Monday, 8 December 2014

Ceremonial Structures during the Majapahit Era

‘The emphasis at Hayam Wuruk’s court was on the ritualistic’.[i]

    Kenneth R. Hall, ‘Ritual Networks and Royal Power in Majapahit Java’, Archipel 52 (1996):108.

Balinese historians are often surprised by conclusions reached or suppositions posed by non-Balinese scholars regarding the possible usage of Majapahit era candi[ii] and patilasan.

Even the great Theodoor Paul Galestin (1907-1980), in his seminal 1936 Leiden doctoral thesis, Houtbouw op Oost-Javaansche tempel-reliefs [Timber Buildings in East Javanese Temple Reliefs], makes a false assumption regarding the probable usage of buildings depicted on Majapahit-era bas reliefs. He assumes that curtains on the timber pavilion suggested that it was for sleeping. In fact, ceremonial sakenam (six-post) pavilions are often used in Bali for the ceremony of layon or laying out of a corpse, or for offerings. At these times, curtains (klangsih) are added to keep the chickens off the offerings rather than for any considerations of privacy. Balinese children who sleep in these open pavilions never use curtains. It is possible to speculate that the same may have been the case during the Majapahit era.

Victor M. Fic, in his controversial book, From Majapahit to Candi Sukuh (Fic 2003), draws on his vast knowledge of Tantric ritual to bring to life many of the agama tirta rituals of Candi Sukuh. He places the ruler’s brahmans (purohita) at the centre of these ceremonies just as they still are in Bali today, mentioning ritualistic and objects such as the danda staff, the royal lingga and elaborating on their importance in the rituals.

Patirtan, meru, prasada and gedong — sacred temple buildings popular during the Majapahit era — are still being built in Bali today and the present author’s research indicates that these rituals have changed little over the past half millennium (Made Wijaya 2014:131, 145-6). This comprises the period since the final and perhaps most influential wave of Majapahit influence was laid over Bali’s extant Brahmanic rituals, namely, rituals as performed by priests of the Brahmana caste. Balinese high priests I have interviewed generally agree that the most complex of Balinese rituals — the Eka Dasa Rudra and Manah Naga Banda ceremonies — are Majapahit imports.[iii] Certainly such rituals as the mecaru (netherworld appeasement rituals) and nyekar rituals using puspa (spirit effigies) still in use in Bali today (Made Wijaya 2014:143, 261-2, 301), can be traced directly back to Majapahit.[iv]

Both Soekmono and Nigel Bullough (Hadi Sidomulyo)’s researches on the late Majapahit era Mt Penanggungan temples, have thrown some light on some of the ceremonies practised in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century (Soekmono 1973:81-6; 1996:52-3; Sidomulyo 2013). Indeed, both Bullough/Sidomulyo and Damais consider that the terraced sanctuaries on the slopes of Mt Penanggungan are of the padarman type and principally devoted to ancestor worship.  Sections of the Tantu Panggĕlaran[v] talk of ancestor worship related ceremonies. Terracotta finds in Trowulan even suggest that ancestor worship complexes (mrajan) may have been an important feature of domestic homes in the late Majapahit era (1293-1510s) (Damais 2012:76).

After over forty years of attending temple ceremonies in Bali, it is evident to the present author that sometimes shrines are added. For example, the Pelinggih Basukian commemorates the successful completion of the 1979 Eka Dasa Rudra centennial ceremonies at Besakih. Even the spatial and structural (shrine design) overhauls currently in fashion as part of the ‘andesite revolution’ and accompanying homogenization fit into this pattern for the ceremonies stay the same, often passed down from brahman house to palace, to village through the ages. In his Island of Bali (1937), Covarrubias observed that ‘What is the rule in one village is the exception in the next’, but the ‘gist’ of the ceremonies, the Panca Yadnya template, stays the same.

This is little discussed — or indeed understood — by non-Balinese scholars of Hindu-Javanese temples, thus the aforementioned assumptions.

Figure 1. Ida Cokorda Pemecutan XI (r. 1989-present), Raja of Badung (Denpasar), installs his father, Ida Cokorda Pemecutan X’s, spirit effigy (puspa) on a decorative float during the climax of the palace’s mukur ceremonies on 27 April 1986. Photograph copyright Made Wijaya.

A basic knowledge of Hindu-Dharma (Balinese) temple types — such as, pura persimpangan, taman, bale agung (ancient), subak segara and mrajan types —might help scholars unravel the mysteries of Majapahit.

Figure 2. Pura taman (royal gardens)

Were the pelinggih type shrines we find amongst the Mt Penanggungan temple ruins — and to date found nowhere else — the inspiration for the padmasanas introduced to Bali by Dwijendra after 1573? Altars, as opposed to the equally ancient Sri (spirit house) type, were also common in Bali — for example in the rice field spirit houses for the rice goddess, Dewi Sri[vi] — and in pre-Majapahit Java (see Figure 3 left below). Dwijendra is thought to have introduced the padmasana as a unifying element to strengthen the Balinese Hindu-Dharma against the threat of Islam. The pedarman[vii] at Besakih may have even been established by Dwijendra to reinforce this unifying trend.

Figure 3. Spirit Houses

We know from various manuscripts — the Pararaton (1481/1600) and the late-fourteenth-century Deśawarņana ('the depiction of the districts’)[viii] (1365) in particular — that Shivaite and Buddhist holy men had quarters outside the Keraton Majapahit in the southernmost part of the royal city in what is now Bejijong hamlet,[ix] and that a temple to the ancestors was located in the rulers’ pleasure gardens, as it is in many Balinese palaces.
From the priestly implements and vessels which survive from early periods we can assume that today’s priestly rites in Bali have changed little since the Majapahit era the implements are almost identical (see Figures 4 and 5 below). One notes in particular, the genta (priest's bells), the dragon brassiere, the tirta (holy water) receptacles, the ketu (crowns), the tiered bells for the jangga (Bujanggarsi, and the priest's sirih (betel nut) boxes, called peti pacanangan in Bali, hence the name Pura Peti Tenget (Indonesian:'angker’) in Seminyak, where Dhang Hyang Dwijendra left his Majapahit-era peti pacanangan (sirih box) (Miksic 1995).

Figure 4. Holy water containers

Figure 5. Ketu (high priest’s headdress)

What is harder to discern, when one embarks on an investigation of the layers of Balinese ceremonies, is which ceremonies are ‘archaic’ Bali, and which were laid down by Empu Kuturan during the eleventh-century ‘Pasekization’ or unification process, and which ceremonies were imported in the late sixteenth century by Dang Hyang Dwijendra.
Not since 1924, for example, when Raden Soekotjo did a sketch illustration of his theory, seeking to prove that Candi Naga at Candi Penataran was most probably the base of a meru, has any serious interpretative research been undertaken (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Reconstruction of Candi Naga, Penataran Meru, in 1924 by R. Soekotjo. Photograph Ann Kinney, Worshipping Siva and Buddha: The Temple Art of East Java Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

Are the small shrines on a single base in the Blitar complex known as Candi Kotes perhaps a relic of mrajan architecture? The scale of the rest of the complex and the existence of a gedong suggests that the complex is a smallish pura rather than a mrajan. But what seem like tripartite shrines are intriguing. Intriguing also is the simple courtyard shrine that the Delft-trained architect, Henri Maclaine Pont (1884-1971), built in the centre of the old field museum at Trowulan (see Figure 7 below). Why were depictions of these courtyard shrines not carved onto the temple reliefs, depicting houses and palaces? Is this because they were too small?

Figure 7. This shrine, in the old Majapahit field museum near Trowulan, Mojokerto, East Java, is a reinvention of a fourteenth-century Hindu courtyard house-shrine with had been pieced together by famed architect and amateur archaeologist, Henri Maclaine Pont (1884-1971). The field museum was established in 1924 with the help of the former Mojokerto Regent, Raden Adipati Ario Kromodjojo Adinegoro (in office, 1894-1916). Photograph copyright Made Wijaya.

Figure 8. (Left to right) twentieth-century tripartite shrine in East Bali; and fourteenth-century tripartite shrine at Candi Kotes, Blitar, East Java. Photograph copyright Made Wijaya.

Bas relief panels of meru, pura taman, bale agung, bale lantang, piyasan, pawedan and kori exist but only one or two suggestions of pelinggih (bedugul or sanggah surya) have been discovered.

Figure 9. Bas relief of a Majapahit-era Hindu temple: the fourteenth-century Candi Jago, Malang, East Java. Similarities to Hindu-Balinese temples of today are pronounced. Photograph copyright Made Wijaya.

If we assume that the grand Balinese palace maligia ceremonies are descended from the classical Majapahit Sraddha[x] ceremonies — which deified a particular king — then what of all the plethora of other extravagant Pitra Yadnya related ceremonies in Bali? How many of these are Majapahit and how many pre-existing?
Many so-called kejawen rituals in Java — such as Larung Sesaji, known in Bali as the Ngaturang Pekelem, the sacrificing of animals to the lakes, and the annual ritual of the south-central Javanese courts known as  Labuhan (from the Javanese ‘labuh’ – ‘to throw into the water’), namely, the conveying of sacred royal offerings to the Goddess of the Southern Ocean at Parangkusumo (Bantul) on the South Coast, of which the Balinese equivalent is melasti, and the processions of albino water buffalo and the various funerary and wedding rites[xi] — are roughly similar in both cultures, but that does not necessarily mean a common Majapahit ceremonial root, even though this was the last era during which the cultures were conjoined
As Kenneth Hall observed:
 The emphasis at Hayam Wuruk's court was on the ritualistic. The Nāgarakĕrtāgama centres on the two lavish court rituals that mark the passage of the agricultural cycle, and the "Royal Progress" to invoke the powerful guardian deities of the hinterland consumes most of the remaining text. The king's ritual performance, whether at the court or beyond, dramatized the assumptions of fact and value in Javanese culture. Local rites mirrored the liturgical efforts of the kraton; by validating local ritual the king and his court acknowledged cultural diversity, local manners, ways, and ancestral sanctifications’ (Hall 1996:108-9).
The role of the family heads in Bali’s puri agung royal palaces has changed little since the Majapahit era.
Some dances and gamelan in Bali — such as the Baris Gede, Selonding, wayang kulit (shadow play)[xii] and wayang wong (dance drama) — are musical dance offerings known as wawalen (from the root of Balinese word, ‘wali, meaning an offering to the gods). Many such art forms are still shared between the two cultures of Bali and Java today, and evidence suggests that this was probably the case during the Majapahit era. Certainly Baris Gede was popular during the Majapahit era and the love of music and the arts was a Majapahit trademark.
Comparing Balinese-Javanese relations is sometimes confusing: the holy day Sugian Jawa, for example, is celebrated in Bali by all the Balinese of Majapahit ‘descent’ — and even some Paseks (Empu Kuturan’s pre-Majapahit clan), which seems odd when the day is supposed to commemorate the arrival of the ‘wong Majapahit’ (people from Majapahit).
Majapahit style ceremonial costumes are still used in ceremonies in temples in the Badung (Denpasar) regency; and in temples such as Pura Patilan (Pengerebongan), Pura Dalem Kepala, Kepaon and Pura Tambang Badung, the Istana (palace) of Dalem Majapahit. These are ceremonies which commemorate an historical link or revere founding deities or forefathers/ ancestors such as the various ceremonies devoted to Dewa Gede (Arya Kangin?) in East Bali (Bebandem area).
Kenneth Hall in his essay on ‘Ritual Networks and Royal Power in Majapahit Java’ mentions the small sanctuaries and shrines (caitya) and stone temple pagoda (prasada)[xiii] that were normally located on the estates of individuals of status, and at rural lingga (pura subak?) and he elaborates on the caru ceremonies performed to placate the negative influences during the Majapahit era.

Figure 10. Miniature Temple
Height          : 78cm
Width           : 25cm
Thickness  : 26cm
(Catalogue No. AD 0003)
According to the antique dealers, many of these miniature temples were found on the slope of the Semeru volcano. They are all either in the shape of the Candi Jawi temple with its lingam pinnacle or square, like the ‘dated temple’ of the Candi Penataran temple complex — two temples that were renowned across Majapahit, and often mentioned in its literature and inscriptions. Many of the miniature are simplified, almost cubistic version of the original, although some are carved in greater detail. The late archaeologist Prof. Boechari[1] suggested that these miniature replicas were places inside the house temples to represent those famous sanctuaries, in the same way that the Balinese still furnish their mrajan (family temple) with shrines representing major temples today. Photograph Soedarmadji J.H. Damais 2012:76.

The author of the Desawarnana, Empu Prapañca, states that he was a devout Buddhist, so it is to the Pararaton and earlier texts that we must turn for detail on Shivaite and Vishnuite ceremonies. Sadly, in all of the texts there is little or no mention of the actual shrines and temples in ordinary house compounds (but see above Figure 10).
It is possible that a comparison of the Hindu-era ceremonies still performed in the Javanese palaces and royal cities with those current in Bali, might shed light on Majapahit precedents. Further research is clearly required, research which needs to start from a detailed study of the relevant Old Javanese and Balinese texts and of temple carvings by scholars familiar with Balinese Hindu-dharma rites and customs.



[i]  By the Majapahit era, dharma-based ritual still addressed celestial and ancestral deities; but the kraton was clearly the centre of specific types of ritual, especially those celebrating the Majapahit monarch as the source of secular unity and subsequent generalized prosperity.

[ii]  The word ‘candi’ is generally considered to have been derived from the term candikagrha denoting the dwelling place of Candika, Goddess of Death, and consort of Lord Shiva, see Soekmono 1996:58-9. Candi generally exist as stone or redbrick structures, which, in the past, functioned as temples or mausoleums of a king. See further Soekmono 1995.

[iii]  Personal communication: Professor Dr Litt I Gusti Putu Palgunadi, M.A., Puri Gerenceng, Denpasar, 2012; Pedanda Geria Telabah, Sanur, July 2013; Drs Wayan Surpha (former National Sec-Gen Parisadha Hindu Dharma), Denpasar, September 2013; Pedanda Geria Toko, Sanur, September 2013.

[iv]  Flower offerings assume central importance in the celebration of the Majapahit's seven-day Rājapatnī şrāddha (post-cremation rites that initiated the final liberation of the soul from earthly bonds) that deified King Hayam Wuruk (reigned, 1350-89)'s grandmother in 1362, by similarly neutralizing the spiritual forces of the ‘netherworld’ prior to the invocation of celestial deities (Nāgarakĕrtāgama, 65.2.1; 67.2.4). In the Rājapatnī chthonic-celestial ritual, the spirits of this ‘netherworld’ are initially invoked and invited to take up temporary residence in a puspa flower figurine (sang hyang puşpasarira), which is an image of the deceased Rājapatnī. This effigy was then placed on a throne, the centerpiece of this veneration and the place to which the soul (swah) of the Rājapatnī was to enter. The lion denoted the demonical chthonic spirits subdued by the representatives of the middle world (Buddhist monks and a purohita, the chief court Brahmin who was versed in the ‘Three Tantras’) during the course of the ritual. The essence of the Rājapatnī assumed temporary residence in the flower effigy, and was ultimately freed from these ‘netherworld’ spirits. See further Hall 1996:106.

[v]  The Tantu Panggĕlaran specifically attributes Mount Penanggungan to be ‘the abode of the gods’. Immediately below the mountain, above the Majapahit kraton, there is a concentration of tenth through fifteenth century ritual sites, including Majapahit's Salakĕlir complex. See further Hall 1996:106

[vi]   jangga, ‘rural shamans’, who are distinguished separately from ‘respectable’ rësi, officiated in ceremonies associated with the worship of the rice goddess, see Nāgarakĕrtāgama, canto 78 (Pigeaud 1960-1963: 4, 14, 211 and 482). See further Hall 1996:107.

[vii]   Pedarman is a clan-based worshipping temple. Large scale pedarman temples can be found in Besakih. Smaller scale temples are called pura dadia.

[viii]  This was also more commonly known under its Javano-Sanskrit title of Nāgarakŗtāgama, which freely translates as 'Precept of Past Statecraft’.

[ix]  On the layout of the Majapahit royal capital and the location of the residence of the Buddhist and Sivaite clergy, see  further Amrit Gomperts, Arnoud Haag, and Peter Carey, ‘Stutterheim’s Enigma; The Mystery of his Mapping of the Majapahit Kraton at Trowulan in 1941’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Leiden), 164, 4:428; and The Archaeological Identification of the Majapahit Royal Palace: Prapañca’s 1365 Description Projected onto Satellite Imagery’, Journal of the Siam Society (Bangkok), 102:67-118.

[x]  This Majapahit śrāddha is a public ritual, which was shared by members of the extended royal family, high officials, servants and their wives, priests and monks of the various religious sects, dancers, musicians, and others who were associated with the court. The ritual was performed by Buddhist monks and a purohita (‘chief court brahmin’), ‘who was versed in the Three Tantras’ (Nāgarakĕrtāgama, 64.3). See further Hall 1996:106.

[xi]  The record of the Royal Progress of 1359, the central chapter of the Nāgarakĕrtāgama, links the king to both the celestial and the ‘netherworld’. During this ‘Progress’, the king offered sequential worship at the dharma of his deified ancestors and other former monarchs as well as at the shrines of prominent mountain deities when his royal entourage journeyed to Jajawa (at the foot of Mount Welirang), Palah (Panataran, at the base of Mount Kelud), and Bureng (the source of the Brantas river), Nāgarakĕrtāgama, 57.5 (Pigeaud 1960-1963:17, 38). Through the ritual initiatives and personal outreach of Hayam Wuruk's court (1350-89) the king was no longer perceived as isolated from his subjects. Performance of and participation in sacred ritual, whether at the court or among the rural populations, allowed the Majapahit king to be in regular communication with his realm in ways that were previously uncommon. See further Hall 1996:108.

[xii]  This world of the spirits is also the setting for the Javanese shadow puppet theatre (wayang kulit) that figures prominently in Majapahit court entertainment and also in Majapahit era temple iconography, which highlights this connection between the cosmic and the secular world, between the chthonic and the celestial (Holt 1967:123-50). In all of these, the Kadiri kraton is associated with the ‘netherworld’ realm of the spirits. See further Hall 1996:107.

[xiii]  Beyond the royal temple compounds (dharma), these three communities (the tripaksa, or ‘three domains’) as well as the less-favored Vaisnava priests performed ritual connected with ancestral and local spirits at small sanctuaries and shrines (caitya) and temple towers (prasada), which were normally located on the estates of individuals of status, and at rural lingga, which were especially associated with rĕşi (Nāgarakĕrtāgama, 63.2, 69.3, 77, 78.1, 81.1, 82.3). Each of these ‘domains’ was subject to the king's donative efforts at daņa, kīŗti, and puņya. The king was said to ‘protect’ the tripaksa clergy, who were collectively referenced as sira (‘illustrious’), a term reserved for divine beings and royalty (Nāgarakĕrtāgama, 80.4). See further Hall 1996:102.


Covarrubias, Miguel (1937). Island of Bali. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Damais, Soedarmadji J. H. (2012). Majapahit Terracotta: The Soedarmadji Jean Henry Damais collection. Jakarta: BAB Publishing Indonesia.
Fic, Victor M. (2003). From Majapahit and Sukuh to Megawati Sukarnoputri: Continuity and Change in Pluralism of Religion, Culture and Politics of Indonesia from the XV to the XXI Century. New Delhi: Abhinav Publication.
Galestin, Th. P. (1936). Houtbouw op Oost-Javaansche tempelreliëfs. Doctoral thesis, University of Leiden. ‘s-Gravenhage: privately published.
Gomperts, Amrit, Arnoud Haag, and Peter Carey, ‘Stutterheim’s Enigma; The Mystery of his Mapping of the Majapahit Kraton at Trowulan in 1941’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Leiden), 164, 4:411-30
______________  The Archaeological Identification of the Majapahit Royal Palace: Prapañca’s 1365 Description Projected onto Satellite Imagery’, Journal of the Siam Society (Bangkok), 102:67-118
Hall, Kenneth R. (1996). ‘Ritual Networks and Royal Power in Majapahit Java’, Archipel 52:95-118.
Holt, Claire (1967). Art in Indonesia. Continuities and Change. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Kinney, Ann R., Klokke, Marijke J., and Kieven, Lydia (2003). Worshipping Siva and Buddha, The Temple Art of East Java. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Miksic, John N. (ed) (1995). The Legacy of Majapahit. Majapahit Sunburst with Guardian Gods of the Nine Directions. Singapore: National Heritage Board.
Pigeaud, Th.G.Th. (1960-1963). Java in the Fourteenth Century: A Study in Cultural History: The Nāgara-kěrtāgama by Rakawi Prapañca of Majapahit, 1365 A.D. 3rd ed. Illustrated with drawings by Professor Th.P. Galestin. Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal=, Land- en Volkenkunde. Translation Series 4, 1-5. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Sidomulyo, Hadi (2013). Mengenal Situs Purbakala di Gunung Penanggungan. Surabaya: Ubaya Press.
Soekmono, R. (1973). Pengantar Sejarah Kebudayaan Indonesia. Volume 2. Yogyakarta: Kanisius.
Soekmono, R.  (1995). The Javanese Candi: Function and Meaning. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Soekmono, R. (1996). ‘Candi: Symbol of the Universe’, in John Miksic (ed), Ancient History, Volume 1 ( Indonesian Heritage Series), pp.58-9. Singapore: Archipelago Press.
Wijaya, Made (2014). Majapahit Styles. Volume 1. Jakarta: Wijaya Words.