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A brief history of the Mataram Kingdom, an Indianized state in Central Java that constructed massive monuments throughout ancient Indonesia.

Java today is the most populous island in the world, serving as the business, academic, and cultural hub of Indonesia. It played much the same role throughout much of recorded history, giving rise to early kingdoms such as Mataram. As the population of Java continues to increase and becomes more modern and urban, the Indonesia of today still holds strong to its cultural and historical roots.

Who Are the Mataram Kingdom?

The Mataram Kingdom flourished between 712 and 938 in Central Java, an island of Indonesia and lies southeast of Malaysia and west of Bali. It is also noted to be the world’s most populous island in the world today.

The Mataram Kingdom, also called the Medang Kingdom, was a Javanese Hindu-Buddhist kingdom. It was based in central and east Java and flourished between the 8th and 11th centuries. It was ruled by the Shailendra dynasty and was established by King Sanjaya. 

This article focuses on the historical context surrounding the Mataram culture and civilization of the Mataram Kingdom. To know more about its historical background, polytheistic religious practices, and rapid cultural growth, keep reading!

Origins of the Mataram Kingdom

The first major kingdom of central Java was the Medang or Mataram Kingdom, founded at the beginning of the 8th century. The earliest accounts of the Mataram Kingdom are in the Canggal inscription, which dates back to 732. 

The inscription gives an account of the erection of “Linga” (symbol of Lord Shiva) in the Kunjarakunja area, which is located on the island of Yawadwipa (Java). This Linga was raised under the rule of King Sanjaya, the lord of Mataram. 

According to the inscription, the kingdom was first ruled by King Sanna, who was known for his wisdom and knowledge. After his demise, there was a period of disunity, until Sanjaya, the nephew of king Sanna, ascended the throne. During his reign, there was peace and prosperity for all his subjects.

However, a Sundanese book called Carita Parahyangan gives a slightly different account of the same story. In this book, Sanjaya is the son of Sanna. It also states that Sanna was overthrown by the king of Galuh and was forced to retreat to Mount Merapi. His son, Sanjaya, later avenged his father and defeated the King of Galuh. The kingdom was finally restored to the rightful heir, and Sanjaya ruled West Java, East Java, Central Java, and Bali.

It is believed that King Sanjaya was the one who left the written records of these events on the Canggal inscription, though it’s impossible to know for sure. 

Mataram Kingdom Name Origins

Initially, the kingdom was called “Yawadvipa,” another name for the island of Java. Indonesian archaeologists such as Soekmono identify the kingdom as Mataram, based on a geographical location called Mataram in central Java. Additionally, king Sanjaya’s full name was “Rakai Mataram Sang Ratu Sanjaya,” which may have been another reason for the name of the kingdom. The etymology of the name “Mataram” is derived from the Sanskrit term for “mother.”

The name Medang was found in East Javanese inscriptions. Some historians believe that the Central Java period (732-929) was referred to as Mataram, and the later Eastern Java period (929-1006) was identified as Medang. 

However, it is also believed that the kingdom was called Medang, and the capital was Mataram, based on some phrases found in the inscriptions. Etymologically, the name Medang is an ancient Javanese term that means “to gracefully appear.”

Culture and Beliefs of the Mataram Kingdom

Mataram Social Structure

The Javanese had a complex social structure and also recognized the Hindu caste system. The ancient Javanese society was divided into four classes:

  • The royal family
  • The religious authorities
  • The commoners

Historians have discovered that the different classes had a dress code that they strictly adhered to. The royal family and their servants could be identified by their luxurious clothing and intricate golden jewelry. All the priests wore robes or cloaks called “sinhels.” The commoners, who were also described as villagers, wore very simple clothing and rarely adorned any jewelry or ornaments.

Religion in the Mataram Kingdom

The society was polytheistic and combined the religious beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism, along with native shamanism and pre-Dharmic beliefs. Under the rule of King Sanjaya, the Mataram Kingdom favored and worshipped Lord Shiva and gave much importance to his symbol, the Linga. 

However, during the reign of Panangkaran, Mahayana Buddhism gained popularity. Many temples were built to pay homage to Buddhist beliefs.

The kingdom gave importance to the priest class in both religions. The Brahmins and the Sangha Buddhists represented their respective religions and conducted the state’s religious ceremonies together in the temples. 

There were many ardent temple construction projects in the kingdom which were possibly motivated by the combined religious zeal of both religions. 

In the 16th century, Islam became a major religion as the island of Java became a Muslim sultanate. 

Art in the Mataram Kingdom

The importance of art in the kingdom depicted through the various carvings found on the temple walls during this era. These carvings gave rich portrayals of life during the ninth century.

The architecture was another form of art that flourished during this period, and can still be seen in their magnificent temples that exist even today.

There was a cultural mingling in the southwestern part of Java, where the Javanese and Sundanese cultures combined to create the Banyusaman culture. In addition to this, the most famous Javanese arts were gamelan music and wayang puppet shows, which became traditional arts.

History of the Mataram Kingdom

Historians believe that there were two prevailing dynasties that ruled Central Java together; the Buddhist Sailendra and Shivanist Sanjaya dynasties. This period of the dual dynasty was characterized by peaceful co-operation. 

However, in the middle of the ninth century, the relationship between the dynasties deteriorated. The Sailendra managed to gain full control of Central Java and became the overlords of the Sanjayas. 

There is not much information regarding the Sailendra rule, but it signified a cultural renaissance in the region. The kingdom saw rapid growth during the 9th century. 

However, the Sailendra rule was short-lived. In 852, the Sanjaya ruler, Pikatan, defeated the Sailendra ruler’s offspring and ended their rule in Java. The Sanjaya rule lasted until the end of the Medang Kingdom. During his reign, King Pikatan built the royal Hindu Trimurti temple known today as Candi Prambanan. 

Geography of Mataram Kingdom

Mataram Kingdom in Central Java

Mataram emerged in the highlands and fertile plains of Central Java, where productivity in rice cultivation was aided by the advent of the island’s iconic rice terraces. These high yields created the stable food source necessary for high population growth and an organized state society, led by those who were in control of the upland water sources.

This societal organization would later go on to become proficient builders on not only the public infrastructure needed for water management, but the monumental Hindu-Buddhist religious architecture that still dots much of Java, including the renowned Borobudur and Prambanan temples.

Mataram in Eastern Java

Central Java was always the center of the Mataram Kingdom. But in 929, the center was shifted to East Java. Historians are uncertain about the exact cause for this sudden shift, but believe it may have been because of a natural calamity or epidemic outbreak. 

They also believe that the Merapi volcano may have erupted and destroyed the Kingdom’s capital in Mataram. This expansion took place under the rule of the last king of the Sanjaya dynasty, Mpu Sindok.

What Happened to the Mataram Kingdom?

The collapse of the kingdom occurred in the tenth century. There was an ongoing rivalry between the Sumatran Srivijaya and Javanese Medang kingdoms, which became more hostile. 

This rivalry may have been caused by the Srivijayan attempt to seize the Sailendra lands in Java. This is because the Srivijaya maharajas, Balaputra and his son, belonged to the Sailendra dynasty.

In 1006, Srivijaya attacked and destroyed the Medang palace, killing most of the royal family. With the death of king Dharmawangsa and the fall of the capital, the kingdom finally collapsed.

However, a nephew of king Dharmawangsa had escaped capture and had remained in exile. Later on, he reunited the fallen kingdom and re-established the kingdom (including Bali) under the name of the kingdom of Kahuripan. After many years, the kingdom was renamed as Kediri.

Cities of the Mataram Kingdom

Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
GPS: -7.7869, 110.37398

Dieng Plateau
Central Java, Indonesia
GPS: -7.20499, 109.90667

Monuments of the Mataram Kingdom

Borobudur
Central Java, Indonesia
GPS: -7.60737, 110.20388

Prambanan
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
GPS: -7.75204, 110.49177

Candi Sewu
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
GPS: -7.74406, 110.49298

Fast Facts


Name: Mataram Kingdom

Origin: Early Indianized kingdom emerging from native Javanese population.

Language: Old Javanese, Sanskrit

Religion: Buddhism (Mahayana), Hinduism

Era: 712 – 938 CE

Location: Central Java, Indonesia

Capital: Yogyakarta

Decline: Fell to Srivijaya, later reemerging as the Kediri Kingdom.


Glossary

Buddhism
Dharmic religion centered on the belief of karma and release from the cycle of reincarnation. Based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.

Hinduism
Dharmic religion centered on the belief of karma and release from the cycle of reincarnation. It stems from Vedic teachings and one of the oldest extant religions in the world.

Khmer Empire
Hindu-Buddhist kingdom which ruled much of Southeast Asia from their capital at Angkor.

Strait of Malacca
Narrow waterway between Sumatra and the Malaysian Peninsula that has been one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world throughout history.

Srivijaya Empire
Empire based in Sumatra which controlled or influenced Buch of the Malay archipelago circa 600-1200 CE.

thalassocracy
A maritime society that uses its navy to project power.

Sources

Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi all, my name is Ben. I’m a native Michigander with a passion for human culture and new places, and more than that, new experiences. I have degrees in archaeology and writing, pursuing a career in the latter. However, I never quite lost that fascination for archaeological theory. For the past 9 years, I’ve been living and travelling in Asia, documenting ancient sites and the peoples who built them, and then adapting them into practical archaeological travel information at PathsUnwritten.com.

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