a sacred complex in Trowulan that serves as a commemoration place for King Jayanegara. The claim that this graceful gate is the only remaining part of the complex is supported by a relief of Sri Tanjung and the wings of Garuda as a symbol of release on one of its walls.

photos of Bajangratu Temple by Odino:

continued in Part 2

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9 responses to “Trundling into History in Trowulan (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: I’m Your Worst Travel Mate (If I Happen to be Your Boyfriend) | BEKABULUH·

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  3. Pingback: Trundling into History in Trowulan (Part 3) | BEKABULUH·

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