King Airlangga of Kahuripan Kingdom: The Greatest King in Asia History Creating the Great Vision in 11th Century

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King Airlangga of Kahuripan Kingdom: The Greatest King in Asia History Creating the Great Vision in 11th Century

Narrating about the king Airlangga of Kahuripan Kingdom in Java – Indonesia is universally appealing, and he is usually attributed to the hero and Vishnu god in his throne. King Airlangga is a prominent figure who gave his life and efforts to something bigger than his dreams, which many historical documents reveal he evoked a great contribution on politics, religion and trade relations among Java, Sumatra and rest Asia countries in 11th century. He performed prodigies of strength and courage in pursuit of honor, power and authority to expand his territories and influence. The king is a figure endowed with the spirit of self-sacrifice, and he is a hero who would rather die than yield to his enemies. His endowments to his people and kingdom were recorded on manuscripts that have been memorably by his heirs until today.

King Airlangga (1006 – 1049 AD) was born around 1000 AD in Bali. His father was King of Bali, King Udayana, and his mother was Mahendradatta, a great-grandchild of Mpu Sendok or Sri Isyana Wikramadharmottunggadewa (929 – 947 AD), the first king of Wangsa Isyana dynasty ruling Medang kingdom in Central and East Java. Mahendradatta was also a sister of Dharmawangsa Teguh (991 – 1007 AD), the last king of Medang kingdom in Java. Thus, he was a nephew of King Dharmawangsa Teguh. When Airlangga, at the age of 16 years, was betrothed to the daughter of King Dharmawangsa, the king Wurawari, a vassal of Dharmawangsa from Lwaraman (in Ngloram, Cepu and Blora of Central Java, rebelled and attacked Medang kingdom. Supported by Srivijaya, Wurawari troops destroyed Medang kingdom and killed king Dharmawangsa. The Pralaya (disaster) in 1016 AD referred to the inscription was caused by an attack by the king of Wurawari. The inscription further stated that Airlangga, together with Mpu Narotama (a reverend and faithful person dignitary), took refuge in the forest and lived with the hermits. He prepared himself spiritually and physically. After four years of his refuge, he was able to re-establish royal authority and succeeded his uncle as a king in 1009 AD. He ascended the throne as the victorious Sri Maharaja Rakrayan Halu, establishing a kraton (palace) at the unidentified capital Kahuripan in the northeastern corner of east Java.1)

In early eleventh century, the Srivijaya – Palembang empire declined following attack by Rajendra Chola I, a Chola king from Tamil Nadu in South India in 1017 AD. The 1030 Tajore inscription issued by Rajendra Chola I mentions that the invaders succeeded in occupying Malacca Straits of Srivijaya kingdom and capturing Srivijaya king Sangramavijayatottunggavarman of Kadaram (modern Kedah) in 1025 AD.2) The Srivijaya’s decline was a valuable chance for Airlangga to vanquish his enemies gradually for reunification of Java kingdom. It also contributed the rise of Javanese kingdom that was ruled by King Airlangga. Wars for the sake of the nation prestige were undertaken by Airlangga. In 1032, Airlangga with his troops successfully defeated King Wurawari, but Airlangga made a reconciliation with Srivijaya kingdom to encounter Chola’s occupation in Srivijaya. In Javanese script mentions that King Airlangga was betrothed to Sangrama Vijayottungavarman, a daughter of King Rajendra from Srivijaya Kingdom to consolidate a reconciliation and alliance between Java and Srivijaya to face the Chola threat.3) This political marriage could successfully create a close tie between the two kingdoms, Java and Srivijaya. Both kingdoms agreed to divide their territory and political power as well as trade into two allotments of commerce power: Java developed its power and trade in the east, while Srivijaya controlled the west part.4)

Airlangga brought improvements of his kingdom swiftly in political affairs, the country’s economy, and religious and social issues, in order to supersede Srivijaya’s position as trade center and international transit seaport under Chola Empire. As the greatness of his power, the several manuscripts mention that Airlangga considered himself as an incarnation of Visnu, Kstria Mahapurusa, and Cakravartin. The incarnation legitimized the Airlangga’s throne as the supreme power and guardian of the world (Visnu God). Airlangga is known to have been a keen patron of the arts, notably literature. In around A.D 1035, the court poet Mpu Kanwa produced the Arjuna Wiwaha, which has to this day remained one of Java’s most popular classical stories. Adopted from the Indian Mahabharata epic, the poem recounts episodes in the life of the hero sage Arjuna riding Garuda, who was an incarnation of the Hindu god Wishnu. The archaeological gold necklace and other ornaments relieved with the story of Arjuna Wiwaha were found in Wonosuryo village, near Belahan Temple, where the King ever lived there. Now these relics are under private collection in Jakarta (see. Fig. 1: Golden Artifacts of Airlangga King). He, like Arjuna figure in Indian epic Mahabharata, was seen as a divine incarnation, apparently laid to rest at Temple Belahan, where he was also portrayed in stone as Wishnu on Garuda. Garuda is a mythology bird, part of the body is human being, and other part is Bathara Wishnu. It is a king of birds, which a descent of Kasyapa and Winata, one of princess of Dakla. Garuda is an eternal enemy of Naga, a characteristic inherited from its mother, who had been ever in quarrel with the same concubine and its superior, Kadru, a mother of Nagas. The deified sculpture of King Airlangga depicted as Vishnu mounting Garuda also found in Belahan, now is the collection of Trowulan Museum, East Java (See fig. 2: Airlangga Sculpture). Kahuripan kingdom also inherited the historical Belahan temple, located in Gempol – Pasuruan – East Java, providing a royal bathing place for King and his empresses. (see fig. 3: Belahan Temple).

In Airlangga inscriptions, Kahuripan kingdom was initially located in Mojokerto village, East Java – Indonesia. The king then moved his kingdom’s capital to Kahuripan, Kediri village, East Java – Indonesia. The kingdom’s territory comprised almost east java regions, including Singhasari and Majapahit, with the important sea ports of international trade and diplomatic affairs. After he had consolidated his hold over East Java, Airlangga occupied and dominated Bali island. Then, with Bali under his sway, Airlangga went on to subordinate Central Java, a great rice barn that had supplied Srivijaya’s port.

The king Airlangga also built and controlled the domestic trade ports and had at finger-ends of two great rivers, the Bengawan Solo and Brantas Rivers, along with numerous small streams providing convenient waterways for boats. The king also controlled the international trade in Tuban and Gresik ports he established, where the presence of foreigners in the ports were subjected to tax. They resided inside the kingdom and could have been trade representatives, professionals, and artisans. Archaeological findings consisting of ceramics from China, Cambodia, and the Middle East, have been excavated near Tuban and the interior regions. These findings are visible clues of a smooth-running commercial network, connecting the area to other regions that were linked by sea.5)

One of the important sources of prestige and power at the local level was the possession of rare, imported goods that the king bestowed on the worthy. Chinese porcelain may well have been one of the items that served this purpose in the earliest centuries of East Java’s hegemony. Although porcelain was never mentioned in the lists of market good found on inscriptions, but Chinese records reveal that significant quantities of porcelain were shipped to Java around the time, and numerous ceramic sherds have been excavated from this period.6) The Chinese ceramic import was resumed by Airlangga’s successors in later periods when Airlangga divided Kahuripan kingdom into two kingdoms which were inherited by his two sons, they are Janggala (1045–1136 AD) and Kediri (1045–1221 AD). The team of ARCA (Asian Art Relics and Culture Association) researched the Chinese ceramics that were excavated from Jepara shipwreck in Java sea near Karimunjawa village. The shipwreck was found in 1998, and it contains thousands of Chinese ceramics from the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127 AD). They are celadon ware from Longquan, Ding wares, and Qingbai wares of Northern Song dynasty. ARCA has preserved hundreds of Chinese ceramics excavated from Jepara and Tuban Shipwreck (see fig. 4: Chinese Ceramic from Shipwreck). To ascertain the Chinese ceramics, we should not just rely on our eyes and subjective presumptions. We have different eyes and opinion on pieces in regard with period of them. There is no an expert acclaiming that his/her eyes and opinion is accurate on period of pieces. For scientifically and accountable research, the best route to ascertain the authenticity of ancient art is based on archaeological artifacts supported by historical references.

The triumph of Java kingdom under king Airlangga was recorded on Pucangan Charter mentioning, “In 597 Saka (1035 AD), after conquering the East, South, and West and controlling the whole Java, the Great King (Seri Paduka Jang Mulia raja)- with his triumphant – reigned and wore bejeweled crown after he put his feet on the head of his enemies ………”. It is undoubtedly, George Coedes worthily places Airlangga in a position equal to that of other kings on mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia as the greatest king in 11th century, such as:

  1. King Suryavarman I of Khmer (1002 – 1050 AD)
  2. King Anurudha of Pagan- Myanmar (1044 – 1077 AD)
  3. King Rajaraja Chola (983 – 1014 AD)
  4. King Rajendra Chola I (1014 – 1044 AD).7)


  1. A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500, Kenneth R. Hall, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc, UK, 2011, p. 139

  2. Wolters O.W, Early Indonesian Commerce: A Study of the Origins of SRīvijaya, Ithaca, N. Y: Cornell University Press. 1967, pp. 250 – 251

  3. Mpu Kanwa, Arjunawiwaha = The Marriage of Mpu Kanwa, traduit par Stuart Robson, Leiden, KITLV Press, 2008, p. 3.

  4. Dr Prijohutomo, Sejarah Kebudayaan Indonesia, Kebudayaan Hindu di Indonesia (The Indonesian Culture History, Hinduism Culture in Indonesia), 1953, pp. 41 – 43.

  5. Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia, edited by Hermann Kulke, K Kesavapany, Vijay, Institute of Southeast Asia Study, Singapore, 2009, pp. 235 – 236.

  6. Wisseman Christie, “Wanua, thani, paraduwan: The ‘Disintegrating’ Villages of Early Java?” in Texts: Oral and Written Traditions, ed. W. Marshall (Bern: University of Bern, 1991, p. 37.

  7. George Coedès, The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Walter F. Vella (ed.), trans. Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press, 1968, p. 134.



King Airlangga of Kahuripan Kingdom: The Greatest King in Asia History Creating the Great Vision in 11th Century