Remnants of Java’s oldest kingdom

OFFICIAL MARKS: Sanskrit words are engraved onto an old stone, the Ciaruteun, located in an archeological site in Ciaruteun Ilir village, Cibungbulang district, Bogor regency, West Java. PHOTO BY THERESIA SUFA/THE JAKARTA POST

Vikkranta syavani pateh, Srimatah purnawarmanah. Tarumanagarendrasya, Visnoriva padadwayam.

The words were written with palawa characters originating from the Indian Pallava period.

Gandi, a caretaker at the Kampung Muara site, better known as the Ciaruteun site, explained Ciaruteun Ilir village used to be a thriving city under the kingdom of Tarumanegara (circa 358-669), the oldest kingdom in Indonesia’s West Java based in Kerawang, as indicated by the many inscriptions scattered along the bank of Ciaruteun River and a number of stone steps discovered in local plantations.

A team of archeological researchers from the National Archeology Research Centre (Arkenas) in Jakarta discovered megalithic artefacts in the village in 1970-1971 such as menhirs (standing stones), stone steps and several statues.

Other archeologists unearthed artefacts from later periods like limestone bracelets, bronze bowls, beads and porcelains, produced from the 12th to 16th centuries.

Research shows the area was formerly a settlement with stone block foundations, where megalithic ceremonies became the local tradition for Hindus and Buddhists coexisting in the area.

Four inscriptions found there confirmed this discovery: Ciaruteun, Kebun Kopi – popularly called Tapak Gajah, Pasir Muara, and Batu Dakon. Meanwhile, the Bandung Archeology Centre backfilled the stone blocks around Kebun Kopi or Tapak Gajah, pending further study.

The spider carving and footprints on the Ciaruteun inscription as well as the poetic Sankrit writing in palawa characters are the signature of the then-reigning monarch – King Purnawarman. Kebun Kopi or Tapak Gajah was found when locals were felling trees to build a coffee estate, hence the name.

Pasir Muara, the third inscription, located on the downstream bank of Cianteun River in Kampung Pasir Muara, Ciaruteun Ilir village, Cibungbulang district, features curly-looking characters and has not been relocated either. Batu Dakon, along with its menhirs, proves the existence of religious worship at the time.

“Ciaruteun was already removed from Ciaruteun River in June 1981 using pulleys, chains, planks and ropes. This 8-ton inscription took a month to lift and carry 150 meters. Arkenas researchers, Yogyakarta’s Gajah Mada University students of archeology, villagers and myself were involved in the work,” said Gandi.

Isak Tumetir, head of the Cultural Heritage Museum of Pasir Angin site, Cibungbulang, Bogor, who also coordinates Bogor’s archeological site caretakers, said the presence of this inscripted stone in Ciaruteun confirmed the existence of Tarumanegara.

“However, the history of Tarumanegara has not yet been fully compiled because we only have inscriptions as sources, and the other archeological relics only provide vague information. The inscriptions do not mention when exactly the Tarumanegara kingdom ended,” said Isak.

According to Isak, various artefacts of the metal age have also been found in Bogor. An excavation conducted by Arkenas in Pasir Angin village from 1970 to 1975 unearthed stone, iron, bronze, obsidian and glass relics besides different kinds of earthenware.

Among the artefacts were bronze axes in the form of swallow tails, swords, bronze sticks, pendants, beads, spearheads, iron axes and square adzes. All the objects were scattered around monoliths and belonged to prehistoric times. Most of the artefacts discovered including a gold mask are now kept at Arkenas in Jakarta.

Pasir Angin is believed to have been an archeological site occupied in the early metal age of Indonesia around 600-200 BCE. This was supported by the outcome of a provisional analysis of 12 carbon samples sent to Australia National University (ANU) in Canberra, four of them producing an absolute dating range from 1,000 BCE to 1,000 CE.

In 1984, the Bogor regency’s education and culture office personnel rescued several dwarapala (gatekeeper) and two elephant statues from Mt. Karang, Ciampea, Bogor, after receiving reports from residents digging for stones in the area. Based on research, it is believed the sculptures date back to the kingdom of Tarumanegara and are now kept at the Cultural Heritage Museum of Pasir Angin Site.

One of the elephant figures remains in the yard of the Ciampea district education technical office, because Bogor regency’s culture and tourism office lacked the funds to transport it to the museum.

“To maintain the diverse artefacts and inscriptions, we can’t work on our own and need relevant parties to be involved, including the Bogor regency. Some relics have not been properly handled like the Pasir Muara inscription and the elephant statue left in Ciampea, as a result of a lack of funds.

It’s hard to rely only on the Archeological Heritage Conservation Centre in Serang as it also takes care of artifacts in Jakarta, Banten and Lampung,” added Isak.

In the meantime, the secretary of Bogor regency’s culture and tourism office, Baehaki, said his agency had filed a request for financial aid with the provincial government of West Java to move Pasir Muara inscription from Cianteun River, in view of the autonomy status of this regency so that it is responsible for the maintenance of its various kinds of cultural heritage.

“We’re planning to lift Pasir Muara inscription from Cianteun River in 2011 and also move the elephant statue now left in the yard of the Ciampea district education technical office,” said Baehaki.

About dmacc502

Happy individual with positive outlook. Enjoy people and sharing ideas and mindful thoughts. Avid news watcher, cat lover, birdwatcher and cook.Fortunate not to have to work and love my quiet time. Married with two daughters in college.
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