Local traditions clash with attempts to draw tourists to the site of an ancient Javanese kingdom
When he established Majapahit on November 12, 1293 CE, it might never cross the mind of Nararya Sanggramawijaya, who made himself its first king entitled Kertarajasa Jayawardhana, that the place upon which stood the alleged capital of his glorious kingdom would have to deal with a possible destruction in the face of modern industrial power. But that is the reality of Trowulan, 720 years later.
One of the biggest kingdoms in Southeast Asia’s history that once purportedly conquered almost the whole Indonesian archipelago, Majapahit is said to have come to an end in 1478 CE, a year Javanese people often refer to with the chronogram sirna ilang kerta ning bumi that means the wealth of the earth disappeared, diminished. We have gone a long way since then and years of efforts by various parties to bring the kingdom ‘back to life’ never seemed to succeed. And now the restoration work of the Trowulan site in Mojokerto, East Java, is facing yet another struggle. This time it is against a capital-faced opposition that boasts its power not by building a temple but rather, a steel mill.
“Save Trowulan, Selamatkan Bumi Majapahit dari Industrialisasi.” (“Save Trowulan, Save the Land of Majapahit from Industrialization.”)
Such call was boldly written on the posters found in houses, eating places, and offices of some organizations and institutions around Trowulan. The posters showed a figure of Majapahit’s celebrated Prime Minister Gajah Mada holding a dagger, standing upon the ruins of a mill that has an “industry” sign, a symbol of a new conquering power—a new dream.
The Save Trowulan is a movement initiated in July 2013. In response to the construction plan of the steel mill, a group of community members have decided to unite. “Not only the people of Trowulan but also cultural figures, artists from many other places—everyone who is concerned about culture. We all joined this protest and this theatrical action,” said Nanang Moeny (41), the coordinator of the Save Trowulan. The protest, as Nanang explained, managed to gather over 300 people and marked the start of the movement against the building of a steel mill on the 3.6-hectare area.
Many different efforts by this movement have come to fruition. The construction work has had to stop or probably be postponed; its disturbance permit has been complained by the local community. However, the regional government has issued a building permit to PT Manunggal Sentra Baja. “That is why the protest will continue. Trowulan should be a protected cultural site, and there are many remains that have not been discovered in this soil. [They] must not be left crushed by heavy industry,” stressed Nanang.
Majapahit in Celebrations (Community vs Government)
During the first week of November 2013, Trowulan was noisy with celebratory events. The Ministry of Education and Culture supported by big corporate sponsors held a ceremony marking the ‘720th Anniversary of Majapahit’ on November 9. The events include a drum band competition, a Road to Majapahit discussion, a Grebeg Tumpeng traditional ceremony, a fun public exercise, and an entertainment such as a reggae musical performance that was crowded by young people in Rastafari costumes.
In addition, the regency government of Mojokerto organized a week of Grebeg Suro Mojopahit 1947 Çaka with the final event taking place on November 10, 2013. This annual event that always attracts thousands of East Javanese was claimed by the Regional Secretary Ir. Heri Suwito as an ancestral custom of Indonesia. “The parade contains traditions of our ancestors, in this case Majapahit. Everything performed [in it] is a culture of Majapahit nuswantara,” he said.
The parade that extended more or less 3 km featured numerous Indonesian traditional performances. Among them were the appearance of Putranaga Art Community from the nearby city of Malang, a reog dance from Ponorogo, an ogoh-ogoh parade from Bali, and a Bantengan dance as the art icon of Mojokerto by the Pencak Silat Group of Panji Siliwangi. Besides there were also others showing things that actually did not feel quite right if claimed as ‘traditions of our ancestors’. They were a procession of small, bald-headed Trowulan children, Wajo (Waria Jombang, meaning the Transsexuals of Jombang City) drag queens, and a costume parade resembling the Jember Fashion Carnival.
Although it looked successful thanks to the flocking audience, this celebration actually received a lot of criticisms especially from the cultural activists of Trowulan. “Many local people here felt disappointed by the ceremony. It belonged to them but was taken by the regency government. It became a plain carnival, with no soul. The Majapahit spirit was gone, there was no sacredness,” said Deni Indiyanto (33), a sculptor and the head of a neighborhood association in Jatisumber locality, Trowulan. Deni said, the local people were not involved in the ceremony of Grebeg Suro. Even the organizing committee was brought from Malang. And likewise, the art performers participating in the parade were not from Trowulan except the bald kids.
Indeed, many things seemed weird in this ceremony. For instance, it should have started at 1pm, but in reality it began at 4pm. The starting location was changed; it was at the village hall while on the schedule it should have been at Wringin Lawang Temple. The participants had difficulties during the event as the Putranaga group’s 4.5-m high carnival vehicle got caught many times by the electric wires crossing over the roads. The wide-winged costumes of some performers were damaged because the audience kept pushing in from their both sides. The same thing also happened to several other big, decorated vehicles. What was more ridiculous is the fact that so many spectators kept walking to follow the parade, barging their way into the road that they blocked the view of the others.
“Usual thing eh? The government. [It’s] for the sake of tourism industry. Not more than a celebration so it is only for entertainment,” said Ahmad Saiful Anam (30), a member of the Mojokerto Regency Board of Arts. He was one of the committee members but Anam shared the same feeling of upset about the way this celebration was held. “The Regent was wrong. He asked for an event like those in Bali to attract tourists. This is what happens when you get everything tourismized. All spoiled. The Save Trowulan is of a different school. It can be said [theirs are] in opposition to this event,” he continued.
The artists, cultural activists, and community members under the Save Trowulan responded by organizing their own event. On the same day from morning until afternoon, they staged a theatrical performance and held an auction of carvings and terracotta. The auction was intended to serve as a fundraiser for the movement. Sufficient funds will allow them to hold monthly events independently and to advance the cause for making Trowulan a protected cultural area.
The event was resumed at night with traditional dances and a Majapahit-style puppet show complete with its entailing rituals and prayers. These were performed upon a stage set at the Brahu Temple, which is believed to be the place where King Brawijaya I–IV were laid to rest. It was really captivating. Under the moonlight, the magical dance and gayatri mantra proved to be spine-tingling. After two days of typical ceremonies not really different from those in the cities, finally there was a real taste of Majapahit on its 720th anniversary.