Chapter 1, Part 11
Perched on a hill in the Kewu Plain, an unassuming compound of ancient structures made from andesite rocks is a beauty shrouded in mystery. Its roofed gate stood elegantly, in contrast with the austere walls surrounding the vast complex. Unassuming it is compared to the rich embellishments that adorn the Hindu-Buddhist monuments in the temple-studded plain, from Shivagrha to Manjusrigrha, which were constructed more than a thousand years ago.
Ratu Boko, also called Kraton Ratu Boko, is in fact the only surviving non-religious heritage built during the Medang kingdom period in Central Java. Most historians agree that a vihara (Buddhist temple) was first built on the hill. Taking the name Abhayagiri, it was indeed modeled after the other vihara in Anuradhapura by the same name, although the Javanese version was most likely more modest in size compared to its Sri Lankan counterpart. What we see today, however, resembles more like a palace complex than a Buddhist monastery.
A few steps after walking through the roofed entrance way, the crematory comes into sight on the left hand side. Despite its name, no human trace has ever been found within its rectangular niche, suggesting that woods were the only things that had been burned inside. Walking past a vast grass field, dotted with purportedly remnants of a building’s foundation, the four of us – Badai, Bart, James and I – reach the far end of the compound after walking down an ancient staircase through a gate whose lintel probably had collapsed many centuries ago. There, a walled enclosure – called the pendopo – with pear-shaped decorative pieces aligned on top of the andesite stone walls hide a handful of small shrines and chambers inside. Two secret bathing premises, each with its own walls, are visible from the elevated platform inside the pendopo from which one can get a sweeping view of the surrounding forests.
Based on the inscriptions found around the hill it is believed that during the reign of Rakai Pikatan, a local Hindu ruler by the name of Rakai Walaing challenged his authority. The king’s son and crown prince, Rakai Kayuwangi, pushed the recalcitrant patrician to the hills. Not only did Rakai Walaing defend the palace at the hilltop, he also made inscriptions bearing his name and his great grandfather, the king of Halu who, some historians believe, was related to Sanjaya, the king who reestablished Sailendra’s reign in much of Central Java. Hence the theory that Rakai Walaing was trying to usurp the throne of Medang.
During the restoration work, Buddhist and Hindu cultural artifacts were found within the palace compound, including statues of Dhyani Buddhas and Shaivite deities. They suggest either coexistence or syncretism between the two religions, at the time dominant in Central Java. In fact, a theory emerged, suggesting a historical connection between Kraton Ratu Boko and Balaputra, the Buddhist prince who fled to Srivijaya in Sumatra following the return of Hinduism to the royal court of Medang in the ninth century.
The union of Medang and Srivijaya was in fact broken. The former continued to assert Hindu influence in Java, while the latter was about to witness its power greatly challenged by an imminent threat across the Indian ocean in the beginning of the 11th century. An event that would forever change the political landscape in Southeast Asia.
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