This is a collective story of the Hindu kingdoms/empires of Indonesia whose valor and honor were no lesser than the Hindu kingdoms of India. This is the tragic tale of the Hindu Princess of the Kingdom of Sunda, which influenced the Balinese into saving their culture and religion after centuries. This story also talks about the eminence of the Majapahit empire and its heroes, Emperor Wayam Wuruk and Prime Minister, Gajah Mada.
There was no villain in this melancholic tale, only misunderstanding and miscommunication between different honorable souls. After the retirement of Queen Tribhuwana’s golden era (read here about her – Indonesia’s Lasting Legacy of a Hindu Queen), the empire of Majapahit was reaching its zenith under her son, Emperor Hayam Wuruk or Sri Rajasenagara Jaya Vishnuvardhana. He ascended the throne in 1350. The hero of the Golden era, Gajah Madah, the Mahapatih (prime minister) continued to be the Prime minister under the new emperor having grown into an elderly statesman. The Kingdom of Sunda, in the west of Java was the last remaining independent Kingdom in the Nusantara (archipelago of Indonesia and Malay) as Gajah Madah was near to fulfilling his Palappa oath. (Indonesia’s Lasting Legacy of a Hindu Queen)). The Kingdom of Sunda was another Indianized kingdom ruling the region of modern day Jakarta and the surrounding region in West Java. They were following Hinduism since 4th CE perhaps influenced by the Kalingas who were the early traders cum sailors to these parts.
In 1357, a marriage alliance was arranged between the princess of Sunda, daughter of Maharaja Lingga Buana, King of Sunda and young emperor Rajasenagara. The princess was Citra Rashmi or Dyah Pitaloka Citraresmi. She was born in 1340 and aged 17 at the time of the marriage alliance. Most of the royal of Sunda traveled to the Majapahit empire and camped in the northern part of Trowulan, the capital in a square called Bubat. The emperor, Rajasenagara, having fallen for the beautiful princess Citra Rashmi, sent his trustworthy statesman, Gajah Mada to Bubat Square to finalize the marriage alliance. Due to some misunderstanding/miscommunication the alliance talks failed. The King of Sunda, Maharaja Lingga Buana was thinking it is an alliance of two Kingdoms through marriage while Gajah Mada was of the impression that Kingdom of Sunda is becoming a vassal state of the Mighty Majapahit empire through the alliance. A fight erupted between the Majapahit empire and the Maharaja Lingga Buana’s soldiers where the Maharaja and his soldiers fought bravely but fell subsequently. The Maharaja was one of them to perish. The young princess, heartbroken and following a code of honor of Kshatriyas committed suicide along with others in the royal family and her maids.
Gajah Mada, took the blame for the bloodshed in what is today called as the Incident of Bubat retired at a place called Madhakaripura in modern day Probolinggo in East Java. Thus ended the glorious saga of Gajah Mada who died in 1364.
The emperor Rajasenagara was both heartbroken over the death of the princess and the bloodshed and did not marry for another few years. Subsequently he married his half-sister, Paduka sori in 1365. He continued to rule till 1389. He expanded the empire to include other islands and regions corresponding to modern Papua, West Papua and even the few islands of the Philippines. His illustrious era similar to Rajendra Chola was captured in the eulogy, Nagarakretagama written by a Buddhist monk, Prapanca in a palm leaf manuscript or lontar. This manuscript is the primary source which provides the insight to the periods of Queen Tribhuwanam and her son, Emperor Rajasenagara.
Majapahit Empire – under Emperor Hayam Wuruk – from 1350 to 1389
Influence of the Princess Citra Rashmi on Bali
Balinese practice Hinduism influenced by the Majapahit empire during its rule. A priest from Majapahit empire, Dang Hyang Nirarth traveled to Bali in 15th CE and founded the, Saivite priesthood in Bali. Legend has it that he traveled in a giant Pumpkin using his magical powers after the boat he traveled, developed leaks. So till day Brahmins of Bali do not eat Pumpkins. He landed in the rock of what is today the Tanah Lot temple and meditated and preached to the nearby villagers. He encountered resistance from the local chief but showcased his magical powers by moving the rock into the sea and having sea snakes to protect the rocks, which impressed the chief, who along with his followers started following the priest.
Thus the Balinese were influenced by the religious practices of Majapahit empire. But the Balinese did not take to the Bubat incident. They recognized the valor of the Sunda royals, especially the Princess Citra Rashmi’s suicide while criticizing which was captured in the Balinese manuscript, Kidung Sunda. They considered it as an Un-Kshatriya like act on the part of Majapahit empire.
The suicide of Citra Rashmi along with her maids and fellow royals served as the template for similar rituals centuries later in Bali.
Puputan – The ritualistic suicide
It is called Puputan is the ritualistic suicide behind Bali being a Hindu region. In 1906, Dutch attacked the Kingdom of Badung, Bali and reached the palace at Denpasar. The King emerged from the palace along with 400 followers including wives, children and priests all dressed in white symbolizing the death ceremony, in a silent procession. Once they came out, they started stabbing each other instead of surrendering to the Dutch. The Dutch soldiers were stunned as the deaths mounted and many threw jewels at the startled Dutch. The king himself was stabbed by the chief priest and ultimately all the 400 died. Another 2 Puputans happened in Tabanan and Klungkung. These brave Puputans (literally meaning the end) made a serious dent on the image of the Dutch colonists back home, who strived to protect the Balinese culture and religious beliefs to salvage their reputation through Dutch Ethical Policy. The preservation of the culture unlike South America is the reason Hinduism in Bali is the dominant religion and has emerged as a popular destination for travelers.
Gajah Mada’s legacy was invoked by Indonesian nationalists in early 20th CE for unifying Indonesia. He has a university named after him in Yogyakarta,Java. Likewise many streets including Jakarta are named after him. Even a badminton shuttlecock brand is named after him. Remember badminton is huge in Indonesia and is its National sport. Likewise the emperor Hayam Wuruk has a main road in Jakarta named after him.
Princess Citra Rashmi’s suicide today is enacted as dance stories in Indonesia. There is a book covering this tragic saga named after her in Indonesia.
As for me, it is a realization that the end of a travel is the start of the journey to understand the history of the region. I was in Probolinggo in 2015 traveling to Mount Bromo Volcano, where the 300,000 Hindu Tenggerese ethnic community live. These people are the descendents of the subjects of the Majapahit empire preserving their culture living in 30 villages around Mount Bromo. (written here https://randomvoyager.com/bromo/). But it was a history which I am learning recently and that I regret having not visited Trowulan or the territory where Gaja Mada lived though I was in the region.