The rise of the empire of Majapahit occurred soon after the death of Kertanagara, last king of Singosari, in A.D. 1292. At the time, the usurper Jayakatwang held power, forcing Kertanagara's commander-in-chief and rightful successor, Raden Wijaya, to flee to Madura. By a combination of good fortune and cunning diplomacy, however, Raden Wijaya succeeded in defeating Jayakatwang and established the new kingdom in 1294.

Local, as well as Chinese sources, preserve the same basic story. The Chinese emperor, Kublai Khan, as will be remembered, had been insulted by Kertanagara, who had disfigured the face of one of his envoys, sent to Singosari to demand tribute. In anger, the Khan forthwith arranged for a punitive expedition to be sent to Java, with the object of capturing the Singosari king. In the meantime, however, unknown to the Chinese, Kertanagara had already been killed and a usurper, Jayakatwang, ruled in his place.
The story goes that when the Mongol naval force arrived in the harbour at Surabaya, numbers depleted from a long and tiring voyage, they were met by Raden Wijaya, who offered to assist them in their mission. This agreed, the combined forces attacked the court of Singosari, captured Jayakatwang and returned triumphantly towards the coast. On the way, however, Raden Wijaya's army turned on the foreign allies, killing most of them and sending the rest running back to their ships. In this way, it is told, Raden Wijaya established the new dynasty.
It was during the reign of Raden Wijaya's successor, Jayanagara, that Gajah Mada rose to prominence as a brilliant military commander and strategist. Following the death of Jayanagara in 1328. his power increased still further, until in 1336 he became effectively the supreme ruler of Majapahit, acting as regent to the new king HayamWuruk, who was still too young to rule. Under the leadership of Gajah Mada, the empire of Majapahit expanded to control most of the Indonesian islands as well as part of the south east Asian mainland. Today, the Javanese recognize Gajah Mada as the first to realize the dream of a united Indonesia. As such, he stands alone as the pre-eminent culture hero. Majapahit's later rulers do not appear to have possessed Gajah Mada's vision and determination and after his death in 1364 the kingdom began to decline. The last of Raden Wijaya's direct descendants was Queen Suhita, whose reign came to an end in 1447. Following her death, Majapahit lingered on until the early years of the 16th century, after which it collapsed entirely under pressure from the rising power of the new Islamic states on Java's north coast. The graves of a number of the later rulers of Majapahit, including Suhita, can be found in the village of Troloyo, not far from Trowulan.
The name Majapahit stems from the two words maja, meaning a type of fruit, and pahit, which is the Indonesian word for 'bitter'. It is said that Raden Wijaya's first foothold on the Javanese main land, following his period of exile in Madura, was a small area of forest containing many trees of bitter maja fruit, on which his faithful Madurese followers had to live while clearing the land.

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