Kertanagara, the last king of Singhasari

On the occasion of Kertanagara’s accession in 1254, the capital, formerly called Kutaraja, was renamed Singhasari. According to the Nagarakertagama, a fourteenth-century text, Kertanagara’s long reign brought stability. It portrays Kertanagara as a king who quashed several rebellions, unified Java, and extended his influence to other islands, including Sumatra, Madura and Bali.

Statue Amoghapasha Lokeshvara

Kertanagara even defied the Chinese. When the Yuan dynasty requested that Singhasari show submission to Emperor Kublai Khan, Kertanagara refused. In 1289 he sent the Chinese envoy back with a mutilated face. The Chinese launched a punitive expedition to Java, but by the time it had arrived, Kertanagara had already died.

As a king, Kertanagara apparently evoked different reactions. The Nagarakertagama provides us with a positive image: a strategic king, protecting the world in turbulent times, guaranteeing continued prosperity, seeking inspiration in Buddhist teachings, and performing rituals and meditation for the stability of the world.

However, the Pararaton, another text, depicts him as the opposite: a frivolous man who liked to drink palm wine, and who is taken by surprise when attacked by enemies. Another important source of information is the Wurara inscription.

Gifts with a political motivation

According to the Nagarakertagama, King Kertanagara had a vision to expand the kingdom to include Malayu (in Sumatra), Pahang (in Malaysia), Bali, Gurun (an island in eastern Indonesia), and Bakulapura or Tanjungpura (in Kalimantan), as well as Sunda (West-Java) and Madura. He was probably inspired by the new power that had emerged in China: the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) established by Kublai Khan (1215-1294), its first emperor.

Kublai Khan felt so powerful that he immediately began to request acknowledgements from countries which had previously recognized the supremacy of the Chinese emperors of the Sung dynasty. The new dynasty was quite aggressive. When envoys were sent to other countries, including Burma (Pagan), Cambodia (the Khmer realm) and Vietnam (Champa), and these countries did not send proper gifts, they were forced to submit to the Yuan dynasty’s military dominance. The Mongolian armies attacked these countries when they refused to submit immediately.

Java’s turn to receive Kublai Khan’s envoys came in 1280 and 1281; the envoys demanded that a prince be sent to China as a symbol of submission to the Yuan emperor. This worried King Kertanagara who wanted to maintain his authority. He understood the need to develop good relations with neighbouring kings, especially the king of Malayu, who was nearby and strategically positioned on trade routes. Hence, a friendship mission and gifts were sent to the king of Malayu to ensure Malayu’s continued loyalty to the king of Singhasari.

Thus, it is documented that in the Shaka year 1208 (22 August 1286), King Kertanagara sent a beautiful Amoghapasha Lokeshvara statue as a gift to the people of the Malayu kingdom, to be placed in Dharmmashraya. All the Malayu people, regardless of their social class, and their king, Tribhuwanaraja Mauliwarmadewa, were happy with this gift.

The gift had been carefully conceived. Firstly, the language used for the inscription on its base was not Old Javanese but Old Malay, the language of the receiving people and the king of Malayu. This gave the impression that King Kertanagara was demonstrating his respect for the king of Malayu and not promoting himself by using Old Javanese, which would probably not have been familiar to the Malayu people.

Secondly, King Kertanagara ordered four high-ranking officers to accompany the gift; some of them bore Malay titles, such as ‘Hang’, as in Samgat Payanan Hang Dipankaradasa. Hence King Kertanagara had carefully selected people who could help to improve the political relationships between Java and Malayu.

Singhasari’s fall

On 17 April 1292 King Kertanagara claimed victory over his enemies in the Camundi inscription, his last inscription. Ironically, the final attack on him did not come from external forces but from his own relatives.

The king had appointed Wiraraja to his administration but, not having full confidence in him, had sent him away from the court and made him governor of Madura. Jayakatwang, ruler of Daha (Kadiri), who was married to one of Kertanagara’s younger sisters, allied himself with 
Wiraraja, against Kertanagara.

Inscription on Camundi statue

Barely two months after King Kertanagara had claimed his victory, at some point between 18 May and 15 June, Jayakatwang sent the bulk of his troops to attack Singosari from the north. Kertanagara immediately reacted by sending all his troops to end the rebellion. Jayakatwang, who was a fine strategist, then took the opportunity to send his elite troops via the south to attack the palace.

As all of Singhasari’s soldiers were in the north, the accomplishment of this task was easy. Jayakatwang and his troops attacked the palace and Kertanagara was killed, together with his high-level officials and religious leaders. This event, the tragic death of King Kertanagara who had just celebrated victory, is commemorated in the Gajah Mada inscription of Shaka 1214 (1292 AD).

Gajah Mada inscription

Temples for the king

The Nagarakertagama mentions a number of temples in connection with Kertanagara. One is Jajawi, which is known as the glorious work (kirti) of King Kertanagara. It is said to have been a temple where both Shaivas and Buddhists worshipped. The text informs us that the lower part was Shaivite and the upper part Buddhist.

The temple contained a beautiful image of Shiva and a story tells us that originally there was also an image of the Jina Buddha Akshobhya in the upper portion. However, this miraculously disappeared in 1331. Scholars believe that this Jajawi temple can be identified as the temple we now know as Candi Jawi.

There is, according to the text, a temple in Singhasari, in which Kertanagara is said to be enshrined in the form of statues of Shiva and Buddha. It is often suggested that this temple is the temple we now know as Candi Singosari, but it could also have been one of the other temples at Singosari, now lost.

Furthermore, it is mentioned that the king was represented in a Jina Buddha image in Sagala, where, it seems, this was half male and half female (Ardhanarishvara), representing the king and his spouse. The term Ardhanarishvara is usually used to denote an image that is half Shiva and half Parvati, but in this case the text explains that it refers to an image of the Jina Buddha Vairocana and this Buddha’s spouse, Locana.


The epilogue of the battle in the north of the kingdom is easy to predict. One of the generals sent by Kertanagara was his son-in-law, who was Jayakatwang’s son. He fought his father’s armies without conviction and Jayakatwang won the battle. He became king, but not for long.

A prince of the Singhasari house managed to flee the battleground. His name was Wijaya. He was the great-grandson of Ken Angrok, the founder of the Singhasari dynasty, and Ken Dedes, and the son-in-law of Kertanagara. He was therefore, through marriage, also linked with Tunggul Ametung, Ken Dedes’s first husband. Thus, the two lines of the Singhasari house were united in Wijaya.

While Jayakatwang prepared himself to fight the Chinese, Wijaya used the Chinese to achieve his own ends: he submitted to the Chinese and asked for their help against Jayakatwang. In 1293, the Chinese armies defeated Jayakatwang and the Majapahit era began.

Read more about Wijaya's success