This year the governments of East and Central Java held a south coast cultural festival involving Banyuwangi, Blitar, Kediri and Tulungagung, with the highlight a Larung Sesaji procession of offerings to the sea on the 25th October.
I decided to attend and take in a few days sightseeing on the Malang – Tulungagung – Ponorogo – Yogyakarta road. I flew into Malang with a few friends — staying one night at the lovely Tugu Park, my favourite hotel in the world — and left early the next morning to visit the Hindu Majapahit-era candi temple in Pare, north of Kediri, an easy three-hour drive through the mountain west of Batu.
Pare must have been some capital in its height day, from the 10th – 15th century: there are monuments in the district to King Joyoboyo and pioneer priest Empu Beradah (who achieved moksha there after a stellar decade long career re-shaping the Balinese Siwa-Buddha religion and funerary monuments to various Majapahit rulers in Bali).
The erotic carving at Candi Surowono, Pare, Kediri
Carvings on Candi Tegowangi, Pare, Kediri
Carving on Candi Sangahan in Tulungagung
Exquisite 15th Century Majapahit Era carvings on Candi Surowono, Pare, Kediri
We first visited the Majapahit-era temples Candi Tejowangi and the nearby Candi Surowono, which are nestled in a pretty rural countryside outside the city. Both feature bases carved with stories from Panji tales. The carving style is very lyrical and dynamic — late Majapahit/Proto Bali-Majapahit, I would call it — and feature amazing temple architecture depictions and even some Hindu hanky panky (see photo this page) reciting the famous Khajuraho temple in India.
Five kilometers away is the enigmatic Situs Semen, where a pair of giant granite naga (dragon) heads on a picturesque river meander, rumoured to have once been the site of a major palace, and now the site of a major archaeological dig.
Photographer Tim Street-Porter and assistant at Situs Semen
Top: Statues beside Candi Tegowangi, Pare. Bottom: The Naga heads at Situs Semen, near Pare
One kilometer south is the holy spring Tirta Kamandanu — now a Hindu theme-park — where King Joyoboyo bathed before achievingmoksha under a tree in a field nearby (today it is marked by a small patilesan shrine). Just beyond the complexe’s car park is a Kediri Hindu temple commemorating the great Kediri priest Empu Beradah, brother of Empu Kuturan.
Empu Kuturan founded the mighty Pasek clan in Bali; and he held a unifying summit (pesamuan) at Pura Samuan Tiga in Bedulu near Ubud in the 10th century, during the reign of Raja Airlangga, the Balinese-born ruler of the Kahuripan kingdom.
From Pare we drove to Kediri to the charming colonial era Merdeka Hotel and shopped for the local ikat ndek weave sarongs in the market nearby. Just near the markets off the main street is the 16th century Muslim century Setono Gedong once the site of an important Hindu temple during Kediri’s classic Hindu Java era. Many relics from this era have been preserved at the cemetery including a huge lotus base, once the stand for a Hindu deity, and some stone column bases.
Kediri by Tim Street-Porter
Gudang Garam engineers at breakfast at the Hotel Merdeka, Kediri
A young Ustad cleric and friend in the lobby of the Merdeka Hotel, Kediri
The cemetery itself features three important tombs built in the red-brick islam-Majapahit Kudus style. (The Imam of Demak, the first Islam Majapahit sultancy who lead a decisive victory over the Majapahit troops was the father of Sunan Kudus). The cungkup tombs, all exquisite, are to Sunan Demang, Amangkurat IV and to a mysterious Persian Syiek that local legend has it brought Islam to Kediri as early as the 11th century.
Exquisite 17th Century Islam-Majapahit brickwork on tombs at Setono Gedong, Kediri
After Setono Gedong we visited the Airlangga Museum in the culture park near the marvelous 10th century Goa Selomanggleng meditation cave. A daughter of the 10th century ruler of Kediri — the crown princess renounced her claim to the throne at a young age and spent the rest of her life meditating in this exquisitely-carved (almost Khmer style) cave complex.
The museum below is a bit underwhelming but well worth the detour — many of the few surviving statues from Kediri’s classical era (10 – 30th century) are housed here.
In the store room of the Museum Airlangga, Kediri
Goa Selomanggleng, South of Tulungagung,East Java, 9th century
From Kediri we drove west two hours to the town of Tulungangung, famous for its marble production.
We visited the other 10th century Goa Selomanggleng (the other Selomanggleng, which means hanging rock) in a teak forest south of the township. It features the most beautiful wall carvings. Nearby we visited the 15th century Candi Sanggaran, a Majapahit temple complex presently being restored. It’s remarkable how far west extended the realm of monumental Majapahit.
After the intense mid-day, dry season heat of the morning programme, we were delighted to be lead by our local guide to an oasis-like restaurant, the Tiga Dapoer Batavia on the outskirts of town. Built in a quasi-Majapahit courtyard style, the Javanese colonial architecture and lush gardens are a treat; the food was excellent too.
The Kala head at Beji Sirah Keteng, Bedingin
The last stop on our south coast cultural excursion was Ponorogo, the home of the spectacular National Reog Festival. Reog is an ancient dance form originally performed in village squares, as part of fertility rites, but lately transferred to the stage with eye-catching choreography.
On the way to Ponorogo, just 15 minutes short of the town, we stopped at the old Majapahit temple site called Beji Sirah Keteng in Bedangin, Sambit where a very large Kala head sits in a cungkup-like pavilion. Local legend has it that this commemorated battle between an evil Majapahit nobleman (Raden) and a good one.
The fishing tank near Beji Sirah Keteng, Bedingin, outside Ponorogo
In Ponorogo we stayed at a delightful colonial bungalow hotel called La Tiban in the centre of town. The owner Ibu Ida was born in the house and at Rp. 400.000/night it is a steal!
Before sunset famed photographer Tim Street-Porter and I went to see the dress rehearsal of SMAKN 2 Wonogiri’s Reog troupe in the forecourt of the delightful Tamanarum graveyard, which featured an architecturally-interesting 18th century cungkup tomb for a Solo Prince.
That night Wonogiri’s troupe danced and sang the roof off the stadium at the Nationals. Prima ballerina assoluta Lilin was sensational.
Reog dancer backstage at the Ponorogo festival
Inul of Wonogiri, superstar dancer at the Ponorogo Reog Festival