Surabaya : A City of Heroes

Revisit The Glory That Was Majapahit


Discover the ancient wonders of Indonesia’s royal past and visit the remains of the once great Majapahit kingdom. Founded by Singosari prince Vijaya in 1294, the Majapahit kingdom became the most powerful kingdom in the history of Indonesia, covering territories even beyond present day Indonesia.  The remains of the royal court are today scattered over a large area around the village of Trowulan in East Java.

During the reign of Singosari’s former king Kertanegara, a Chinese Mongol fleet was sent to Java to force Singosari to submit allegiance to China. Kertanegara responded by cutting off the ear of the Chinese emissary. Enraged, when Chinese emperor Kublai Khan heard this he commanded his fleet to avenge on Singosari. Unknown to them, King Kertanegara had already been slain, defeated by Jayakatwang of the kingdom of Kediri.

To regain the throne, prince Vijaya of Singosari joined the Chinese fleet to remove the new king from the Singosari throne. Upon this victory, however, Vijaya turned around and ousted the Chinese fleet from Java. (see also the Singosari temple). Vijaya then established his new kingdom around the village of Trowulan and named it Majapahit. During the following two centuries, up until the early 15th century,  Majapahit expanded to become the most powerful kingdom in this archipelago notably under King Hayam Wuruk and his Prime Minister Gajah Mada.    

Wander around the remains of the old capital and you will see what was once a great and glorious city. At the peak of its power, the Majapahit kingdom ruled an enormous area, receiving tributes from most of the regions that encompass present day Indonesia as well as areas in what are today Vietnam and the Philippines.

During the golden period of the Majapahit empire many literary works were produced. These include the famous Negarakertagama poem by Prapancha. The work venerates the king and describes how royal divinity permeates the world cleansing it of impurities.  

In the Majapahit era, Hinduism and Buddism were the dominant religious. The kingdom was based on the principle of bhinneka tunggal ika ¬– unity in diversity. This motto preaches tolerance between the Buddhist and Hindu faiths. This spirit of tolerance became a defining feature of the Majapahit kingdom. Today the motto:  bhinneka tunggal ika – unity in diversity is adopted as the motto of the modern  Republic of Indonesia.  

The dominant religion of the kingdom was a hybrid of Hinduism with worship of the deities Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, –  and Buddhism.   However Islam, which entered Java in this era, was also tolerated. Ancient Koranic burial inscriptions suggest that Javanese Muslims resided within the area of the kingdom.

The kingdom reached the height of it’s power and influence under the leadership of the Prime Minister Gajah Mada during the reign of king Hayam Wurk. Gajah Mada is considered one of Indonesia’s greatest heroes. Until his death in 1364, he suceeded in spreading the power and influence of Majapahit throughout the archipelogo. Gajah Mada is believed to have developed his own oath of allegience, the Sumpah Palapa, which vowed to unite the archipelogo.  

The empire came to an abrupt end possibly in 1478 when the north coast power of Demak invaded. This forced the Majapahit elite to flee to Bali.

To do:

It is possible to spend the whole day in Trowulan wandering around the old temple ruins. Or, if the heat is too much, try a becak or a car to explore the area. The most popular ruins include the gateway of Bajang Ratu and the Tikus Temple (Queens’ bath). The Troloyo Cemetery has the oldest Muslim grave found in Java dating back to 1376 AD

Visit the Trowulan Museum and you will see superb examples of Majapahit sculpture and pottery. The enormous statue of Kediri’s King Airlangga-as-Vishnu on a giant garuda is one of the highlights of the museum’s collection.

Trowulan is 60km from Surabaya and can be visited as a day trip from the city.


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