Prajnaparamita and other Buddhist deities

Because the Nagarakertagama (a Majapahit-period text) tells us that King Kertanagara was deified after death in the form of an image of Shiva and Buddha at Singosari, and because Kertanagara is portrayed in this text mainly as a Buddhist who observed Jina worship practices, much emphasis has been placed on the Buddhist character of the Singosari site. It was, for instance, thought that the lower part of Candi Singosari was a Shaiva temple, which it is, and that the upper part was connected with the Buddhist faith; this is less clear.

Statue of Prajnaparamita

A number of images were initially identified as Buddhist images, such as the Parvati image, which was first thought to represent a Mahayana Buddhist Tara. Another example concerns the two rishi images. Marici was thought to represent a Shaiva brahmana and Trinavindu a Buddhist brahmana. Reviewing the images again, it now seems that the Buddhist character of the site of Singosari has been over-emphasized. Most images actually demonstrate the impact of Shaivism in various forms. 

Buddhism was indeed popular among the kings of Singhasari. This is evidenced in texts, such as the Nagarakertagama, and also in temple remains, such as Candi Jago. This temple, in the village of Tumpang near Malang, was dedicated to the Bodhisattva Amoghapasha Lokeshvara and his retinue (Syamatara, Sudhanakumara, Hayagriva and Bhrikuti). It also contained images of the Jina Buddhas and their Prajnas.

At Singosari, however, only a few traces of Buddhism are left. They include a beautiful image of the goddess Prajnaparamita, now in Jakarta; a statue representing a Buddhist monk, locally known as Joko Lulo, now in Malang; and a badly damaged image of Prajnaparamita, still at the Singosari site.

Prajnaparamita

In 1818, D. Monnereau, the assistant resident of Malang, reported finding, in the area Singosari, a magnificent statue of a goddess, in a perfect state of preservation. Unfortunately, Monnereau did not mention the exact place where the sculpture was found. According to nineteenth-century reports, she most probably comes from one of the southern temples, and some have ventured the hypothesis that she once stood in the shrine locally known as ‘Cungkup Putri’ (the tomb of the Princess), which has been identified as Candi Wayang (Candi E). However, no scientific evidence confirms – or invalidates – this.

The statue, now kept in the National Museum of Indonesia, is of the highest quality and one of the most beautiful sculptures ever produced in Java. It is also unique because of the place it occupies in the minds of many Indonesians: from the moment of its discovery, the sculpture has been recognized as a representation of Ken Dedes, the first queen of Singhasari, who was renowned for her extraordinary beauty. The statue has become an icon in Indonesian culture. For most scholars, however, this statue represents the Buddhist goddess Prajnaparamita. She is the embodiment of a Buddhist text, the Prajnaparamita-sutra; she personifies the liberating power of wisdom and meditation.

The goddess is depicted sitting cross-legged (vajraparyanka) on a double lotus cushion. This position, in which both feet are placed soles up on the opposing thighs, is a common meditation position. Her hands are placed in front of her chest in the gesture of ‘turning the wheel of the (Buddhist) law’ (dharmacakramudra). Behind her head, an oval halo underlines her divine status.

The goddess rests on a square throne with an elaborate backrest. Along the pilasters and on the edge of the pointed arch crowning the backrest run a flame-like motif and a band of jewels. At the level of her shoulders, right above the crossbeam of the throne, one can see the outlines of two makaras (mythical animals), now damaged.

The goddess wears rich and fine jewellery. The sculptor seems to have put all his effort into reproducing the smallest details of each jewel. Strands of gems and strings of pearls dominate. She wears a conical headdress (kiritamukuta) adorned with gems, as well as flower-shaped earrings, two different necklaces, shoulder ornaments, large diamond-shaped armlets, elbow bracelets and three bangles on each wrist. Her index finger, thumb and big toe are adorned with rings. The rest of her jewels include a chest rope made of three strands of small beads, a belt, a scarf and a hanging ribbon about the waist with flowers.

Her loin cloth is adorned with a motif similar to the one found on the loincloth of the Leiden Durga. This motif is called a jlamprang in modern Indonesia and is a traditional batik pattern. From an iconographic point of view, the most significant element of the sculpture is probably the lotus on the goddess’s left side. The plant seems to spring off of the throne. It flourishes and gives rise to a series of flowers and buds. A long stalk comes out of this bouquet, wraps itself around the goddess’s left arm and, at shoulder level, transforms into an open flower. Atop this lotus rests a book.

In Indonesia, as in the rest of South and South-East Asia, books were made of a series of elongated palm leaves (lontar leaves), bound together with rope and placed between two pieces of wood which acted as a cover. The rope was then tied around the manuscript to keep it closed. The book represented here is, we can assume, the Prajnaparamita-sutra. It is the presence of this book that identifies the sculpture as an image of the Buddhist goddess Prajnaparamita.

In early Mahayana, the Prajnaparamita-sutra was perceived as a fundamental text, a tool to reach salvation. The text came to be worshipped in a similar way to the stupa containing the relics of the Buddha and was finally personified as a goddess, a sort of supreme female bodhisattva guiding mankind to enlightenment and sometimes described as the ‘mother of all bodhisattvas’. The worship of this goddess was hoped to bring wisdom and knowledge.

The meditating monk

In addition to the Prajnaparamita, a second Buddhist statue is said to come from Singosari. It represents a meditating figure and was locally known as ‘Joko Lulo’. Since a forest bearing the same name was located to the south of the Tower temple, in the area of Candi Wayang, it has been suggested that the statue came from that locality.

Meditating monk, Joko Lulo
Statue of Joko Lulo

The figure is shown sitting crossed-legged in vajraparyankasana, like the Prajnaparamita. His eyes are half closed. His left hand rests open on his lap, while his right hand makes the gesture of touching the earth (bhumisparsamudra).

At first sight the statue might be confused with an image of the Buddha. It nevertheless lacks the Buddha’s specific attributes, such as the auspicious hair curl on the forehead (urna) and the protuberance on the head (ushnisha). Furthermore, while the Buddha is represented with short curly hair, this statue is shaved. This, together with the monastic robe, suggests that the statue actually represents a monk.

From an iconographic as well as stylistic point of view, the Singosari monk is extremely similar to the famous Joko Dolog, now in Surabaya. Its body position and hand gestures are identical and the facial traits are very similar. Both sculptures are coarse and have heavy proportions.

Statue of Joko Dolog
Statue of Joko Dolog