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The serene beauty of Prajnaparamita statue found near Singhasari temple is believed to be the portrayal statue of Queen Dedes (the collection of National Museum of Indonesia), the extraordinary beauty of this statue marked the refinement of Singhasari art.

Singhasari was a kingdom located in east Java between 1222 and 1292.



Singhasari (Singosari) was founded by Ken Arok (1182-1227/1247), whose story is a popular children's tale in Central and East Java.

Ken Arok was an orphan born of a mother named Ken Endok and an unknown father (some tales stated he was a son of god Brahma himself – one of three gods of Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) in Kediri kingdom’s territory. Ken Arok was also said to be a reincarnation of Vishnu. And years later, when he was in war against King Kertajaya of Kediri, the king arrogantly said that only Shiva himself can defeat him, and thus Ken Arok used Shiva as his title, as though the three gods were united in him. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Ken Arok proved himself by growing from a mere commoner to be a king whose descendants ruled Java for centuries.

Ken Arok was raised by a thief. Thus lack of supervision regarding right and wrong from his parents made him into a boy who simply follows his desires. He earned a very bad reputation by fighting, gambling, stealing, etc. Later in life, he came into the service of Tunggul Ametung, a local lord of Tumapel, one of the regions of Kediri. Ken Arok, who was very talented at making good impressions from his youth, somehow earned Tunggul Ametung's trust and came to be one of his most trusted people.

Tunggul Ametung, a middle-aged lord of Tumapel, had a very beautiful young wife, Ken Dedes. Ken Dedes was a daughter of Mpu Purwa, a renowned Buddhist priest. She had been abducted by the Tumapel lord while her father was away. Ken Arok fell in love with Ken Dedes when they first met, and he planned to make her his wife, even if it meant he had to kill his own master. To this end, Ken Arok went to a famous weaponsmith named Mpu Gandring and asked him to make a sacred kris (Javanese double-edged dagger). The process of making the sacred weapon took longer than Ken Arok could stand, and in his anger he took the unfinished weapon from Mpu Gandring and killed the smith with his own weapon. In his last breath, Mpu Gandring cursed Ken Arok and the next 7 generations of his descendants to death by the same weapon (famous as “Mupu Gandring’s curse”).

Ken Arok made a show of his kris to one of his fellow Tunggul Ametung’s retainer, Kebo Ijo, who became fascinated with the unique weapon and asked Ken Arok to lend him the Kris. When Kebo Ijo had the Kris, he bragged to everyone that the weapon belonged to him. Ken Arok kept silent about this, as he was well aware of Kebo Ijo’s character and these were his plans from the start. One night, Ken Arok secretly took the weapon from Kebo Ijo’s room, slipped away and managed to kill Tunggul Ametung. He left the kris on the lord's chest so Kebo Ijo would be blamed for the murder. The accused Kebo Ijo was soon killed by Ken Arok before he could deny using the kris of Mpu Gandring. Ken Arok then took Ken Dedes as his wife and made himself the new lord of Tumapel. At the time, Ken Dedes was pregnant with Tunggul Ametung's child.

The ambition of Ken Arok did not stop. He changed Tumapel’s name into Singhasari (Singosari) and rebelled against the Kediri kingdom. At the time, the Kediri had a clash with Buddhist priests, who sought protection from Ken Arok. Using this as a reason, he went to war with Kediri. In 1222, at a battle near Ganter village he defeated King Kertajaya of Kediri, and thus founded the new kingdom of Singhasari with himself as the first king, entitled Prabu (King) Sri Rajasa Sang Amurwabhumi. Kediri became Singhasari territory.

Years after Ken Arok became King, whether Mpu Gandring’s curse came true or it was just a coincidence, he was killed by his stepson, Anusapati, son of Ken Dedes from Tunggul Ametung, by the same kris of Mpu Gandring he used to kill Tunggul Ametung. Anusapati was later killed by Panji Tohjaya, son of Ken Arok and his concubine Ken Umang. Panji Tohjaya also met his fate by the very same weapon later, in a rebellion led by Ranggawuni, Anusapati's son. Only Ranggawuni or Wisnuwardhana was peacefully succeeded by his son, Kertanegara, the last and the greatest king of Singhasari.

A mandala of Amoghapāśa from the Singhasari period.

Singhasari's expansive ambition

In the year 1275, the ambitious king Kertanegara launched a peaceful naval campaign northward towards the weak remains of the Srivijaya in response to continuous Ceylon pirate raids and Chola kingdom's invasion from India which conquered Srivijaya’s Kedah in 1025. The strongest of these Malaya kingdoms was Jambi, which captured the Srivijaya capital in 1088, then the Dharmasraya kingdom, and the Temasek kingdom of Singapore, and then remaining territories. The peaceful expedition is named the Pamalayu expedition was led by Admiral Mahesa Anabrang (a.k.a. Adwaya Brahman) to the Malaya region, and was also intended to secure the Malayan strait, the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ against potential Mongol invasion and ferocious sea pirates. These Malayan kingdoms then pledged allegiance to the king. King Kertanegara had long wished to surpass Srivijaya as a regional maritime empire, controlling sea trade routes from China to India. However, the first Pamalayu Expedition itself did not end well after the fall of Singhasari kingdom, but it was continued by its successor, the Majapahit empire, which by the second Pamalayu expedition conquered more Malayan kingdoms by combining its vassal kingdoms’ forces such as those of the Samudra kingdom and Pasai kingdom of Aceh. The Pamalayu expedition from 1275 to 1292, from the time of Singhasari to Majapahit, is chronicled in the Javanese scroll Nagarakrtagama. Singhasari’s territory thus became Majapahit territory. In the year 1284, king Kertanegara made a hostile Pabali expedition to Bali, which integrated Bali into the Singhasari kingdom’s territory. The king also sent troops, expeditions and envoys to other nearby kingdoms such as the Sunda-Galuh kingdom, Pahang kingdom, Balakana kingdom (Kalimantan/Borneo), and Gurun kingdom (Maluku). He also established an alliance with the king of Champa (Vietnam).

King Kertanegara totally erased any Srivijayan influence from Java and Bali in 1290. However, the expansive campaigns exhausted most of the Kingdom’s military forces and in the future would stir a murderous plot against the unsuspecting King Kertanegara.

Fall of Singhasari

Singhasari temple built as a mortuary temple to honor Kertanegara, the last king of Singhasari.

During Kertanegara's reign, Meng-ki, an emissary sent by the Mongol Khan, Kublai Khan, came to Singhasari and demanded submission. Kertanegara took the demand as an insult and slashed Meng-ki's face and cut his left ear before allowing the delegation to return to Khanbaliq. In preparation for the invasion threat from the powerful emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, Kertanegara sent a huge portion of his army to conquer the Malay Peninsula to block a Chinese invasion by land. This expedition was called the Pamalayu expedition. In the meantime, one of his vassals, Jayakatwang, king of Kediri, a fiefdom of Singhasari, rebelled and killed Kertanegara with a surprise attack during a Tantrayana holy festival. Raden Wijaya, one of Kertanegara's sons-in-law and also a descendant of Ken Arok, fled soon after Jayakatwang's victory. He escaped to Madura and with the Madura regency's favor, Wijaya was granted land in the village of Tarik, which then became the core of the future kingdom of Majapahit.

When the Mongol fleet arrived, Raden Wijaya manipulated them into fighting the usurper Jayakatwang. The Mongols didn't realize that they destroyed a different ruler. Before they realized what had happened, Wijaya attacked his exhausted former allies when they were feasting in victory, thus driving them from Java. The exhausted Mongols were not outnumbered, but they were severely outwitted. The Mongol's retreat was also attributed to the monsoonal wind which came only at certain times of the year, and it was important for the fleet to return home when the wind arrived. Wijaya then founded the new kingdom of Majapahit.

Mongolia invasion of Java, the end of Singhasari kingdom and the beginning of Majapahit empire

Indonesia is one of the few areas that thwarted invasion by the Mongol horde by repelling a Mongol force in 1293.

As the center of the Malayan peninsula trade winds, the rising power, influence, and wealth of the Javanese Singhasari empire came to the attention of Kublai Khan of the Mongol Yuan dynasty based in China. Moreover, Singhasari had formed an alliance with Champa of Vietnam. Both Java (Singhasari) and Champa were worried about Mongol expansion and raids against neighboring states, such as their raid of Bagan (Pagan) in Burma. Kublai Khan then sent emissaries demanding submission and tribute from Java. In 1280, Kublai Khan sent the first emissary to King Kertanegara, demanding Singhasari’s submission and tribute to the great Khan. The demand was refused. The next year in 1281, the Khan sent another envoy, demanding the same, which was refused again. Eight years later, in 1289, the last envoy was sent to demand the same, and King Kertanegara, the last ruler of the Singhasari kingdom, refused to pay tribute. In the audition throne room of the Singhasari court, King Kertanegara humiliated the Khan by cutting and scarring Meng Ki's face, one of the Mongols' envoys (some sources even state that the king cut the envoy's ear himself). The envoy returned to China with the answer -- the scar -- of the Javan king written on his face.

Enraged by this humiliation and the disgrace committed against his envoy and his patience, in late 1292 the great Kublai Khan sent a massive 1,000 war jung ships for a punitive expedition which arrived off the coast of Tuban, Java in early 1293.

King Kertanegara, whose troops were now spread then and located elsewhere, did not realize that a coup was being prepared by the former Kediri royal lineage. In 1292, Duke Jayakatwang, a vassal king from the Kingdom of Daha (also known as Kediri or Gelang-gelang), prepared his Kediri army to conquer Singhasari and kill its king if possible, assisted by Arya Wiraraja, a regent from Sumenep on the island of Madura.

The Kediri (Gelang-gelang) army attacked Singhasari simultaneously from both north and south. The king only realized the invasion from the north and sent his son-in-law, Nararya Sanggramawijaya, famously known as Raden Wijaya (died 1309), northward to vanquish the rebellion. The northern attack was put at bay, but the southern attackers successfully remained undetected until they reached and sacked the unprepared capital city of Kutaraja. Jayakatwang usurped and killed Kertanagara during the Tantra sacred ceremony, thus bring a tragic end to the Singhasari kingdom.

Having learned the of the fall of the Singhasari capital of Kutaraja due to Kediri's treachery, Raden Wijaya tried to defend Singhasari but failed. He and his three colleagues, Ranggalawe, Sora and Nambi, went to exile under the favor of the same regent (Bupati) Arya Wiraraja of Madura, Nambi's father, who then turned his back to King Jayakatwang. With Arya Wiraraja's patronage, Raden Wijaya, pretending to submit to King Jayakatwang, won favor from the new monarch of Kediri, who granted him permission to open a new settlement north of mount Arjuna, the Tarik forest. In this wilderness, Wijaya found many bitter Maja fruits, so it was called Majapahit (literally meaning “bitter Maja”), the future capital of the empire. It is said that the bitterness of the fruit will satisfy a soldier’s thirst for water.

Early 1293, the Mongol naval forces arrived on the north coast of Java (near Tuban) and on the Brantas river mouth in order to flank what they thought was Singhasari. Raden Wijaya found the opportunity to use the unsuspecting Mongols to overthrow Jayakatwang. Raden Wijaya’s army allied with the Tartars (Mongols) in March of 1293 and battle ensued between Mongol forces against Daha forces in the creek bed of Kali Mas river, which was followed by the battle of Mongol forces against Daha forces that attacked the Majapahit regional army led by Raden Wijaya. The Mongols then stormed Daha and Jayakatwang finally surrendered.

Once Jayakatwang had been destroyed, Raden Wijaya then turned his troops to launch a surprise attack inside and outside the Mongol army column, creating chaos and forcing his former Mongol allies to withdraw from the island of Java.

Panicked, the Mongol army was confused and found themselves surrounded by enemies. It was the last time for the monsoon sea-wind to depart north for home. They would otherwise have had to wait for another six months on a hostile island for the next sea-wind. The panicked Mongols thus hurriedly fled the battle, withdrew to their ships and headed back to China in their war jungs. Prince Wijaya successfully drove the Mongols forces to the sea to return home on May 31, 1293.

The victor, Prince Wijaya, son-in-law of the last Singhasari King, then ascended the throne as Kertajasa Jayawardhana, the first king of the great Majapahit Empire, on November 12, 1293.

Rulers of Singhasari

Genealogy diagram of Rajasa Dynasty, the royal family of Singhasari and Majapahit. Rulers are highlighted with period of reign.

Further reading

  • Saidihardjo, Dr. M. Pd., A.M, Sardiman, Drs., Sejarah untuk SMP, Tiga Serangkai, Solo, 1987, 4th reprint edition in 1990

External links



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