Singosari Temple – Remnants of a Forgotten Kingdom

The Singosari Temple in Malang, East Java is an unfinished remnant of the Singhasari kingdom (1222-1292).

The city of Malang in East Java was our unconventional southern jump-off point to the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, which is popularly accessed from the north via Surabaya and Probolinggo. Once the center of a lesser-known Hindu-Buddhist empire – the pre-cursor of the Majapahit – in East Java, Malang has a few archaeological sites worth dropping by.

You may have heard of the Srivijava and Majapahit maritime empires, but how about the Singhasari? Interestingly, this kingdom was established by orphaned commoner named Ken Arok, whose father is believed to be Brahma himself, the Hindu god of creation. From a court servant, he somehow found took over the rule of the Kediri kingdom (1045 to 1221).
Detailed kala motif on Candi Singosari 

Only a few temples have survived from the Singosari period, the most promiment one being the Singosari Temple (Candi Singosari), located 12 km north of Malang. Looking out of place in a residential area, this was suppose to be a Buddhist place of worship dedicated to Singhasari’s last ruler, King Kertanegara. The handiwork is more detailed at the top, indicating that the artisans worked on the temple from top to bottom. However, the lower kala head reliefs are only unfinished outlines, indicating that the temple was abandoned by its craftsmen, most likely because of the fall of the kingdom. As the personified deity of Time, kala is the god of death, and a recurring motif in Javanese temples. Along a perimeter of temple grounds are a row of headless statues. And some 200 meters from the temple are two large mythical sentries (dwaraphalas) believed to guard the entrance to the ancient palace complex. 
The Singhasari kingdom only lasted for seven decades from 1222 to 1292. The empire greatly expanded under the reign of its fifth and last ruler, King Kertanegara, who launched a peaceful campaign to subjugate areas of the weakening Srivijaya Empire. The rising power and influence of the empire caught the attention of Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China, who sent emissaries demanding tribute and submission from Java. The king turned them down, sending back one of Kublai’s emissaries with a severed ear. 
Headless statues line the perimeter of the temple grounds

Kublai Khan sent a fleet of over 1,000 war junks to subjugate the Singhasari kingdom. By the time they reached East Java in 1293, the Singhasari empire had already fallen under Duke Jayakatwang, a usurper from the Kediri lineage, who killed Kertanegara. Raden Wijaya, Kertanegara’s son-in-law, allied with the Mongols to defeat Jayakatwang, but later drove the invaders away from Java, establishing himself as the first ruler of the succeeding empire of Majapahit.   
HOW TO GET THERE: We arrived in Malang from Yogyakarta by train (7 hours) and departed by non-AC bus to Surabaya (IDR 15,000 or PHP 75, 3-4 hours). Expect heavy traffic between Malang and Surabaya, largely due to infrastructure repairs and dike constructions in the wake of the Sidoarjo Mud Flow, which has been devastating the area since 2006.

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