The Hindu Mataram Kingdom, based in the Solo River region, and the Buddhist Sailendra Kingdom emerged in the plains of Central Java in the 8th century. Unlike the Srivijaya, which grew rich from maritime trade, these kingdoms were land-based and drew their power from rice surpluses and organization of the manpower needed to grow that much rice.

Mataram was founded by King Sanjaya in the beginning of the the 8th century. It rulers claimed a mandate from heaven to rule, followed a form a Hinduism centered on the god Shiva and built some of Indonesia’s oldest Hindu monuments on the Dieng Plateau. In the 9th century the Mataram Kingdom ceded control to the Buddhist Sailendra Kingdom.

According to to Lonely Planet: “At the end of the 10th century, the Mataram kingdom mysteriously declined. The centre of power shifted from Central to East Java and it was a period when Hinduism and Buddhism were syncretised and when Javanese culture began to come into its own. A series of kingdoms held sway until the 1294 rise of the Majapahit kingdom. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Mataram (Medang) Kingdom

The Medang or Mataram Kingdom was a Javanese Hindu–Buddhist kingdom that flourished between the 8th and 10th centuries. It was based in Central Java, and later in East Java. Established by King Sanjaya, the kingdom was ruled by the Sailendra dynasty. During most of its history, the kingdom seems to rely heavily on agricultural pursuit, especially extensive rice farming, and later also benefited from the maritime trade. According to foreign sources and archaeological findings, the kingdom seems to be well populated and quite prosperous. The kingdom had developed a complex society, they had a well developed culture and had achieved a degree of sophistication and refined civilization. [Source: Wikipedia +, Wikipedia has a long article about the Medang Kingdom ]

In the period between the late 8th century to the mid 9th century, the kingdom saw the blossoming of classical Javanese art and architecture, testified by the rapid growth of temple construction dotted the landscape of its heartland in Mataram (Kedu and Kewu Plain). The most notable temples constructed in Medang Mataram are Kalasan, Sewu, Borobudur and Prambanan temples. By 850, the kingdom had become the dominant power in Java and later of its history, was a serious rival to the hegemonic Srivijaya Empire. +

The earliest account of the Mataram Kingdom is in the Canggal inscription, dated 732, discovered in Canggal village, southwest of the town of Magelang. This inscription, written in Sanskrit using the Pallava script, tells of the erection of a lingga (a symbol of Shiva) on the hill in the Kunjarakunja area, located on a noble island called Yawadwipa (Java) which was blessed with abundance of rice and gold. This inscription tells that Yawadwipa was ruled by King Sanna, whose long reign was marked by wisdom and virtue. After Sanna died, the kingdom fell into disunity. Sanjaya, the son of Sannaha (Sanna's sister) ascended to the throne. He conquered the areas around his kingdom, and his wise reign blessed his land with peace and prosperity for all of his subjects. [Source:]

Mataram, the Sanjaya and the Sailendra

Mataram, arose as Srivijaya began to flourish in the early eighth century, in south-central Java on the Kedu Plain and southern slopes of Mount Merapi (Gunung Merapi). Mataram’s early formation is obscure and complicated by the rivalry of two interrelated lines of aspiring paramount rulers, one supporting Shivaist Hinduism (the Sanjaya) and the other supporting Mahayana Buddhism (the Sailendra, who had commercial and family connections with Srivijaya). At some point between 824 and 856, these lines were joined by marriage, probably as part of a process by which the leaders of local communities (“rakai”or “rakryan”) were incorporated into larger hierarchies with rulers, palaces, and court structures. In this process, the construction of elaborately carved stone structures (“candi”) connecting local powers with Buddhist or Hindu worldviews played an important role. The best known and most impressive of these are the Borobudur, the largest Buddhist edifice in the ancient world (constructed between about 770 and 820 and located northwest of present-day Yogyakarta) and the magnificent complex of Hindu structures at Prambanan, located east of Yogyakarta and completed a quarter-century later. These and hundreds of other monuments built over a comparatively short stretch of time in the eighth and ninth centuries suggest that Javanese and Indic (Buddhist and Hindu) ideas about power and spirituality. [Source: Library of Congress*]

Scholars have generally identified a highly productive irrigated rice agriculture as the principal source of Mataram’s power, seeing it as a kind of inland, inward-looking antithesis to an outward-oriented, maritime Srivijaya, but such a distinction is overdrawn. Central Java was linked from a very early date to a larger world of commerce and culture, through connections with ports not far away on Java’s north coast. Like Srivijaya, Chinese, Indian, and other students of Buddhist and Hindu thought visited Mataram, and Javanese ships traded and made war against competitors in the archipelago (including Srivijaya) and as far away as present-day Cambodia, Vietnam, and probably the Philippines. Mataram was certainly not isolated from the wider world, and in some respects its commercial life may have been more sophisticated than that of its Sumatran contemporary, as it made common use of gold and silver monetary units by the mid-ninth century, some 200 years earlier than Srivijaya.

Politically, the two hegemonies were probably more alike than different. The rulers of both saw themselves and their courts (“kedatuan”, “keratuan”, or “kraton”) as central to a land or realm (“bhumi”), which, in turn, formed the core of a larger, borderless, but concentric and hierarchically organized arrangement of authority. In this greater mandala, an Indic-influenced representation of a sort of idealized, “galactic” order, a ruler emerged from constellations of local powers and ruled by virtue of neither inheritance nor divine descent, but rather through a combination of charisma (“semangat”), strategic family relationships, calculated manipulation of order and disorder, and the invocation of spiritual ideas and supernatural forces. The exercise of power was never absolute, and would-be rulers and (if they were to command loyalty) their supporters had to take seriously both the distribution of benefits (rather than merely the application of force or fear) and the provision of an “exemplary center” enhancing cultural and intellectual life. In Mataram, overlords and their courts do not, for example, appear to have controlled either irrigation systems or the system of weekly markets, which remained the purview of those who dominated local regions (“watak”) and their populations. This sort of political arrangement was at once fragile and remarkably supple, depending on the ruler and a host of surrounding circumstances. *

Very little is known about social realities in Srivijaya and Mataram, and most of what is written is based on conjecture. With the exception of the religious structures on Java, these societies were constructed of perishable materials that have not survived the centuries of destructive climate and insects. There are no remains of either palaces or ordinary houses, for example, and we must rely on rare finds of jewelry and other fine metalworking (such as the famous Wonosobo hoard, found near Prambanan in 1991), and on the stone reliefs on the Borobudur and a handful of other structures, to attempt to guess what these societies may have been like. (The vast majority of these remains are Javanese.) A striking characteristic of both Srivijaya and Mataram in this period is that neither—and none of their smaller rivals—appear to have developed settlements recognizable as urban from either Western or Asian traditions. On the whole, despite evidence of socioeconomic well- being and cultural sophistication, institutionally Srivijaya and Mataram remained essentially webs of clanship and patronage, chieftainships carried to their highest and most expansive level. *

Dual Dynasties Theory Versus Single Dynasty Theory

According to the Canggal inscription, Sanjaya ruled in the Mataram region in the vicinity of modern Yogyakarta and Prambanan. However, around the mid 8th century, the Sailendra dynasty emerged in Central Java and challenged Sanjaya domination in the region. Bosch in his book "Srivijaya, de Sailendravamsa en de Sanjayavamsa" (1952) suggested that the Buddhist Sailendra and the Shivaist Sanjaya dynasty (the Mataram kingdom) ruled Central Java together The Canggal inscription (A.D. 732) states that Sanjaya was an ardent follower of Shaivism. From its founding in the early 8th century until 928, the kingdom was ruled by the Sanjaya dynasty. [Source:]

The prevailing historical interpretation holds that the Sailendra dynasty co-existed next to the Sanjaya dynasty and the Mataram kingdom in Central Java, and much of the period was characterized by peaceful cooperation. The Sailendra, with their strong connections to Srivijaya, managed to gain control of Central Java and become overlords of the Rakai (local Javanese lords), including the Sanjayas, thus making the Sanjaya kings of Mataram their vassals. Little is known about the kingdom due to the dominance of the Sailendra. Around the middle of the 9th century, relations between the Sanjaya and the Sailendra deteriorated. In 852, the Sanjaya ruler, Pikatan, defeated Balaputra, the offspring of the Sailendra monarch Samaratunga and the princess Tara. This ended the Sailendra presence in Java; Balaputra retreated to the Srivijayan capital in Sumatra, where he became the paramount ruler. The Balaputra defeat and the victory of Pikatan was recorded in Shivagrha inscription dated 856, edicted by Rakai Kayuwangi, Pikatan's successor.

The dual Sailendra—Mataram dynasties theory proposed by Bosch and De Casparis has been opposed by some Indonesian historians. An alternate theory, proposed by Poerbatjaraka, suggests there was only one kingdom and one dynasty, the kingdom called Medang, with the capital in the Mataram area (thus the name of the kingdom: "Medang i Bhumi Mataram"), and the ruling dynasty being the Sailendra. This theory is supported with Boechari interpretation on Sojomerto inscription and Poerbatjaraka study on Carita Parahyangan manuscript, Poerbatjaraka holds that Sanjaya and all of his offspring belongs to the Sailendra family, which initially was Shivaist Hindu. However, according to Raja Sankhara inscription (now missing); Sanjaya's son, Panangkaran, converted to Maha-ya-na Buddhism. And because of that conversion, the later series of Sailendra kings who ruled Medang become Maha-ya-na Buddhists also and gave Buddhism royal patronage in Java until the end of Samaratungga's reign. The Shivaist Hindus regained royal patronage with the reign of Pikatan, which lasted until the end of the Medang Kingdom. During the reign of Kings Pikatan and Balitung, the royal Hindu Trimurti temple of Prambanan was built and expanded in the vicinity of Yogyakarta.

Mataram (Medang) Kingdom Rule

Most of the time, the court of the Medang Kingdom was located in Mataram, somewhere on the Prambanan Plain near modern Yogyakarta and Prambanan. However, during the reign of Rakai Pikatan, the court was moved to Mamrati. Later, in the reign of Balitung, the court moved again, this time to Poh Pitu. Unlike Mataram, historians have been unable to pinpoint the exact locations of Mamrati and Poh Pitu, although most historians agree that both were located in the Kedu Plain, somewhere around the modern Magelang or Temanggung regencies. Later, during the reign of Wawa, the court was moved back to the Mataram area. [Source: ]

The common people of Medang mostly made a living in agriculture, especially as rice farmers, however, some may have pursued other careers, such as hunter, trader, artisan, weaponsmith, sailor, soldier, dancer, musician, food or drink vendor, etc. Rich portrayals of daily life in 9th century Java can be seen in many temple bas-reliefs. Rice cultivation had become the base for the kingdom's economy where the villages throughout the realm relied on their annual rice yield to pay taxes to the court. Exploiting the fertile volcanic soil of Central Java and the intensive wet rice cultivation (sawah) enabled the population to grow significantly, which contributed to the availability of labor and workforce for the state's public projects. Certain villages and lands were given the status as sima (tax free) lands awarded through royal edict written in inscriptions. The rice yields from sima lands usually were allocated for the maintenance of certain religious buildings.

The bas-reliefs from temples of this period, especially from Borobudur and Prambanan describe occupations and careers other than agricultural pursuit; such as soldiers, government officials, court servants, massage therapists, travelling musicians and dancing troupe, food and drink sellers, logistics courier, sailors, merchants, even thugs and robbers are depicted in everyday life of 9th century Java. These occupations requires economy system that employs currency. The Wonoboyo hoard, golden artifacts discovered in 1990, revealed gold coins in shape similar to corn seeds, which suggests that 9th century Javan economy is partly monetized. On the surface of the gold coins engraved with a script "ta", a short form of "tail" or "tahil" a unit of currency in ancient Java.

The King was regarded as the paramount ruler or chakravartin, where the highest power and authority lies. The king, the royal family and the kingdom's officials had the authority to launch public projects, such as irrigation works or temple construction. The kingdom left behind several temples and monuments. The most notable ones are Prambanan, Sewu, and the Plaosan temple compound. The palace where the King resided was mentioned as kadatwan or keraton, the court was the center of kingdom's administration. Throughout its history, the center of Medang kingdom was mostly situated in and around Prambanan Plain, named as Mataram, however during the reign of other kings, the capital may shifted to other places. Several other courts and capital cities were mentioned, such as Mamrati (Amrati) and Poh Pitu, location unknown but probably somewhere in Kedu Plain. In later Eastern Java period, other centers were mentioned; such as Tamwlang and Watugaluh (near Jombang), also Wwatan (near Madiun).

Mataram (Medang) Culture

Since the beginning of its formation, the Medang Mataram kings seemed to favour Shivaist Hinduism, such as the construction of Gunung Wukir Hindu temple as mentioned in Canggal inscription by king Sanjaya. However during the reign of Panangkaran and the rise of Sailendras influence, Mahayana Buddhism began to blossomed and gain court favour. The Kalasan, Sari, Mendut, Pawon and the magnificent Borobudur and Sewu temples testify the Buddhist renaissance in Central Java. The court patronage on Buddhism spanned from the reign of Panangkaran to Samaratungga. During the reign of Pikatan, Shivaist Hinduism began to regain court's favour, signified by the construction of grand Shivagrha (Prambanan). [Source: ]

The monumental Hindu temple of Prambanan in the vicinity of Yogyakarta — initially built during the reign of King Pikatan (838—850), and expanded continuously through the reign of Lokapala (850—890) to Balitung (899–911) — is a fine example of ancient Medang Mataram art and architecture. (See Below). Other Hindu temples dated from Medang Mataram Kingdom era are: Sambisari, Gebang, Barong, Ijo, and Morangan. Although the Shivaist regain the favour, Buddhist remain under royal patronage. The Sewu temple dedicated for Manjusri according to Kelurak inscription was probably initially built by Panangkaran, but later expanded and completed during Rakai Pikatan's rule, whom married to a Buddhist princess Pramodhawardhani, daughter of Samaratungga. Most of their subjects retained their old religion; Shivaist and Buddhist seems to co-exist in harmony. The buddhist temple of Plaosan, Banyunibo and Sajiwan were built during the reign of King Pikatan and Queen Pramodhawardhani, probably in the spirit of religious reconciliation after the battle of succession between Pikatan-Pramodhawardhani against Balaputra.

“From the 9th to mid 10th centuries, the Medang Kingdom witnessed the blossoming of art, culture and literature, mainly through the translation of Hindu-Buddhist sacred texts and the transmission and adaptation of Hindu-Buddhist ideas. The bas-relief narration of the Hindu epic Ramayana was carved on the wall of Prambanan Temple. During this period, the Kakawin Ramayana, an old Javanese rendering was written. This Kakawin Ramayana, also called the Yogesvara Ramayana, is attributed to the scribe Yogesvara circa the 9th century CE, who was employed in the court of the Medang in Central Java. It has 2774 stanzas in the manipravala style, a mixture of Sanskrit and archaic Javanese prose. The most influential version of the Ramayana is the Ravanavadham of Bhatti, popularly known as Bhattikavya. The Javanese Ramayana differs markedly from the original Hindu.

The name of the Medang Kingdom was written in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, dated 822 saka (900 CE), discovered in Manila, Philippines. The discovery of the inscriptions, written in the Kawi script in a variety of Old Malay containing numerous loanwords from Sanskrit and a few non-Malay vocabulary elements whose origin is ambiguous between Old Javanese and Old Tagalog, suggests that the people or officials of the Medang Kingdom had embarked on inter-insular trade and foreign relations in regions as far away as the Philippines, and that connections between ancient kingdoms in Indonesia and the Philippines existed.

Sailendra Kingdom

The Buddhist Sailendras ruled central Java from the 8th century to 13th century. It gained control over Srivijaya in the 9th century. Borobudur and Prambanan were built during their rule in the middle of the 9th century, which not only shows the strength of Buddhism but also reveals that Hinduism was very much alive. Shortly after they lost control of Java the Sailendras reappeared on the throne of Srivjaya and remained in power there until the 13th century.

Sailendra (meaning "Lord of the Mountain" in Sanskrit) emerged in Central Java at the end of the eighth century. The name may have been associated with the volcanic mountains of Central Java. The name of the dynasty (Sailendra-vamsa) is first attested in the Candi Kalasan Inscription dated 778. The Sailendra practiced intensive rice cultivation and had an administrative hierarchy which controlled the allocation of water for irrigation. The Sailendra dynasty held the concept of the "Dewa-Raja" (God-King), the belief that the King had divine power as a living god among his subjects. Though their economy was based on rice cultivation, they had access to ports on the northern coast of Java and maintained commercial and marital ties with the Srivijaya kingdom in southern Sumatra. The Sailendra participated in the Spice Route trade between China and India, but their level of participation never rivaled that of Srivijaya.[Source: New World Encyclopedia ~]

According to the traditional account, the Sailendra kingdom came to an abrupt end when a prince from the rival Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty, named Rakai Pikatan, displaced them in 832. Rakai Pikatan, who was the crown prince of the Sanjaya Dynasty, married Pramodhawardhani, a daughter of Samaratunga, king of Sailendra. The Sailendras were firm followers of Mahayana Buddhism and were credited for building several temples in Java. ~

Origins of the Sailendra Kingdom

Most of the historical information about the Sailendras comes from stone inscriptions found at Buddhist temple sites, from oral tradition, and from mentions in the records of other states. The Sailendras were one of many dynastic lineages in Central Java, but they appear to have become dominant between 760 and 860 C.E. The earliest Sailendra inscription dates from 778 C.E. (the Candi Kalasan Inscription). It commemorates the foundation of the temple to the Buddhist goddess Tara in 778 C.E. during the reign of King Panagkaran, who is described as “an ornament of the Sailendra dynasty.” The inscription also lists a number of officials and relatives of the king, who helped to administer specific districts and villages. [Source: New World Encyclopedia ~]

Although the Sailendras clearly manifested themselves most strongly on the island of Java, some historians suggested that the Sailendras had their homeland outside Java. Apart from Java itself, a homeland in the Srivijaya kingdom in Sumatra (c.670-c.1270 C.E.), India, Sri Lanka, and the Funan kingdom (c.100-c.600 C.E. ) in Cambodia, have been suggested. ~

The French scholar George Coedès once proposed that the Sailendras may have been related to the rulers of the ancient Cambodian kingdom of Funan, because the title "Lord of Mountain" used by the Sailendras may have resembled titles used by the Funanese rulers. In support of his hypothesis, Coedès pointed out that the name "Funan" as used by the Chinese is related to the Cambodian term "phnom," which means "mountain." Other specialists on Cambodian history have discounted Coedès' hypothesis.They argue that that no historical evidence exists to show that the Funanese ever ascribed the title "mountain king" to their rulers. ~

Sailendra Kingdom Rule

Sailendra power centered on the Kedu Plain in south-central Java, an area where paddy field, or sawah, cultivation flourished and whose location made it secure from sea-borne raids that were frequent on the north coast of the island. The ecology of the Kedu Plain required cooperation in the allocation of water among rice cultivators. Local ruling lineages emerged to control and coordinate water in each stream or river basin. According to Clifford Geertz, the American cultural anthropologist, paddy culture requires extensive work on drainage, canals, and terracing. A lineage which could mobilize labor from more than one basin could dominate other local lineages. The Sailendra mobilized labor across the boundaries of each basin by the use of symbolic power associated with the use of Hindu and Buddhist rituals including Sanskrit inscriptions, an Indianized court and the construction of a kraton, temples, and monuments. The kings of the Sailendra-dynasty held, like other Javanese kings, the concept of the "Dewa-Raja" (God-King), the belief that the King had divine power as a living god among his subjects. The Sailendra were the first to use the title Sri Maharaja, derived from a Sanskrit compound meaning “Great King.” [Source: New World Encyclopedia ~]

The Sailendras appear to have had access to ports on the northern coast of Java, and after the formation of Srivijaya in southern Sumatra, the Sailendra maintained close relations, including marriage alliances with Srivijaya. During the late ninth century, when Srivijaya monarchs donated sleeping quarters for monks at the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Nalanda in northern India, they emphasized their Sailendra lineage, indicating that the Sailendras had more prestige among the Buddhist community. ~

The mutual alliance between the two kingdoms ensured that Srivijaya had no need to fear the emergence of a Javanese rival and that the Sailendra had access to the international market. The Sailendra participated in the Spice Route trade between China and India, but their level of participation never rivaled that of Srivijaya. Intensive rice cultivation was the foundation of the Sailendra kingdom. ~

The Sailendra covered the Kedu Plain with Vajrayana Buddhist shrines and temples, celebrating and affirming their power. The Borobudur temple complex, built between 778 and 824 C.E. by King Samaratunga, who married the Srivijayan princess Dewi Tara, was the greatest accomplishment of the Sailendra. Borobudur was the first massive Buddhist monument in Southeast Asia and influenced the construction of later monuments. Other Buddhist sites associated with the Sailendras are the temple structures of Candi Mendut, Candi Kalsan, and Candi Sewu. ~

Collapse of the Sailendra Kingdom

According to the traditional account, the Sailendra kingdom came to an abrupt end when a prince from the rival Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty, named Rakai Pikatan, displaced them in 832. Rakai Pikatan, who was the crown prince of the Sanjaya Dynasty, married Pramodhawardhani, a daughter of Samaratunga, king of Sailendra. [Source: New World Encyclopedia ~]

J.G. de Casparis, author of the most comprehensive work on the Sailendra, proposed that, “in 856 Balaputra was defeated by Pikatan, where upon Balaputra retreated to Srivijaya, the country of his mother, to become the first Sailandra ruler of Srivijaya. Thus in the late ninth century Srivijaya was ruled by a Buddhist Sailendra ruler, while Java was ruled by Pikatan and his successors who patronized Siva" (cf. De Casparis, 1956; Hall, 1985:111). ~

Some historians describe the Sailendra collapse as a retreat to Sumatra, implying that the dynasty also ruled Srivijaya. It is possible that Balaputra was a Srivijayan prince with a maternal link to the Sailendra and that his attack on Java was a Srivijayan attempt to annex the former Sailendra domain. The hostile relations between Srivijaya and Mataram tend to confirm the thesis. The Sanjaya Dynasty went on to establish the Javanese kingdom of Mataram. The relative chronology of the Sailendra and the Sanjaya dynasty is not well understood. A similar problem exists in defining the respective territories ruled by the Sailendra and Sanjaya. ~

Sailendra Kingdom and Angkor

King Jayavarman II (802-850) is credited with founding the Khmer Civilization that produced Angkor Wat. According to an 11th century inscription found in northwest Cambodia and a report from an Arab merchant, Jayavarman II spent some time in the court of the Indonesian Sailendras kingdom and may have originally arrived in Indonesia as a prisoner. The Sailendras kingdom defeated the Khmers by launching a surprise attack from Tonle Sap and beheaded the Khmer ruler.

Jayavarman II returned to Cambodia around 795 and established a capital at Indrapura and then moved it three times. Possibly to put distance between himself and the seaborne Javanese, Jayavarman II settled north of the Tonle Sap. In 802, the capital was moved to Mount Mahendrapura (modern Phnom Kulen), 25 miles northeast of Angkor Thom, and declared himself the universal ruler. This marks the creation of the Khmer state and its independence from Indonesia.

Mataram Kingdom Moves to East Java

During the first decades of the tenth century, Java’s center of political gravity shifted decisively from the island’s south-central portion to the lower valley and delta regions of eastern Java’s Brantas River. The move reflected the Sanjaya line’s long-term interest in eastward expansion, a reaction to increasingly frequent volcanic activity in central Java between the 880s and 920s, and economic rivalry with Srivijaya. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Around the year 929, the centre of the Mataram kingdom was shifted from Central Java to East Java by Mpu Sindok, who established the Isyana Dynasty. The exact cause of the move is still uncertain; however, a severe eruption of Mount Merapi volcano or a power struggle probably caused the move. Historians suggest that, some time during the reign of King Wawa of Mataram (924—929), Merapi volcano erupted and devastated the kingdom's capital in Mataram. The historic massive volcano eruption is popularly known as Pralaya Mataram (the death of Mataram). The evidence for this eruption can be seen in several temples that were virtually buried under Merapi's lahar and volcanic debris, such as the Sambisari, Morangan, Kedulan, and Pustakasala temples. Another theory suggests that the shift of capital city eastward was to avoid a Srivijaya invasion, or was motivated by economic reasons. The Brantas river valley was considered to be a strategic location for the control of maritime trade routes to the eastern parts of archipelago, being especially vital for control of the Maluku spice trade.[Source: ]

Eastern Java was a rich rice-growing region and was also closer to the source of Malukan spices, which had become trade items of growing importance. By the early eleventh century, Srivijaya had been weakened by decades of warfare with Java and a devastating defeat in 1025 at the hands of the Cola, a Tamil (south Indian) maritime power. As Srivijaya’s hegemony ebbed, a tide of Javanese paramountcy rose on the strength of a series of eastern Java kingdoms beginning with that of Airlangga (r. 1010–42), with its “kraton”at Kahuripan, not far from present-day Surabaya, Jawa Timur Province. A number of smaller realms followed, the best-known of which are Kediri (mid-eleventh to early thirteenth centuries) and Singhasari (thirteenth century), with their centers on the upper reaches of the Brantas River, on the west and east of the slopes of Mount Kawi (Gunung Kawi), respectively. *

Mataram Kingdom Collapses

In the late 10th century, the rivalry between the Sumatran Srivijaya and Javanese Medang became more hostile. The animosity was probably caused by the Srivijayan effort to reclaim Sailendra lands in Java, as Balaputra and his offspring — a new dynasty of Srivijaya maharajas — belonged to the Sailendra dynasty, or by Medang aspirations to challenge Srivijaya dominance as the regional power. [Source: ]

In 990, Dharmawangsa launched a naval invasion of Srivijaya and unsuccessfully attempted to capture Palembang. Dharmawangsa's invasion caused the Maharaja of Srivijaya, Chulamaniwarmadewa to request protection from China. In 1006, Srivijaya managed to repelled the Medang invaders. In retaliation, Srivijaya forces assisted Haji (king) Wurawari of Lwaram to revolt, and attacked and destroyed the Medang Palace, killing Dharmawangsa and most of the royal family. With the death of Dharmawangsa and the fall of the capital, under military pressure from Srivijaya, the kingdom finally collapsed. There was further unrest and violence several years after the kingdom's demise. Airlangga, a son of Udayana of Bali, also a nephew of Dharmawangsa, managed to escape capture and went into exile. He later reunited the remnants of the Medang Kingdom and re-established the kingdom (including Bali) under the name of Kingdom of Kahuripan. In 1045, Airlangga abdicated his throne to resume the life of an ascetic. He divided the kingdom between his two sons, Janggala and Panjalu (Kediri) and from this point on, the kingdom was known as Kediri.

Singhasari: Between the Mataram and Majapahit Kingdoms

After the Mataram kingdom collapsed In Java, continued population growth, political and military rivalries, and economic expansion produced important changes in Javanese society. Taken together, these changes laid the groundwork for what has often been identified as Java’s—and Indonesia’s— “golden age” in the fourteenth century. [Source: Library of Congress *] In Kediri, for example, there developed a multilayered bureaucracy and a professional army. The ruler extended control over transportation and irrigation and cultivated the arts in order to enhance his own reputation and that of the court as a brilliant and unifying cultural hub. The Old Javanese literary tradition of the “kakawin”(long narrative poem) rapidly developed, moving away from the Sanskrit models of the previous era and producing many key works in the classical canon. Kediri’s military and economic influence spread to parts of Kalimantan and Sulawesi. *

In Singhasari, which defeated Kediri in 1222, there arose an aggressive system of state control, moving in new ways to incorporate local lords’ rights and lands under royal control and fostering the growth of mystical Hindu- Buddhist state cults devoted to the powers of the ruler, who came to be accorded divine status.

The greatest and most controversial of Singhasari king was Kertanagara (r. 1268–92), the first Javanese ruler to be accorded the title of “dewaprabu”(literally, god-king). Largely by force or threat, Kertanagara brought most of eastern Java under his control and then carried his military campaigns overseas, notably to Srivijaya’s successor, Melayu (then also known as Jambi), with a huge naval expedition in 1275, to Bali in 1282, and to areas in western Java, Madura, and the Malay Peninsula. These imperial ambitions proved difficult and expensive, however: the realm was perennially troubled by dissent at court and rebellion both at home and in the subjugated territories. [Source: Library of Congress *]

After defeating Srivijaya in Sumatra in 1290, Singhasari became the most powerful kingdom in the area. Kertanagara provoked the new Mongol rulers of Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) China to attempt to check his expansion, which they considered a threat to the region. Kublai Khan challenged Singhasari by sending emissaries demanding tribute. Kertanagara, the-then ruler of the Singhasari kingdom, refused to pay tribute and so the Khan sent a punitive expedition which arrived off the coast of Java in 1293. Before the Mongol fleet of allegedly 1,000 ships and 100,000 men could land on Java, Kertanagara had been assassinated by a vengeful descendent of the Kediri kings.


Borobudur (42 kilometers from Yogyakarta) is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. Built in the A.D. 8th century, it ranks with Pagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia as one of the great archeological sites of Asia, if not the in world. The eminent Dutch archaeologist A.J. Bernet Kempers called it "a Buddhist mystery in stone. An actual meeting of Mankind and the Holy. A shining tower of the law." It’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word "Vihara Buddha Uhr" which means "Buddhist monastery on the hill." Borobudur is located in Muntilan, Magelang, in the Kedu Valley, in the southern part of Central Java. It is about 100 kilometers from Semarang.

Borobudur is a square 123 meters (403 feet) on each side and 32 meters (105 feet) high.Constructed of unmortared grey andosite and volcanic basalt stone and surrounded by lush green fields of the Kedu Plain and tourist infrastructure, it is about the size of a stadium, and took about 80 years to build. Four large volcanos, including the often-smoking Mount Merapi, and numerous hills are visible in the distance. The temple’s design in Gupta architecture reflects India's influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. The monument is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.

Borobudur is a step pyramid, built around a natural hill, comprised of a broad platforms topped by five walled rectangular terraces, and they in turn are topped by three round terraces. Each terraces is outlined with ornaments and statues and the walls are decorated with bas reliefs. More than two million blocks of volcanic stone were carved during its construction. Pilgrims have traditionally walked around the monument in a clockwise manner moving up each of the five levels, and in process covering five kilometers.

Unlike most temples, Borobudur did not have actual spaces for worship. Instead it has an extensive system of corridors and stairways, which are thought to have been a place for Buddhist ceremonies. Borobodur also has six square courtyards, three circular ones, and a main courtyard within a stupa at the temple’s peak. The entire structure is formed in the shape of a giant twirling staircase, a style of architecture from prehistoric Indonesia.

Borobudur is a three-dimensional model of the Mahayana Buddhist universe. The climb to the top of the temple is intended to illustrate the path an individual must take to reach enlightenment. At the main entrance on the east side, visitors can not even see the top. Scholars believed this was intensional. At the top was the ideal of Buddhist perfection, the World of Formlessness. The architecture and stonework of this temple has no equal. And it was built without using any kind of cement or mortar!

Borobudur resembles a giant stupa, but seen from above it forms a mandala. The great stupa at the top of the temple sits 40 meters above the ground. This main dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa. Five closed square galleries, three open circular inner terraces, and a concentric scheme express the universe geometrically. At the center of the top of the temple is a beautifully shaped stupa which is surrounded by three circles of smaller stupas that have the same shape. There are 72 of these, each with a Buddha statue inside. Touching them is supposed to bring good luck. Unfortunately many had their heads lopped off by 19th century explorers looking for souvenirs. The 72 small latticed stupas look like perforated stone bells. The temple is decorated with stone carvings in bas-relief representing images from the life of Buddha— the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

Borobudur is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The ten levels of the temple symbolize the three divisions of the religion’s cosmic system. As visitors begin their journey at the base of the temple, they make their way to the top of the monument through the three levels of Budhist cosmology, Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). As visitors walk to the top the monument guides the pilgrims past 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades.

Book: “Borobudur: Tales of the Buddhas” by John Miksic

Prambanan Temple

Prambanan Temple (15 kilometers east of Yogyakarta) is the largest and most beautiful Hindu temple in Indonesia.. Named after the village where it is located, it was built in the 9th century 50 years after Borubudur and is known locally as the Temple of the Slender Virgin (Roro Jonggrang).Prambanan contains many lavish decorations and sexually-suggestive sculptures, scenes from the Ramayan and motifs that mix Hindu and Buddhist symbols. It has eight shrines which lie among green fields and villages.

The three main temples are dedicated to Hindu gods Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The biggest temple is dedicated to Shiva —the destroyer, and the two smaller ones which flank it on the east and west are dedicated to Brahma — the creator and Vishnu — the sustainer. The tallest temple of Prambanan—the main Shiva temple—is a staggering 47 meters (130 feet) high. Its peak is visible from far away and rises high above the ruins of the other temples.The temple across from the Shiva temple contains a fine image of a Nadi bull.

The main temple of Shiva houses the magnificent statue of a four-armed Shiva, standing on Buddhist-style lotus blossoms. In the northern cell is a fine image of Durga, Shiva’s consort. Some believe the Durga image is actually that of the Slender Virgin, who according to legend was turned to stone by a giant she refused to marry. The outsides are adorned with bas-reliefs depicting the Ramayana story.

Prambadan is surrounded by the ruins of 240 small “guard “ temples. Altogether there are 400 temples in the Prambadan area. Most are within five kilometers of Prambanan village and are generally not visited except by archeology nuts. But that is not to say they are not without merit. A good way to explore them is to rent a bicycle. The proximity of Prambanan and Buddhist Borobudur temple tells us that on Java, Buddhism and Hinduism lived peacefully next to one another.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Indonesia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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