Towards the end of his reign, Kublai Khan of the Mongol Yuan dynasty became vexed with the rising power, influence, and wealth of the Javanese Singhasari empire.
Singhasari had formed an alliance with Champa (the Indianized kingdom of the Cham people, based in what is now Vietnam). Both Singhasari and Champa were worried about Mongol expansion, and raids against neighboring states, such as the raid of Bagan (Pagan) in Burma. In 1280, Kublai Khan sent an emissary to King Kertanegara, demanding submission and tribute to the great Khan. The demand was refused. The next year in 1281, the Khan sent another envoy, demanding the same terms, to be refused again. Eight years later, in 1289, the last envoy Men Shi or Meng-qi (孟琪) was sent; King Kertanegara responded by branding Meng-qi's face with hot iron like a common criminal, cutting off his ears, and sending him packing. The whimpering ambassador returned to China with the answer of the Javanese king written onto his face.
Enraged by this humiliation and the disgrace committed against his envoy and his patience, in late 1292 the great Kublai Khan sent a massive armada of 1,000 war junks in a punitive expedition that would have arrived off the coast of Tuban, Java in early 1293. The officers were the Mongol Shi-bi, the Uyghur Ike Mese, and the Chinese Gaoxing. What kind of ships they used for the campaign is not mentioned in the History of the Yuan, but they were apparently large since smaller boats had to be constructed for entering the rivers of Java.
In the meantime, a coup had befallen Kertanegara. In 1292, Jayakatwang, a vassal king from the Kingdom of Daha (also known as Kediri or Gelang-gelang), prepared his army to conquer Singhasari and kill its king if possible, assisted by Arya Wiraraja, a regent from Sumenep on the island of Madura.
The Daha army attacked Singhasari simultaneously from both north and south. The king only realized the invasion from the north and sent his son-in-law, Nararya Sangramawijaya, famously known as Raden Wijaya, northward to vanquish the rebellion. The northern attack was put at bay, but the southern attackers successfully remained undetected until they reached and sacked the unprepared capital city of Kutaraja. Jayakatwang killed Kertanagara during a tantric ceremony and usurped the throne, bringing an end to the Singhasari kingdom.
Raden Wijaya tried to retake Singhasari but failed. He and three friends Ranggalawe, Sora and Nambi, went into exile under the favor of Nambi's father, the same Arya Wiraraja of Madura, who had by now turned his back on Jayakatwang. With Arya Wiraraja's patronage, Raden Wijaya, pretending to submit to Jayakatwang, won favor from the new monarch of Daha, who granted him permission to open a new settlement north of mount Arjuna (the Tarik forest.) In this wilderness, Raden Wijaya started to clear the jungle for a city. At work, one of the men felt hungry and went to look for food. Lo, there stood a Maja tree with large green fruit. The man broke into the fruit, and immediately said Maja pahit -- bitter Maja. Thus was named the future settlement and empire. The Maja tree is Aegle Marmelos Correa -- close to the Bengal quince also known in India as Bael. (We would encounter bitter Maja in Bali; see this video at around 1:20.)
Meanwhile, in early 1293, the Mongol naval forces arrived on the north coast of Java (near Tuban) and at the mouth of the Brantas River, in order to outflank what they thought was Singhasari. Raden Wijaya found an opportunity -- to use the unsuspecting Mongols in overthrowing Jayakatwang. Leading them to believe Jayakatwang was Kertanegara, Raden Wijaya’s army allied with the Mongols in March of 1293. Battle ensued between the Mongols and the Daha forces in the creek bed of Kali Mas river, a distributary of the Brantas. The Mongols stormed Daha, Jayakatwang surrendered only to be summarily executed.
Raden Wijaya immediately wheeled his troops to launch a surprise attack inside and outside the Mongol army columns, creating chaos and forcing his former allies to withdraw from the island of Java. Panicked, stricken with tropical fevers, the Mongol army found themselves at sea, surrounding coasts controlled by alien hostile peoples. The monsoon sea-winds that could carry them home were ebbing; they would otherwise have had to wait for the next monsoon in hostile waters for the next sea-wind. The scowling horde gave up and their junks headed back to China.
Prince Wijaya, son-in-law of Kertanegara the last Singhasari king, ascended the throne as Kertajasa Jayawardhana, the first king of the great Majapahit Empire, on November 12, 1293.
The spirit of religious tolerance and reconciliation between Buddhist and Hindu subjects was an essential element in the foundation and security of the Majapahit. The 14th century poet sage of the Majapahit, Mpu Tantular, is said to have committed the phrase Bhinnêka Tunggal Ika ("Even in difference , the same kind"; i.e. unity in diversity) to writing for the first time. It is today the motto of the Republic of Indonesia.
Rwâneka dhâtu winuwus Buddha Wiswa,
Bhinnêki rakwa ring apan kena parwanosen,
Mangka ng Jinatwa kalawan Siwatatwa tunggal,
Bhinnêka tunggal ika tan hana dharma mangrwa
It is said that the well-known Buddha and Shiva are two different substances.
Indeed they're different, yet possible to recognise the difference at a glance,
Since the truth of Jina (Buddha) and the truth of Shiva is one.
Indeed different, yet they're the same, there is no duality in Truth.
The Majapahit empire reached the height of its power and influence under the hand of the prime minister Gajah Mada. The statues of Harihara above and Prajnaparamita below, from the national museum in Jakarta, are from Majapahit times.
Gajah Mada or Elephant Chief (c. 1290 – c. 1364) was, according to Javanese manuscripts, poems and mythology, the most powerful military leader and mahapatih or prime minister of the Majapahit Empire, credited with bringing the empire to its peak of glory. He took an oath called Sumpah Palapa, in which he vowed not to eat any food containing meat or spices until he had conquered all of the Southeast Asian archipelago of Nusantara for Majapahit. In modern Indonesia, he serves as a national hero and symbol of patriotism.
The Palapa (phal = fruit, a-pal = no meat) oath is found in the text of the Javanese epic Pararaton , which says:
Lamun huwus kalah nusantara isun amukti palapa, lamun kalah ring Gurun, ring Seran, Tañjung Pura, ring Haru, ring Pahang, Dompo, ring Bali, Sunda, Palembang, Tumasik, samana isun amukti palapa.
If it has overcome Nusantara, I (will) let go of the fast. If you beat the Gurun, Ceram, Tanjung Pura, Haru, Pahang, Dompo, Balinese, Sundanese, Palembang, Tumasik, so I (will) let go of the fast.
Gurun is Nusa Penida, an island off Bali.
Seran is today's Ceram, near Ambon in the Moluccas
Tañjung Pura is Kerajaan Tanjungpura, Ketapang, Kalimantan Barat (West.)
Haru is Northern Sumatra (Karo)
Pahang is the third largest state in Malaysia, after Sarawak and Sabah, occupying the huge Pahang River river basin.
Dompo is Sumbawa, an Indonesian island, located in the middle of the Lesser Sunda Islands chain, with Lombok to the west, Flores to the east, and Sumba further to the southeast.
Bali is Bali
Sunda is Sunda
Palembang is the capital city of the South Sumatra province in Indonesia, and one of the oldest cities in Indonesia; it was part of the Sriwijaya empire, the Chinese monk I-Tsing, wrote that he visited Sriwijaya in the year 671 for 6 months.
Tumasik is Singapura or Singapore.
Note the word nusantara in the oath. Nusantara is today an Indonesian word for the Indonesian archipelago. In Javanese, Nusantara literally means "inter-island" (from nusa, "island", antara which in Sanskrit is inter, i.e the periphery which is away from the Javanese core ). Based on the Majapahit concept of state, the monarch had the power over three circles:
Negara Agung, or the Grand State, the core kingdom. This includes the capital and the surrounding area. In the context of the Majapahit empire, this area covers East Java and its surrounding area.
Mancanegara, areas surrounding Negara Agung, i.e. directly influenced by Javanese culture. In the context of Majapahit empire, this includes the entire islands of Java, Madura, and Bali, as well as Lampung and Palembang in South Sumatra.
Nusantara, areas which do not reflect Javanese culture, but are colonies, i.e. they have to pay tribute. In the context of Majapahit empire, this includes the modern territories of Indonesia, Malaysia,Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, East Timor and southern Thailand.
In the year 1920, Ernest Francois Eugene Douwes Dekker (1879-1950), the Indonesian freedom fighter of Eurasian descent, who took the nom-de-guerre Setiabudi (from the Sanskrit sthita-buddhi, constant-spirit) introduced the name Nusantara in the belief that this didn't contain any words etymologically inherited from Indian languages -- he did not appreciate the origin of 'antara' was Indic. Setiabudi's Nusantara is the first instance of the term appearing after it had been written into the Pararaton manuscript. The definition of Nusantara introduced by Setiabudi is, however, at variance to the 14th century meaning of the term. During the Majapahit era, Nusantara described vassal areas to be brought under submission; Setiabudi didn't want this aggressive connotation, so he defined Nusantara as all the Indonesian regions from Sabang as far as Merauke.
Gajah Mada's origins are obscure; we know he rose through Majapahit ranks to become commander of the Bhayangkara, an elite guard for the royal family. When Rakrian Kuti, one of the officials in Majapahit, rebelled c. 1321 against the Majapahit king Jayanegara, son of Raden Wijaya who ruled 1309-1328, Gajah Mada and the then-prime-minister Arya Tadah helped the king and his family escape the capital city of Trowulan. Later, Gajah Mada helped crush the rebellion and aided the king's return to the capital. Seven years later, Jayanegara was murdered by Rakrian Tanca, the court physcian, one of Rakrian Kuti's aides. Tribhuwana Wijayatunggadewi, Raden Wijaya's daughter, became queen regnant and the third monarch of Majapahit empire, reigning from 1328 to 1350. She appointed Gajah Mada as prime minister. The Elephant Chief pursued a massive expansion of the empire.
Even his closest friends were at first doubtful of his oath, but Gajah Mada kept pursuing his dream to unify Nusantara under the glory of Majapahit. Soon he conquered the surrounding territory of Bedahulu (Bali) and Lombok (1343). He then sent the navy westward to attack the remnants of Sriwijaya in Palembang.
He then conquered the first Islamic sultanate in Southeast Asia, Samudra Pasai, and another state in Svarnadvipa (Sumatra). Gajah Mada also conquered Bintan, Tumasik (Singapore), Melayu (now known as Jambi), and Kalimantan.
It was during Gajah Mada's reign as mahapatih, around the year 1345, that the famous Islamic traveller Ibn Batuta visited Sumatra.
Gajah Mada was not a handsome man -- his statue reveals a prizefighter's face with broken nose and uneven teeth. It is said that during the conquest of Bali he met the love of his life -- a girl named Gunti Ayu Bebet. She turned the great general down, he was too ugly.
When her son reached 16 in 1350, Wijayatunggadewi stepped down and Hayam Wuruk -- the term means Scholar Rooster --- became king. Gajah Mada retained his position as mahapatih under the new king and continued his military campaign by expanding eastward, westward and north. He thus effectively brought the modern Indonesian archipelago under Majapahit control, and his conquests spanned not only the territory of today's Indonesia, but also that of Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and the southern Philippines.
By 1357, the only remaining state refusing to acknowledge Majapahit's hegemony was Sunda, in West Java, bordering the Negara Agung. King Hayam Wuruk intended to marry Pitaloka Citraresmi, a princess of Sunda and the daughter of Sunda's king. Gajah Mada was given the task to go to the Bubat square at the northern part of Trowulan to welcome the princess as she arrived with her father, and escort her to the Majapahit palace. Gajah Mada took this opportunity to demand Sundanese submission under Majapahit rule. The Sundanese King had thought that the royal marriage was a sign of a new alliance between Sunda and Majapahit, and was shocked when Gajah Mada stated that the Princess of Sunda is not to be hailed as the new queen consort of Majapahit, but merely as a concubine. The embarrassment led to hostile words, which quickly became a skirmish and then a full scale rout. The Sundanese king, with all of his guards and the royal party, was butchered by Gajah Mada's troops. The heartbroken princess Citraresmi committed suicide in the midst of the bodies of her clansmen.
Hayam Wuruk was shocked at the tragedy. Majapahit courtiers, ministers and nobles, all blamed Gajah Mada for his recklessness. This kind of brutalitiy was not to the taste of the Scholar Rooster. Gajah Mada was demoted and spent the rest of his days in the estate of Madakaripura in Probolinggo in East Java. He died in obscurity in 1364.
The Scholar Rooster would become Indonesia's greatest gastronome. The Nagarakertagama chronicles the King Hayam Wuruk's expeditions to corners of the empire wrought by Gajah Meda. Each of these dramatic royal expeditions took up to ten months at a time, and mobilized hundreds of troops, palace maids, musicians following the king and the queen on horses, elephants and carriages.
The expeditions were in search of dishes native to each part of the empire. The general menu was:
1. A pre-expedition ceremony with a feast in the palace compound;
2. A welcome banquet featuring local food when passing through each district;
3. Ceremonies in the temples paying tribute to the founder of the Majapahit and other ancestors, followed by more dinners presented by the local villagers;
4. Ceremonial dining with the local villagers, throughout the return voyage back to the capital;
5. A blessing banquet upon returning safe to the palace, featuring a recap of the most interesting dishes encountered in the trip.
Majapahit slowly fell into decline after the death of Hayam Wuruk.
During Indonesia's struggle against colonization, Sukarno often cited Gajah Mada and his oath as an inspiration -- that Indonesians could unite, despite vast territory and various cultures. In 1942, only 230 Indonesians had a tertiary degree. The first state university was established at the end of Japanese occupation, and for the first time native Indonesians could be freely admitted, to Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. Indonesia's first telecommunication satellite was called Satelit Palapa after Gajah Mada's Nusantara oath. Almost all cities in Indonesia have a street named after Gajah Mada. (In the Sundanese city of Bandung, however, there is not a single Jalan Gajah Mada.)
Below, the Lara Djonggrang restaurant in Jakarta, featuring dishes from Hayam Wuruk's culinary expeditions; its decor, modeled to resemble the atmospherics of an opium den, also tells the story of the thousand statues.