Introduction to the project
The Singosari temple, restored in the 1930s, is one of the most striking and intriguing temples of East Java. Its five independent roofs imitate the five peaks of the cosmic mountain, Mount Meru, while the dark lower chambers – unique in Java – echo the meditation caves used by Hindu and Buddhist hermits.
Even after almost two centuries of research, the exact age and function of the temple are still at the centre of a heated debate. Was the temple really built by Kertanagara [link naar 890], the last king of the Singhasari kingdom, depicted in ancient manuscripts as both a devotee and a frivolous fellow? Why was the monument never finished? And what was the purpose of the hidden upper chamber?
In addition to architectural remains, the site of Singosari has yielded some of the most beautiful sculptures found in ancient South-East Asia. Many of these exceptional pieces are now kept in the Museum Nasional Indonesia in Jakarta (MNI) and the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden (RMV).
The sculptures not only testify to the artistic mastery of Javanese craftsmen, but also reflect the philosophical trends of the Singhasari-Majapahit period. While the image of the Buddhist Prajnaparamita in the MNI is shown in deep meditation, her eyes closed, the Shaivite Bhairava statue in the RMV overtly releases his physical strength and energy. Contemporary textual information seems to suggest that these Hindu and Buddhist deities were also closely related to kings, queens and priests.
Whether for its architecture, sculpture or historical significance, Singosari has not ceased to fascinate.
Since 2004 the National Museum of Indonesia (MNI) in Jakarta and Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden have organized joint projects to promote their shared cultural heritage created by their shared history. This is the third project. Earlier projects included the 2005 exhibition ‘Indonesia: discovery of the past’ (‘Warisan budaya bersama’) and the 2009 exhibition ‘Treasures of Sumatra’ (Sumatra tercinta: the beloved island), both of which incorporated scholarly catalogues.
Singosari: the origin of Majapahit
The foundation of the kingdom of Majapahit by the Javanese prince Raden Wijaya in 1292 is considered a major event in the history of the Indonesian archipelago. According to Indonesian historiography, at the height of its power the Majapahit kingdom included most of present-day Indonesia. This is based on information provided in the fourteenth-century Old Javanese text, the Nagarakertagama. This text suggests that for the first time in recorded history the territory corresponding to modern-day Indonesia was united under a single authority. From this perspective, therefore, the Indonesian state has its origins in the kingdom of Majapahit.
However, according to the Nagarakertagama, Majapahit did not emerge from a void. The foundations on which the empire was built were actually laid by Raden Wijaya’s predecessors, the kings of Singhasari. The National Museum of Indonesia (Jakarta) and the National Museum of Ethnology (Leiden) have a large collection from the Singhasari period.
The site of Singosari
On this website we focus on the site of present-day Singosari, formerly the capital city during the Singhasari period. We discuss the rediscovery of the site, the temple remains and the inscriptions and statues found there, and provide religious and historical background information.
During the colonial period related objects, such as those from Singosari, became separated from each other. Some are still in Singosari, others were moved to Jakarta and Leiden (and two to Bangkok). We acknowledge this history and try to bridge the distances that were created in the colonial past by reuniting them in the virtual surroundings of this website. Together they form the material culture of an important but not very well-known period in Indonesia’s past, a period that warrants more attention. The launch of this project gives our two museums a unique opportunity to strengthen our cooperation and to exchange knowledge and expertise. A virtual environment is flexible and makes changes and additions possible. We hope that this project can be expanded in the future to include more objects, information and scholarly articles.