Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Golden Era of Indonesian Kingdoms

Indonesia is a vast archipelago that spans to about 17,500 islands, where 6,000 of them are currently inhabited. As a great nation, it possesses also a great deal of history which in turn translated into various cultures that developed over centuries. As a hotbed of migrations from various origins, Indonesia creates diversity in ethnicities, cultures and languages. Such diversity that led to the influences in varying degrees through trades and contacts with Middle East, South and East Asia, and later Dutch and Portuguese.

To take us even further behind, archeologists have discovered that Indonesia archipelago has already inhabited since 500,000 to 2 million years ago by Homo Erectus known as the Java Man and there was a species of man that grew to only about 3 feet tall in the island of Flores, which was called the Homo Florensiensis or Flores Man.

So in short, Indonesia history has actually been written way before anyone ever really wrote about it. For instance, Indonesia has not always been the largest Moslem country in the world. Historical evidences shows that, the first widely spread religion in Indonesia were actually Hinduism and Buddhism.

One of the earliest rulers at the kingdom of Tarumanagara (669 BC to 358 BC) was Purnawarman, where he associated himself with the Hindu Deity known as Vishnu. This was one of the evidences that the first mainstream religion in Indonesia was actually Hinduism.

Indonesia also has its royal drama, where by its land area of 1,919,440 km2, this archipelago nation had several kingdoms that ruled for a specific era. But despite all the kingdoms that were present at the beginning, there were actually 3 pivotal sovereignties that came about and shaped the nation's history long before the Dutch era, which was started from 15th century.

The Kingdom of Medang or Mataram

The center of the Mataram Kingdom was Yogyakarta, Surakarta, and Central Java. The land was very fertile so that it was able to support the construction of Borobudur and Prambanan temples. The king adopted the Hindu belief, but in fact, there was already an indigenous people that inhabited before the kingdom was established. Thereby, this assimilation creates a Hindu Javanese culture.

Some believe that the kingdom was then moved from Central Java to East Java because of a devastating eruption of Mount Merapi. But scientists believe that it was because of internal disputes among the rulers. However, even though the kingdom was moved, the rulers of the new region came from the descendants of the Mataram rulers.

In the dusk of their existence, the Mataram regime was involved in a rivalry with the Sumatran, Srivijaya. This drove the Srivijaya king requested a protection from the China, and then later on helped Wurawari of Lwarman to revolt and killed the Mataram king, Dharmawangsa. Along with this, the Mataram kingdom finally fell.

It was not until 1045, when Airlangga, who was the son of Udayana from Bali and a relative of Dharmawangsa united the remnants of the Mataram kingdom. This was later known as the kingdom of Kahuripan.

The Kingdom of Majapahit

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The Majapahit kingdom existed before the turn of the 13th century all the way to 15th century. But its golden era would be under the rule of Hayam Wuruk (1350 to 1389) which was witness to the 98 tributaries that stretched from Sumatra to New Guinea. It was the last major empire in Indonesia and it was not without controversy.

The taking of the Sunda princess as Hayam Wuruk's consort became the backdrop of the start of Majapahit's conquests. Where the Prime Minister Gajah Mada influenced the king to demand the Sundanese kingdom into submission, which later on led to other invasions.

After Hayam Wuruk's death, the kingdom faced a steady decline the successions and it drove the kingdom into a civil war. Hayam Wuruk was succeeded by Prince Kusumawardhani who married Prince Wikramawardhana who opened the trade with Moslem Chinese admiral, Zheng He, who had trade relations with Moslem communities in Semarang, Demak, Tuban and Ampel. This was the time when Islam began to gain a foothold on the Java's northern coast.

The Kingdom of Srivijaya

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One of the most powerful and influential kingdoms in Indonesia was the Srivijaya of Sumatra. Unfortunately it can also be considered as the forgotten empire since very little was known about it, until 1920. That was when a French scholar, George Coedes, published his findings.

In fact, Srivijaya was the empire that balanced the Majapahit empire in the west, during the turn of the 10th century. It is a shame that a kingdom that had such a vast influence in Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, Western Java, Moluccas, Borneo, and Philippines (the Visayas, was actually named after Vijaya) became a mere footnote in Indonesian history.

As kingdoms go, the decline of Srivijaya began in the 13th century when Majapahit began to rule major provinces in Sumatra.

Later on, Srivijaya became a tributary state of the Khmer empire and later on the Sukothai empire. The Sultanate of Malacca succeeded Srivijaya as the Malay political entity of the archipelago.

Source: Venture Magazine