Gajah Mada

Gajah Mada

Gajah Mada (d. circa 1364) was, according to Javanese old manuscripts, poems and mythology, a famous military leader and prime minister ("mahapatih") of the Majapahit Empire, credited with bringing the empire to its peak of glory. He delivered an oath called "Sumpah Palapa", in which he vowed not to eat any food containing spices until he had conquered all of Nusantara [] . In modern Indonesia he serves as an important national hero [] and nationalistic symbol.

Rise to "Mahapatih"

Not much is known about Gajah Mada's early life. Some of the first accounts mention his career as commander of the "Bhayangkara", an elite guard for Majapahit kings and their family. When Rakrian Kuti, one of the officials in Majapahit, rebelled against the Majapahit king Jayanegara (ruled 1309-1328) in 1321, Gajah Mada and the then-mahapatih Arya Tadah helped the king and his family to escape the capital city of Trowulan. Later Gajah Mada aided the king to return to the capital and crush the rebellion. Seven years later, Jayanegara was poisoned to death by Rakrian Tanca, one of Rakrian Kuti's aides.

In another version, according to the Nagarakretagama (a Javanese language epic poem dating from the 14th century), and supported by inscriptions dating from the late 13th and early 14th century, Jayanagara was assassinated by Gajah Mada in 1328. It is said that Jayanagara was overprotective towards his two half sisters, born from Kertarajasa's youngest queen, "Dyah Dewi Gayatri". Complaints by the two young princesses led to the intervention of Gajah Mada. His drastic solution was to arrange for a surgeon to murder the king while pretending to perform an operation.

Jayanegara was immediately succeeded by his sister Tribhuwana Wijayatunggadewi (ruled 1328-1350). It was under her leadership that Gajah Mada was appointed mahapatih in 1329, after the retirement of "Arya Tadah".

As mahapatih under Thribuwana Tunggadewi Gajah Mada went on to crush another rebellion by "Sadeng" and "Keta" in 1331.

It was during Gajah Mada's reign as mahapatih, around the year 1345, that the famous Muslim traveller, Ibn Battuta visited the Indonesian archipelago.

"Sumpah Palapa"

It is said that it was during his appointment as mahapatih under queen Tribhuwanatunggadewi that Gajah Mada took his famous oath, "Sumpah Palapa". The telling of the oath is described in the "Pararaton" (Book of Kings), an account on Javanese history that dates from the 15th or 16th century:

"“Sira Gajah Mada pepatih amungkubumi tan ayun amukita palapa, sira Gajah Mada : Lamun huwus kalah nusantara ingsun amukti palapa, lamun kalah ring Gurun, ring Seram, Tanjungpura, ring Haru, ring Pahang, Dompo, ring Bali, Sunda, Palembang, Tumasik, samana ingsun amukti palapa “"

"Gajah Mada, he the prime minister, said he will not taste any spice, said Gajah Mada : As long as I not unify Nusantara, I will not taste any spice. Before I conquer Gurun, Seram, Tanjungpura, Haru, Pahang, Dompo, Bali, Sunda, Palembang, Tumasik, I will never taste any spice."

While often interpreted literally to mean that Gajah Mada would not allow his food to be spiced, the oath is sometimes interpreted to mean that Gajah Mada would abstain from all earthly happiness until he conquered the entire known archipelago for Majapahit.

Even his closest friends were at first doubtful of his oath, but Gajah Mada kept pursuing his dream to unify Nusantara under the glory of Majapahit. Soon he conquered the surrounding territory of Bedahulu (Bali) and Lombok (1343). He then sent the navy westward to attack the remnants of the thallassocrathic kingdom of Sriwijaya in Palembang. There he installed Adityawarman, a Majapahit prince as vassal ruler of the Minangkabau in West Sumatra.

He then conquered the first Islamic sultanate in Southeast Asia, Samudra Pasai, and another state in Swarnadwipa (Sumatra). Gajah Mada also conquered Bintan, Tumasik (Singapore), Melayu (now known as Jambi), and Kalimantan.

At the resignation of the queen, Tribuwanatunggadewi, her son, Hayam Wuruk (ruled 1350-1389) became king. Gajah Mada retained his position as mahapatih under the new king and continued his military campaign by expanding eastward into Logajah, Gurun, Seram, Hutankadali, Sasak, Makassar, Buton, Banggai, Kunir, Galiyan, Salayar, Sumba, Muar (Saparua), Solor, Bima, Wandan (Banda), Ambon, Timor, and Dompo.

He thus effectively brought the archipelago under Majapahits's control, which spanned not only the territory of today's Indonesia, but also that of Temasik old name of Singapore, the states comprising modern-day Malaysia, Brunei and the southern Philippines.

The "Bubat" Accident

In 1357, the only remaining state refusing to acknowledge Majapahit's supremacy was Sunda, in West Java, now bordering the Majapahit Empire. King Hayam Wuruk planned to marry "Dyah Pitaloka", a princess of Sunda and the daughter of Sunda's king. Gajah Mada was given the task to go to the village of "Bubat" to welcome the princess as she arrived with her father and escort in Majapahit.

But while Sunda's King thought that the marriage was a sign of a new alliance between Sunda and Majapahit, Gajah Mada thought otherwise. He took it as a sign of submission of Sunda to Majapahit. This misunderstanding led to embarrassment and strife, which quickly rose into full scale battle. The ensuing bloodshed saw the king and all of his guards killed in the fields of Bubat. Seeing this horror, the princess Dyah Pitaloka committed suicide.

Hayam Wuruk was deeply shocked about the debacle. Gajah Mada was promptly demoted and spent the rest of his days in the estate of Madangkara in Probolinggo in East Java.

Gajah Mada died in obscurity in 1364. The power Gajah Mada had accumulated during his time as mahapatih king Hayam Wuruk now considered too much for a single person. The king split the responsibilities that had been Gajah Mada's between four separate new ministries, thereby probably increasing his own power. King Hayam Wuruk, who is said to have been a wise leader, was able to maintain the position Majapahit had gained during Gajah Mada's reign, but a slow decline started after Hayam Wuruk's death.


Gajah Mada's legacy is highly visible in Indonesia. In the early days of the republic, leaders such as Sukarno cited Gajah Mada's oath as an ispiration and "proof" that the nation could unite, despite its vast territory and various cultures. Thus, Gajah Mada was a great inspiration during the Indonesian National Revolution for independence from Dutch colonization.

A state university, "Universitas Gadjah Mada", in Yogyakarta is named after Gajah Mada. Indonesia's first telecommunication satellite is called "Satelit Palapa" signifying its role in uniting the country. Many cities in Indonesia have streets named after Gajah Mada. There is a brand of badminton shuttlecocks named after him as well.

ee also

*Kidung Sunda

External links

* [ Gajah Mada article]

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