|The empire of Kertanegara.
Long before the 12th century, Chinese shipping had become capable of
distant voyages, and Chinese merchants sailed directly to the numerous producing centres
in the archipelago. The eastern Javanese ports became more prosperous than ever before. A
smaller entrep˘t trade also developed on the coasts of Sumatra and Borneo and in the
offshore islands at the southern entrance to the Strait of Malacca. Heaps of Chinese
ceramics of the 12th to 14th century provide remarkable testimony to an important trading
centre at Kota Cina near modern Medan on the northeast coast of Sumatra. In consequence,
the Minangkabau princes in the hinterland of central Sumatra, heirs to the pretensions of
the great overlords of Shrivijaya-Palembang, were deprived of the opportunity of
developing their port of Jambi as a rich and powerful trading centre. A power vacuum
existed in the seas of western Indonesia, and the Javanese kings aspired to fill it.
Java had probably long been regarded as the centre of a brilliant civilization. Old
Javanese became the language of the inscriptions of the island of Bali in the 11th
century, and in many parts of the archipelago the contacts of trade must have spread
Java's reputation as an island of scholars. A study of the grafting of Tantric ritual onto
a megalithic shrine at Bongkisam in Sarawak, some time after the 9th century, provides a
glimpse of cultural diffusion at work on the maritime fringes of Indonesia. Javanese
cultural influence in other islands almost certainly preceded political domination.
Disunity in the Malay world and the cultural fame of Java are not sufficient to explain
why the Javanese king Kertanegara (reigned 1268-92) chose to impose his authority on
Malayu in southern Sumatra in 1275. It has been suggested that the king's concern was to
protect Indonesia from the threat of the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan by organizing a
religious alliance. But Kertanagara probably imposed his political authority as well,
though his demands would have been limited to expressions of homage and tribute.
The king's activities overseas were almost certainly intended to enhance his prestige
in Java itself, where he was never free from enemies. His political priorities are
reflected in a Sanskrit inscription of 1289, attached to an image of the king in the guise
of the wrathful Aksobhya Buddha, claiming that he had restored unity to Java; his overseas
exploits are not mentioned.
The precise doctrinal contents of Kertanegara's Tantric cult are unknown. In his
lifetime and after his death his supporters revered him as a Shiva-Buddha. They believed
that he had tapped within himself demonic forces that enabled him to destroy the demons
who sought to divide Java. The 14th-century poet Prapanca, author of the Nagarakertagama
and a worshiper of Kertanagara, on one occasion refers to the king as the "Vairocana
Buddha" and associates him with a ritual consort, who is, however, the consort of
Aksobhya Buddha. Prapa˝ca also admires the king's scholarly zeal and especially his
assiduous performance of religious exercises for the good of mankind. The role of the
royal ascetic had long been a familiar feature of Javanese kingship. The king who had been
buried in the 9th-century mausoleum of Prambanan was identified with Shiva, the teacher of
asceticism. Early in the 13th century King Angrok, according to a later chronicle,
regarded himself as the Bhatara Guru and therefore as Shiva, the patron of ascetics.
Shaivite and Mahayana priests were under royal supervision from at least as early as the
10th century, and the Tantric concept of a Shiva-Buddha, taught by Kertanagara, would not
have been regarded as extraordinary. Javanese religious speculation had come to interpret
Shaivism and the Mahayana as identical programs for personal salvation, with complementary
gods. Union with divinity, to be achieved here and now, was the goal of all ascetics,
including the king, who was regarded as the paragon of ascetic skill. Kertanagara's
religious status, as well as his political problems and policies, are by no means
eccentric features in early Javanese history; particular circumstances, stemming from
Chinese participation in maritime trade in the archipelago, enabled him to exercise his
divine power beyond Java itself. In the 14th century the homage of overseas rulers to the
Javanese king was taken for granted.