Ken Dedes, the Javanese Princess

Since its discovery, the statue has been closely associated with a Javanese princess named Ken Dedes. The assumption that this statue was the embodiment of Ken Dedes originated in the shock its discovery caused among the inhabitants of Singosari. The story of a beautiful princess, named Dedes, who lived in Singosari a long time ago, was still very much present in the local folklore. The inhabitants spontaneously assumed that such a highly beautiful statue had to be a depiction of Ken Dedes, the wife of Ken Angrok, founder of the kingdom of Singhasari.

The story of Ken Dedes is not just folklore. The name actually appears in the Pararaton, a text written at the beginning of the sixteenth century. According to this text, Ken Dedes came from the village of Panawijen, located on the eastern slope of Gunung Kawi. She was the daughter of a Mahayana clergyman named Mpu Purwa. Ken Dedes’s beauty was famous throughout the region to the east of mount Kawi, which inevitably caused her to draw the attention of Tunggul Ametung, the local ruler of Tumapel. He took Ken Dedes away from her father’s hermitage and made her his wife.

Filled with anger, Mpu Purwa cursed Tunggul Ametung with these words:

‘May the pleasure of my daughter’s abductor be short-lived. May he perish by kris (knife). [...] and for my child I wish that she knows one day a great happiness’.

(Pararaton I, 9)

Despite the clergyman’s imprecations, Tunggul Ametung brought Ken Dedes to his palace in Tumapel and soon the princess became pregnant. The curse, however, was fulfilled, thanks to the intervention of Ken Angrok, an adventurer who was working at the palace as a servant.

During a trip to Boboji, while dismounting her chariot, Ken Dedes’s skirt opened and showed off her crotch. Ken Angrok, who saw this, was intrigued, since the princess’s private parts were glowing. From the seer Lohgawe, Ken Angrok learnt that this was a good luck charm and that whoever married such a woman would become ruler of the world. Following this discovery and after many adventures, Ken Angrok murdered Tugul Ametung with a knife, married Ken Dedes and founded the kingdom of Singhasari.

The idea that the Singosari Prajnaparamita is a portrait statue of Ken Dedes, the princess from the Pararaton story, was (and still is) supported by prominent scholars. Is the Singosari Prajnaparamita a commemorative statue? And is it of Ken Dedes? Of course, Dedes’s father was a Buddhist clergyman and she was the matrilineal ancestor of the whole Singhasari-Majapahit dynasty. As such, it would be logical to commemorate her at Singosari, in a high-quality Buddhist statue.

In the texts, however, the only queen to be associated with Prajnaparamita is Rajapatni, the spouse of Raden Wijaya, founder of Majapahit. Hence yet another hypothesis has emerged that suggests that the Singosari Prajnaparamita would have been associated with Rajapatni. However, the place mentioned in the Nagarakertagama as the abode of this Rajapatni-Prajnaparamita is well known to archaeologists - and it is not Singosari.

The village of Bhayalangu, named in the Nagarakertagama, has been safely identified as Boyolangu, in the Tulungagung district (East Java). In this village stands a temple housing a colossal statue of Prajnaparamita. As it would probably be an exaggeration to consider all Prajnaparamitas as commemorative statues of Rajapatani, and in the absence of any conclusive evidence, it is impossible to say that the Singosari Prajnaparamita is a commemorative statue, and even less so who it commemorates.