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

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The saying "third day is a charm" worked for us on our three - day trip to Trowulan. Of all the days we spent on the trip, third day was the most effective as we got to see more than ten relics and sites which were all the grand legacies of Majapahit. This is the journal of the third day. Thank you for coming.


What first caught my eyes on the time we arrived at the Buddhist monastery in the previous night was the giant statue of sleeping Buddha. I had seen one like this in Lasem about three years earlier, but this one seemed to be bigger and more monumental. So I told my self to take pictures of it in the following morning.   

Since we didn't have to pay for the room we had stayed overnight, we only gave some money to the caretaker guy who had cleaned the room at the time we checked out. That day, we planned to explore more Trowulan, the former capital of the Empire of Majapahit. Arief had listed down all the places and relics we were going to see. We had told the ojek drivers on the previous day to pick us up at around seven in the morning. Thank God, they came on time.  

The light was better that morning. We returned to the Brahu temple for more and better shots. Even though the sun was not as I had expected, I was satisfied with the rather blue sky above. As we came very early, there were no other visitors at that temple.   

Looking at this temple in the morning, I could see clearly that the architecture of this temple was not very common for a temple at its time. Just few days ago before I write this journal, Arief told me about "Brahu style," a term to describe the new stream of architecture style which was considered modern at centuries ago.

This was actually interesting. Unfortunately, I didn't learn much about the architecture of temples in college. We learned too much about European and American style. Another fact I got about this high rise temple was that it was actually a Buddhist.   

Another great impression was given by ruins of a temple, sited just few hundred meters away from Brahu. The ruins, roofed with corrugated metal sheets, clearly showed us the configuration of the temple which was named "Gentong" or Jar, refering to some small stupas which to the locals appeared to be like jars, found during the excavation.   


With the discovery of the stupas, it was certain that this temple was also Buddhist. I hadn't read or gathered any information about this temple. I just learnt that this temple might have looked like the Borobudur, only much smaller. I sensed that there was a big stupa in the centre, surrounded by smaller stupas.

Previously, I have written that the practice of syncretism was likely preserved among small groups of Javanese. Many of them visited sacred ancient places for, I don't know, finding an answer to their problems? Our next two destinations would be that kind of place where people spent hours or may be days for spiritual reasons.

Shaded by a huge old tree, the Siti Inggil became a tranquil place where people would linger to meditate. It was believed that the first king reigned in Majapahit, Raden Wijaya, used to meditate there. There were some grave stones in that complex claimed to belong to Raden Wijaya and his entourage. But many people doubted that as the graves physically look like Muslim's.

Another so called sacred place we went to was the Yoni Klinterejo. Sited right in the middle of a rice field, this place revealed an aura that brought us back to the past. We could feel it as soon as we walk through the curved gate made of bricks. We were about to see an ancient monument of "yoni," which literally meant the female genital in Sanskrit. The monument here was just the resemblance of it. 

Many articles said that the yoni, together with three other ones, had been used to mark the city border of Trowulan. Another version said that the yoni in this place was made to commemorate the death of Tribhuwana Tunggadewi, the queen of Majapahit, reigned from 1328-1351 as there was an engraving of numbers indicating the year she passed away.

The yoni was placed on the black ceramic tile floor, surrounded with moat on its four sides. The moat was about one meter width, just wide enough for one person to walk through. According to Arief, people walked on the moat, encircled the yoni during a ritual of Pradaksina. It was a ritual of encircling something considered sacred or holy. Commonly people would start walking from the east, moved clockwise to the west.

Have you ever wondered where all the kings and royal families of Majapahit were buried? One of the most rational explanations was since they all were devotees of Hindu and Budha, they were cremated when they died.

Another popular theory said that all the kings were half deity or in other word, they were considered as some sort of holy figure that would reach moksha by the end of their life. It was a condition where not only were their souls that gone, but also their physical being. In a much simpler word, they vanished without a trace.

On the same place with Yoni Klinterejo, there were two chambers – enclosed spaces – of “Petilasan” which were believed to be the place where the Queen Tribhuwana Tunggadewi and another two persons whose names were not popular to me, vanished. Those chambers were the only trace they had left.


At the chamber of the queen, a family was gathered for a ritual led by a paranormal who was wearing a black shirt and black pants. I was interested to take their pictures, but every time I came closer to the chamber, I got a goosebump. I couldn’t help but overhearing the paranormal cast a spell in Javanese.

As there was not much to explore, we moved to another historical site of Majapahit. It was going to be another ancient gate, named Wringin Lawang. Literally, those words meant banyan and gate, refering to a huge banyan tree that once grew on that place.

Sited in the village of Jatipasar, not so far from the main road connecting Surabaya with Jombang, this ancient gate was less impressive than the ones I had seen on previous days. This was like a twin tower without a bridge. 


It was ironic however that there was no exact theory about the history of this ancient gate. The absence of reliable accounts and records had sparked different theories about it. Some said it was the entrance gate of "Kepatihan," the complex where the Governor Gajah Mada resided. Another theory said it was the entrance gate of the royal palace.

I just captured few frames of the gate as I hadn't had a breakfast that morning, and that led to me being out of sorts. Like in many other ancient places, this gate was also sacred by some people who burnt incenses and put an offering on the floor.


On the way to the next historical site, still in the village of Jatipasar, we stopped by at a food stall for breakfast before heading to the temple of Minak Jinggo. Along the way to the temple, I saw many sculptures on the road side and was soon aware that the activity of sculpting was still alive in this place.

Few meters before we reached the temple, I stopped to take some pictures of sculptors doing their job under huge bamboo trees. Maybe this was what this place had been like centuries ago. One of the sculptors told me that the statues were mostly demanded by people in Bali.

Was there any chance that these people working under the bamboo trees were the descendant of highly skilled sculptors of Majapahit?

All these years, I only recognized “Minak Jinggo” as a brand of cigarette. I had no idea that it was actually a name of a man from 14th century. In many articles I found in the internet, Minak Jinggo was said to be the ruler of Blambangan, a small kingdom located in the eastern tip of Java.

What made his name became popular was the insurgency against the reigning queen of Ayu Kencana Wungu he had initiated, soon after the queen rejected his proposal to marry him. So why would people named this scattered temple after that man?

The answer laid in a statue of “Garudha” found during the excavation of this temple. To me, the statue was more like a stocky man with a wing. To some local people, the statue was the personification of Minak Jinggo.

Pak Asik, a man who was in charge of taking care of that place, proudly showed me the broken statue believed to be a dragon head.

I knew nothing about archeology, so I had no idea what I was looking at. The only thing I relied on was my own perspective. I perceived these scattered bricks as a foundation of a huge temple.

What I found outside the temple was more interesting. Some artifacts made of andesite stones, carved with pictures of buffalos (was it a flying buffalo?) and other beautiful shapes were displayed on the ground.

Few days after returning to Jakarta, my friend Laurentia Dewi, through her facebook account, showed me an old painting of this temple when it was just discovered by a Dutch archeologist. It was obvious that this temple was rich in details like engravings.

A beautiful relief of Paseban (an assembly hall to where people come to meet the king) became the last artifact I captured before leaving the temple of Minak jingo.

Few weeks before we came to Trowulan, Arief told me about a remnant of a huge canal built to be passed through by large boats. I thought it was going to be a huge canal like the one I had seen in the old town of Jakarta.

Instead of finding a huge canal, we only found the remnant of a seventy centimeters width moat in the middle of a sugarcane field. There was a possibility that this moat was part of a larger and complicated water system in the capital of Majapahit.

I was not sure how this moat worked in centuries ago, but this finding had simply opened my eyes how people in Java had recognized a sophisticated water system, long before the Dutch came.

I walked further to see the rest of the moat and found this remnant of the wall. Furthermore, it was only the foundation that still remained. 

It was around twelve and the heat went up. We moved to the next place: the village of Sentonorejo. There was something special about the village as there were many significant artifacts and relics had been found and excavated. All the findings led to a hypothesis that the royal palace, together with the government facilities was centered and founded in this village.

Pendopo Agung, a grand hall where we had watched a ballet show two days before, was one of many historical places which had been restored in that village. Our coming this time was not to watch another performance. We wanted to see what was behind the wall of the Pendopo Agung.

Ma Huan, a man from China who joined the expedition of Zheng He to Java in the 15th century, wrote in his account about the daily life in Trowulan. One of his records said that the king of Majapahit always rode an elephant when he went out from the palace.

Today, the elephants did no longer exist in Trowulan. What remained was just a stake made of stone that had been used to anchor the elephant. The locals called it Paku Bumi, roughly translated as earth nail, and sacred it.

Next to Paku Bumi, there was an ancient stage, claimed to be the place at where two significant moments happened. First, it was the place where Raden Wijaya, the founder and the first king of Majapahit meditated, and it was also the place where the Governor Gajah Mada swore an oath to unite the archipelago of what today Indonesia and the rest of South East Asia. 

Back to the grand hall of Pendopo Agung, we took a break for a while, watched a group of teenager rehearsed for a traditional dance performance. Well, this kind of activity could be good news for the conservationist since less and fewer teenagers cared about the traditional culture. 

The next place we were going to was Kedaton temple – located not far from Pendopo Agung – where I met Pak Karsono, the caretaker. Like some previous temples we had seen earlier, this temple was also not yet fully restored. It was still just crumbled bricks roofed with zinc.

Pak Karsono guided us to the most sacred spot that had the biggest energy in the temple. It was an ancient well covered with red velvet. Like I had written on the first day journal, there was a difference in shape between a well built in a settlement and the one built in a sacred place. They built a circle shaped well for daily needs and a square one for a sacred purpose. 

I was wondering what was under the red velvet. Pak Karsono said, in the past, it was not just a well. It was some sort of a secret pathway to several sacred places. There was a stair down to a long tunnel that led to Tengger, Bali, Tuban, Banyuwangi, Mount Lawu and the Indian Ocean in the south. 

We couldn’t see the tunnel he was talking about, but what he showed us next was pretty impressive. There was some kind of underground pathway that still existed in that temple. That pathway led to a dark narrow chamber where people until today came to meditate.

There was a theory that said that this temple had actually been built over older monuments or buildings. I was not sure about that, but what I saw in that place was there were two or three layers of foundation. The brick wall was likely built over a stone wall, and there seemed to be another layer beneath the stoned wall which was not dug yet.

What shocked me most was the finding of five human skeletons during the excavation in 1996. No one knew who they were. I didn’t think the Hindu people in the past recognize the concept of burying the dead. They had been supposed to be cremated.

Today, all those skeletons were still kept in coffins which were placed in a room, right in front of the temple. I didn’t take the picture of the coffins as I didn’t feel right about it.

Few meters from Kedaton, we found another amazing fact about Majapahit. It was a place where we could see ancient hexagonal floor tiles. It looked to me like what today we called paving block. The difference was, this one was made of clay, not light concrete.

Totally, there were only 104 hexagonal tiles that remained in this place. The archeologists said that this place was once a settlement. 

Still around in the village of Sentonorejo, not far from the hexagonal tiles, we took a look at the site of “Watu Umpak,” roughly translated as stone foundation. I had no idea of what building these stones had become foundations.

What impressed me very much was the configuration was very well ordered like grid system and précised. They had surely recognized mathematical method to construct a building.

The only thing I could recall about taking pictures on this site was the heat. Trowulan was extremely hot in the afternoon. I wondered what made those people of Majapahit found their capital in such a humid, deep inland place like this.

If we had seen on the other day what Hindu and Buddha in Majapahit had left for us, the next place we were going to would be an ancient cemetery housing some Muslim tombs, dating back to the late 15th century, and that would be the last place to see before we headed back to Jakarta by train.

Like many other ancient Muslim cemeteries in Java, this place was also sacred and crowded with people seeking for blessings. They came in a group by bus, or with their families, like the one I captured below.

The mother was rushing the kids to wash their face with the water taken from an old well. Well, I could understand that. Maybe she wanted to cleanse their faces from dust. But I coudn't understand when she asked the kids to drink the water. Come on mam, you gave your kids unboiled water?  

Getting inside the hall where there was the tomb of Jumadil Kubro, I found another family coming with kids. Jumadil Kubro himself was said to have spread the teachings of Islam in 15th century. There, in front of his tomb, people were gathered to say some prayers. Some of them even looked like meditating.

Beside that tomb, there were also several tombs dating back from the same days. 

The cemetery was not preserved in its original condition. All the original tomb stones had been removed. Some of them were taken away to be displayed in museums, and many of them were gone without a trace. What today we could see was just the tombs housed in several houses.

It was 3 o' clock when our ojek drivers reminded us to leave the cemetery right away to catch our train at Jombang Station that would depart at around four. So this was the time to say good bye to the ancient capital with its glory of the past.

I am aware that today more and more young people have got interested in traveling to see many historical places as the inseparable part of our cultural heritage. I think they should put Trowulan on their list. They should know that it's not just a place of many fabulous ancient temples and artifacts but also a place on where a good civilization and a cosmopolitan city was once built, even if they have to turn back further the time to centuries ago.


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  1. Dan aku selalu terkagum-kagum sama hasil fotomu mas.. Sejak di multiply..

  2. Capturing still object not as easy as we thought, but you do well. You give me some different, also attractive perspective of that "grand legacies". Thank's for share, in my list already!

    1. Thanks. I'm looking forward to capturing more East Java...

  3. After all the trip that we've made there, I think it's worth reminding that Majapahit culture is NOT YET dead. I think God Himself values it that He lets it flourish up to modern time as a culture that we know as Balinese culture.

    Archaeologist Agus A. Munandar and the book 'Balinese Architecture' by Periplus mentioned that a huge deal of Balinese culture , such as its buildings architecture, settlement organisation, court language, and literary works, are direct influence of the Majapahit court. After Majapahit kingdom vanishes in Java, Majapahit culture finds a new way, acculturate, and evolve in Bali.

    Original Balinese culture itself is to be found in the middle of the island, in the mountainous area, and has an appearance which is very different from the Balinese culture that we always know.

    1. Thanks for the comment Arief... I had a conversation with Bli Wayan few days ago, and yes, I should go to Bali to trace the legacy.