Trowulan: The Story of a Glory (2 of 3)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

For me, the biggest enigma in the history of Java is what has made us miss the link to our great ancient civilization. The ancestors who – centuries ago – built many highly engineered monuments with great care in details didn’t seem to pass down the knowledge to the next generations. 

Instead of finding a clue, my wonderment grew bigger on the second day of our trip to Trowulan and Mount Penanggungan. How the people in 977 AD founded an open baths made of solid stones, in the forest on the east slope of the mountain? What equipments did they use to transport all those stones?
Not only was the open bath that impressed me that day, another three temples that me, Arief, and Denok visited also gave us a good picture about the glory of the past.
Thank you for coming.

After exploring Trowulan on the previous day, we headed to the slope of Mount Penanggungan, about few hours’ drive from the place we stayed overnight in Trowulan. We were supposed to rent a car that morning, but things didn’t work out the way we wanted. So, as we had to stick to the plan, we called the ojek drivers from the other day. There were three ojeks for three of us.

In the middle of the way, one ojek, ridden by Arief, took a u turn to the woods. At that time, I had no idea where we were going. We stopped at a post where there was stone stairs in front of it. We climbed up the stairs and found two caves where there were some people immersed in their prayers inside one of those caves. Our ojek drivers told us the name of the caves. It was Goa Gembyang.

I couldn’t find any records or accounts about the history of these caves. I didn’t even know what was exactly behind the white sheet inside one of the caves that seemed to cover something. I tried to feel what it was like to be inside the cave. I can’t believe I tell you this, but it was cozy and serene inside. However, I didn’t want to linger there as I couldn’t stand the smell of kemenyan (Javanese incense).

When we were about to leave, I saw some broken artifacts placed under the roof. A local man we met said those artifacts were found near the caves. I guessed those were the artifacts of Hindu’s deity figures. May be the caves used to be a place for people to meditate.

The ojeks then took us up to the east slope of Mount Penanggungan, where we finally stopped at an ancient baths of Jalatunda, dating back to the 10th century, when Java was still a kingdom, named Singhasari. In many records, it was said that the baths was dedicated to King Udayana of Bali who was married to Princess Gunapriyadharmapatni of Java. The princess later gave a birth to a son that was one day crowned as King Airlangga, one of the most influence king that brought Singhasari to its triumph.

Like the public baths we had seen on the previous day, this place had two separated baths, one for men and one for women, and a big pond in the centre.

The absence of Arief Budhi on that day had made us kind of lost. We didn’t obtain any proper information about this historic place. No tour guide, no brochures. So I just simply enjoyed the fresh air coming from the surrounding woods.

I saw that people came to this place for different purposes. Some of them came for pleasure, and some of them seemed to come to seek a fortune. We could easily find people meditated in the back of the baths and washed their bodies in the pool as if to cleanse their souls.

We left the baths at around midday and decided to find a place for lunch. I had no idea where to go next until Arief told me that we would see a twin gate which was built in the fourteenth century. I regret however that I hadn’t spent enough time to do a small research about the objects that we were going to see in this trip. 

On the way to the ancient gates, we stopped by at a small food stall, run by two women, to have lunch. I was surprised with the low price they charged us. After that, we continued the trip and soon entered an industrial estate of Ngoro before finally reach the gates. From a white wooden sign on the road side, I found that the gates were named “Candi Jedong.” 

These gates were not in the same elevation with the road. They were few meters lower, considering that they had been buried for centuries before a Dutch archeologist found them in the early twentieth century.


Those two gates, connected by a brick wall that looked like a great wall, were actually an entrance to the village of Perdikan. It was a tax free village, somewhere in the fourteenth century. Well, that’s all I knew about the gates.

Not like the other temples from Majapahit era which were made of bricks, these gates were made of andesite stones. Like most Javanese Hindu temples, a head of Batara Kala (the god of time in Hindu mythology) adorned the entrance gate. I was impressed by the landscape architecture in this complex which seemed to be well designed.

Next, we headed to Bangkal Temple. Located quite far from the main road, we found it was difficult to find the temple. We had to ask people for a direction for several times. After passing through a narrow street between rice fields, we arrived at the temple. The temple stood alone there. Right on its side, there were some old tombs, sacred by the locals. 

There was no any information I could obtain about the history of this temple. From the ruins I saw in front of the temple, I could say there were maybe two other similar temples erected in this place, and only one survived until today.

At first, I was reluctant to climb the stairs that led to the interior of the temple as it looked like crumbled stones. But I was curious to see the inside. So I stepped carefully on the stones. 

Standing closer to the wall, I could see clearly the obsolescent bricks. I wonder what the thin white plate put between the bricks was. It made the bricks glued each other perfectly.

My eyes went to the details of the engravings on the base of the temple. I didn’t know whether there were any meanings behind those symbols or not. One symbol reminded me so much of one program at History Channel: “Ancient Alien,” as it looked like a UFO.

At around four o’clock, we left the temple for Trowulan. We decided to visit one more object before going to the Buddhist monastery for staying overnight. It took us about an hour to reach the next place which was located at Desa Bejijong, Trowulan. It was a grand monument made of bricks and named Brahu Temple. 

Arief told me that the temple had used to be a crematorium of the kings of Majapahit. I thought he was right considering that the temple was kind of unique. It didn’t look like a temple in common.

Few days after returning to Jakarta, I browsed around about the temple in the internet and found that the temple was actually not a crematorium as the archeologists didn’t find any evidence like urns during the restoration of the temple.

I was amazed by the wall pattern of the temple. Those horizontal lines should look much better in a bright afternoon. Sadly, it was cloudy then. Not much I could take from the temple. We decided to return to this place on the following morning.

That night, we stayed at the Buddhist monastery, “Mahavihara Mojopahit.” On the following day, we planned to visit the rest of the relics of Majapahit in Trowulan. The three of us got one room which we thought was very spacious. There was no bed, only mats and pillows. I was kind of hoping to meet the ancestors in my dream so I could get all the answers to my wonderment of the glory of the past. But with the air conditioner on, I slept soundly that night, so soundly that I didn’t even dream at all.

The Expenses:
Air Asia, Jakarta - Surabaya: Rp 749.000,00
Economic class bus, Surabaya - Trowulan: Rp 7.000,00
Ojek (motorcycle taxi): 
- First day: Rp 40.000,00 (4 hours in Trowulan)
- Second day: Rp 150.000,00 (9 hours, Trowulan-Gunung Penanggungan)
- Third day: Rp 150.000,00 (8 hours, Trowulan - Jombang)
Amanah Cafe & Resto (a place we stayed overnight): Rp 100.000,00
Buddhist Monastery: It was free.  
Bangunkarta (Executive class train), Jombang - Jakarta: Rp 330.000,00

Nearly all the historical places were free. Voluntary donations of Rp10.000,00 for each historical place were given while writing down our names in the guest books.       


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  1. awalnya saya kira orang-orang arsitek sudah berhasil merumuskan dengan cara apa candi-candi itu dibangun...

  2. Mungkin iya. Jujur saya juga baru tahu waktu mengunjungi Trowulan bulan lalu. Menurut Arief Budi (pemerhati sejarah), candi2 bisa dibangun tinggi tanpa menggunakan alat berat seperti crane. Mereka nggak make bantuan tenaga gaib. Mereka bisa membangun setinggi itu dengan metode menguruk tanah sampe tinggi. Walhasil, candi2 itu dlm proses konstruksinya sempat terkubur tanah...

    Ironisnya, yang berinisiatif menggali ilmu arsitektur kuno kita adalah ilmuwan2 Belanda...

  3. Replies
    1. Gunung penanggungan banyak didatengin para pendaki juga lho...

  4. The history of the Hindu-Buddhist era in Java ended altogether with the collapse of the last Hindu kingdom of Java, Majapahit, under the attack of Demak, the first Islamic sultanate of Java in 1527 AD. After Demak reigned, the ruling princes fell into continuous dispute over the throne. Not so long after that, in the 1600s, the Dutch came to take benefit of Indonesia.

    I think, those factors -the political instability and foreign rule- were what stopped us from continuing the culture of our forefathers and building magnificent monuments like they did. Otherwise, we would have continued to thrive as Thai people have -constructing large Buddhist temples- since they were no subject to colonialism.

    1. Thank you for this interesting comment Arief... I really appreaciate it.

  5. bagus wib, both text and photos.
    senang baca travel journals mu..

    1. Thank you Oji. I'm looking forward to your pictures.