Trundling into History in Trowulan (Part 2)

Bajangratu Temple

continued from Part 1

While most people in Java were celebrating the Eid holiday, Odino and I went to Mojokerto to visit Trowulan, a site believed to be the only remaining classical Hindu-Buddha city in this country. It was once the capital of the Majapahit Empire, whose influence during its golden age in the 14th century extended beyond the territory of modern-day Indonesia. The location has been subject to many studies, but anyone who happens to be in Mojokerto should definitely come here to see fascinating artifacts, features, and ecofacts scattered within the nearly 100 square kilometer plane at the feet of East Java’s Penanggungan, Welirang, and Anjasmara mountains.

When Odino and I arrived at Trowulan’s Bajangratu Temple and asked the juru kunci, literally “keeper of the keys,”if he could open the gate, many other visitors soon followed us. They were mostly from out of town to visit their families and relatives, as is the tradition during Eid ul-Fitr, but made their time to visit some of the temples out of curiosity. Mas Nur, one of the custodians of Bajangratu, showed us a document explaining that in June this year alone, over 11,000 people came to visit this particular temple. More than 60 percent of them are students, an indicator that glorious stories of Majapahit can still entice the younger generation to find out more for themselves.

Let us continue to the other spots of interest in Trowulan, shall we?


4. Pendopo Agung

a statue of Raden Wijaya in front of Pendopo Agung

From Bajangratu we walked west to the crossroads on the southern side of Segaran Pond. After having sambal wader as lunch by this crossroads, we continued south and were soon intrigued by a crowd at a small square. Food and toy vendors filled the front yard of a building behind a gate that was in the typical shape of Trowulan’s gateway temples. The gate looked relatively recent. And so was the black statue of a man in royal Javanese garment visible beyond it, guarding a large pavilion-like structure that didn’t seem to be that ancient either.

Pendopo Agung, or the Grand Pavilion, actually stands on ancient umpak or pedestals that hold in place 16 columns supporting a massive roof. Experts think that there must have been a grand pavilion here after the discovery of 26 pedestals buried in this location. In 1966, one of Mojokerto’s military leaders named Colonel Sampurna initiated the construction of this structure using some of those umpak, turning the square before it into a public space where big festivities are often held, which nowadays include dangdut concerts. People often use the pavilion itself as a place to relax or to practice traditional art performances.

a path amid gravestones in Pendopo Agung’s backyard

The pendopo‘s backyard hold another story. The spot may be significant because earlier researches here pointed out an ancient structure made from bricks in a crisscross pattern, but that’s hardly the reason why many pilgrims come here to perform rituals. In the middle of gravestones and looming trees is a smaller building perched on a slightly higher ground. Called Makam Panggung, this building may look like it was built in the previous century, but some locals believe that it is standing right on the spot where Raden Wijaya, the founder of Majapahit, used to center his early spiritual activities, and also where Gadjah Mada, Majapahit’s chief minister during its golden period, made his famous oath, Sumpah Palapa. The two important figures can be found as statues and in relief sculptures before and behind Pendopo Agung.

photos around Pendopo Agung by Odino:

visitors reading a list of Majapahit’s rulers

Walk around the pavilion and you will see two huge stone poles like this one. Due to their size, some believe that elephants used to be tied to them.

the entrance to Makam Panggung


5. Kedaton Temple

an ancient settlement site in the Kedaton Complex

This is where I used most of my camera’s film roll. Located south from Pendopo Agung, this vast complex of structures successfully made me feel like I was actually inside the old Trowulan, sensing the pulses of the olden capital city’s everyday life. Bricks of various shapes form square walls of different widths and heights are organized, complete with small ditches, around a well that has been sealed up due to an emission of toxic gas. Munin, one of the guardians on duty, told us that the ancient settlement site has got to be much wider than what is visible now. The surrounding area, however, is now full of new houses. It would be too much to ask the current residents to relocate in order to make way for new excavations.

“What you see here are mainly the platforms of houses. And next to the guard post here are stone umpak for holding up the houses’ columns,” Munin said. He also added that a series of excavations have shown that many of the structures in Kedaton stand on yet other buildings, raising the notion that the area has been a settlement for at least three different periods, including the modern one. One theory says that the Kedaton Site was once a complex assigned strictly for the female members of the royal family, because most of the artifacts found here are items crafted to exude feminine beauty. However, one of the human skeletons that have been dug up here happens to be male.

Claiming to be a direct descendant of the Majapahit people, one of only a few among the “newcomers” that have come and settled here, Munin said what many experts have speculated regarding how the ancient complex became abandoned: “Most probably because of some natural disaster, such as earthquake or volcanic eruption.” It is worth noting, however, that the capital of Majapahit was moved from Trowulan to Daha during the decline of the empire, following a conflict between members of the ruling family in the 15th century.

some umpak or pedestals at Kedaton Site

Sumur Upas, or the Poisonous Well. The closed up well is equipped with flower and incense offerings to prevent bad things to happen from the toxic gas.

the settlement site seen from another angle

another alternative angle

Located in front of the ancient settlement is a temple that once served as a grave site. Several grave chambers complete with human skeletons in them have been found at this site.

photos at Kedaton Site by Odino:

the front side of the grave temple

An ancient well that is still functioning. Some locals still use it for their water need, and pilgrims wash themselves here before performing rituals by the Upas Well.


6. Great Umpak

the giant umpak with the protective roof of the Kedaton Site in the background

Right behind the Kedaton Site, separated by only a small parcel of land cultivated with corn, is a well-tended garden dotted on one side with 15 large, short pedestals. All except one were set in a west-east orientation. Each of these umpak is octagonal is shape, around 0.7 m in size with a square hollow in the middle. These pedestals are much larger than the ones at Pendopo Agung, telling us that a building that was much grander used to be located precisely here, considering that the stone pedestals are very heavy and must have been arranged the way that they were discovered and are currently arranged when you come to see them.


7. Sentonorejo Site

hexagonal clay tiles still in good shape at the Sentonorejo Site (left side)

Buried nearly two meters below the nearby land surface, the floor surrounding the buildings in this ancient settlement site is hexagonal in shape, the same as concrete tiles found in modern homes. The only difference is that the tiles at the Sentonorejo Site uses clay as its material, which is also used for the bricks for the structures that now lay in ruins here. So beguiling is the hexagonal design of the tiles to some researches that some of them are now stored at Majapahit Museum.


8. Troloyo Cemetery

a section apportioned to some of the leading Muslim scholars in Majapahit time

I always find old cemeteries alluring and charming, so long as there’s still sunlight available when I’m there. There is just something about moss-covered grave stones and large trees lending them shade that render such a place so comforting. So when I saw that there is a cemetery complex from the Majapahit period in Trowulan in my guide book, I knew that missing the opportunity to visit it was not an option.

The cemetery is a supporting evidence that there was a Muslim community living side by side with the Hindus and Buddhists in the old capital city. Two texts that directly point to its existence are one kidung sunda, or a Sundanese ballad, and a 1416 book called Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan, or the Overal Survey of the Ocean’s Shores, by a Muslim voyager and translator named Ma Huan who accompanied Admiral Zheng He on some of his expeditions. The Sundanese ballad even pointed out the existence of a grand mosque within the capital city’s complex, although the location of its ruins have yet to be determined. According to historian de Graaf, many of the traders and ambassadors from the Ming Dynasty to Majapahit in the 15th century were Muslim. They formed a big community in Palembang, a tributary under Majapahit, and made their way to other areas including Trowulan.

The cemetery’s name is believed to come from the words setra, meaning a square, and pralaya, which means broken or dead. Local stories refer to this area that is located on the far southern side of the Kedaton Side as a settlement place for the Chinese merchants, who also spread Islam to the commoners and the nobility alike. As in any settlement, one part of the area was then allocated as a final resting place, with certain spots apportioned for the most pious and influential.

According to researches, the oldest gravestones in this cemetery date back to the 14th century. Some even believe that Tralaya is in fact one of the final resting complexes of the oldest wali sangha, or the leading holy men of Islam. Sangha is a term in Buddhism which refers to an assembly of englightened beings. However, the term has been Javanized into wali songo, which means “nine Islamic saints,” giving the notion that Java’s council of Islamic scholars back then was led by nine people.

Either way, I had been so excited to prove for myself how the tombstones and their engraving style show an acculturation between Islam and Hindu, as shown in pictures on the internet, until I found that most of the headstones were now covered with white clothes, and that modern buildings in Javanese Islamic architecture have been erected during a major renovation. I don’t know about those of you who have come here, but the white ceramic tiles and the vivid paint colors really threw me off and hindered me from appreciating this place’s historical ambiance and values.

So Odino and I continued our way to the back of the buildings. We found ourselves in the middle of another Islamic grave compound with the sun shining through the mystifying branches of old frangipani trees, casting a web of shadows on the ground and on the moss-covered tombs. It was in this serene place that we realized that Troloyo had to be the most visited spot in modern Trowulan. Even though there were only a few people present due to the Islamic holiday, there were a lot of rolled up mattresses and remains of offerings, indicating that pilgrims flock the different corners of this compound on a daily basis to perform meditation and ask for guidance from God through the dead’s spirits.

photos at Troloyo by Odino:

This purple building is believed to be the final resting place of Queen Kencana Wungu, a name often associated with Majapahit’s Queen Suhita. “Ungu” may mean purple in Indonesian, but kencana wungu actually means “the pallid pearl” in Old Javanese.

concluded in Part 3

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7 responses to “Trundling into History in Trowulan (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Trundling into History in Trowulan (Part 1) | BEKABULUH·

  2. Jadi semakin penasaran belajar sejarah langsung di Trowulan.
    Ditunggu part 3 nya kakak :-)

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

  4. Pingback: Try These Special Trowulan Dishes | BEKABULUH·

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