5. The Tragedy of Bubat (from Chapter 4)



It was in 1357 when the capital of Sunda was in Kawali that an incident, which is still remembered as “The Tragedy of Bubat” among Sundanese people, happened. At that time, the Majapahit Kingdom with its capital in East Java was in the zenith of its prosperity under King Hayam Wuruk, with the aggressive service of Premier Gajah Mada (short name for Maha Padi Madah), ruling East and Central Java, and expanding its territory to Sumatra, Borneo and other outer islands.


    When Hayam Wuruk, who was still single and looking for his consort, received a portrait of a renowned peerless beauty, Princess Dyah Pitaloka Citraresmi of Sunda, from a painter, Sungging Prabangkara, whom he had despatched to Sunda to draw her picture, Hayam Wuruk immediately fell in love with the figure in the picture and sent a messenger to Sunda to ask for the princess’s hand. The Sundanese side welcomed the proposal, but some royal family members objected to the request to conduct the wedding ceremony in Majapahit, because the visiting of the bridegroom’s side to the bride’s side was common at that time[1]. King Maharaja Linggabuana finally said it did not matter and started on a voyage to Majapahit accompanying Queen Dewi Lara Linsing, Dyah Pitaloka and some family members as well as some ministers and imperial guards, with a big fleet of 200 vessels and small boats, 1,000 in number. At the time of embarkation, they saw that the blue sea water turned to red, a bad omen, but sailed off the port and ten days later arrived at Bubat on the bank of Brantas River in the suburb of Majapahit’s capital. There, they were told by Gajah Mada, who hid an ambition[2] to conquer the whole Java Island and get the better of the king, that Dyah Pitaloka was not to be received as the queen but would be a tribute, and that the Sundanese kingdom should be a dependency of the Majapahit kingdom.

    With no means of asking the true wishes of Hayam Wuruk, being surrounded by Gajah Mada’s army, King Maharaja Linggabuana decided to fight as a warrior rather than to be affronted. He told the queen and daughter to return to Sunda, but they said they would stay there. When the battle started, the Sundanese fought well, despite that they were much inferior in number. The king was a good warrior and beat many enemies, but the king and all Sundanese men died on the battlefield of Bubat. Having seen the disastrous scene, Dyah Pitaloka, Queen Lara Linsing committed suicide and the second queen of Sunda and wives of ministers followed[3].

    Hayam Wuruk must have been truly wishing to marry Dyah Pitaloka and to establish a kinship with the Sundanese Kingdom. He, who at last realised the treachery of Gajah Mada, collapsed on the body of his deceased fiancée, which he found in the field and vowed that he would join her soon to be united with her forever. He sent a Balinese ambassador who had been there to be the witness of the expected wedding to Sunda to deliver his apology to Minister Eyang Bunisora Suradipati, King Linggabuana’s brother, who was in charge of the kingdom during the absence of the king. After conducting the ritual, Hayam Wuruk pined away and died shortly afterwards. After the magnificent royal funeral, which was held for one month and seven days with various performances, Gajah Mada, who was accused by the uncles of the king, meditated for a while and disappeared as if his body evaporated.


    Above is the brief summary of a poem, called Kidung Sunda (Song of Sunda)[4], written around 1550 AD by an anonymous author and discovered in the modern age in Bali, to which some names of characters and some backgrounds were supplemented with reference to the descriptions in such other books as Pararaton  (Book of Kings)[5] and Carita Parahiyangan. A literary work, the poem includes some modifications in the light of the real history. In fact, Hayam Wuruk survived until 1389 AD, while Gajah Mada died in 1364 AD in Probolingo in the eastern province of Java, according to Desawarnana (also called Nagarakertagama)[6], which is reputed as the most reliable chronicle. With respect to the details of the story, there are various versions.[7] For instance, opinions split whether after the incident Gajah Mada retired himself or he was dismissed by the king. As to the origin of the incident, there seems to be a theory that Gajah Mada had just simply misunderstood Hayam Wuruk’s will to face the Sundanese, but it would be too sympathetic to Gajah Mada. It is also said that the cause of the death of Gajah Mada was an injury that he had suffered by Dyah Pitaloka who had joined the battle with a kujang (knife) inherited from the time of Tarumanagara.

    The location of Sunda’s capital is not found in Kidung Sunda, but it must have been Kawali. They are supposed to have sailed downstream to the mouth of Citanduy River and turned around the coast of Java Island clockwise to the bank of Brantas River. It would have been possible to cover the distance of 1,000 kilometres in ten days, as the royal vessels were said to have been multiple-sail Chinese-style junks, which were common ever since the occasion of the invasion by Mongolians.[8]



Images of the Bubat War of a modern artist.

Reproduced by courtesy of Mr. Gilang Kencono Nugroho, Bandung, from: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Bubat-War-274162730

The persons on the left, top-left and top-right are Premier Gajah Mada, Princess Dyah Pitaloka and King Hayam Wuruk, respectively. Boxes are deliberately blanked by the artist to leave the contents to readers’ conjecture.




[1] The custom is mentioned in Ma-Huan’s The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores as: “For the wedding ceremony, a male goes first to the female’s house and the parents-in-law receive the bride three days later… (其婚姻之禮, 則男子先至女家, 成親三日後迎其婦…)”. Nagoya University, Ma Huan, Ying yai Sheng lan (馬歡, 瀛涯勝覽), http://toyoshi.lit.nagoya‑u.ac.jp/ maruha /kanseki/yingyashenglan1.html; Ma Huan, Translated from the Chinese text edited by Feng Ch’eng-Chuin; with introduction, notes and appendices by J. V. G. Mills, Hakluyt Society, Cambridge 1970.)

[2] The Oath of Gajah Mada, also called The Oath of Palapa, in which Gajah Mada was said to have vowed to abstain from palapa (spices?) until the whole archipelago was conquered.

[3] In Hindu societies, there was a custom called “suttee”, in which wives committed suicide after the death of their husbands.

[4] Wirasutisna, Haksan, Kidung Sunda I, Departmen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Jakarta: 1980; Claire Holt, Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change, Cornell University Press, 1967; P. J. Zoetmulder, Kalangwan, A Survey of Old Javanese Literature, Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1974.

[5] Serat Pararaton atawa Katuturanira Ken Angrok (The Book of Genealogy or the Recorded Story about Ken Angrok) written by an anonymous author in 1481 and 1600 AD. English translation: I. Gusti Putu Phalgunadi, The Pararaton: A Study of the Southeast Asian Chronicle, Sundeep Prakashan, New Delhi, India, 1996.

[6] Stuart Robson (trans.), Desawarnana (Nagarakertagama) by Mpu Prapanca, KITLV Press, Leiden, 1995. The book, consisting of 98 stanzas and 1,536 lines, is alleged to have been written by a Buddhist teacher, pen-named Prapanca, who accompanied the inspection tours of Hayam Wuruk, to praise the king. The book did not mention the Bubat War.

[7] E.g. http://driwancybermuseum.   wordpress.com/. . . ., http://mentarisenja.wordpress.com/?s=bubat, http://www.wacananusantara.org/6/18/galuh

[8] In the same age that Yuan attacked Japan in 1274 and 1281, Khubilai Khan sent a mission to Java in 1280, 1281 and 1289, but his demands of subjugation were rejected. In 1292, a large navy was despatched, but they were defeated by the clever trick of Raden Wijaya who was to be the founder of Majapahit. (See Chapter 6.)