Getting to know Gajah Mada, Mahapatih, the originator of the Palapa Oath

Get to know Mahapatih Gajah Mada – A friend of Sinaumed’s, of course you already know this character. Searching for traces of the history of Majapahit’s glory is incomplete if you don’t talk about Patih Gajah Mada. Gajah Mada is the most influential mahapatih figure in the long journey of the Majapahit Kingdom to its peak of glory.

He is known as a mighty governor who is loyal to the Majapahit throne to continue to maintain integrity and expand the influence of the kingdom. One of Gajah Mada’s roles during the heyday of Majapahit was to unite the archipelago, as he said in the Palapa Oath.

His services are still glorified by the people of Indonesia until now. The Indonesian people have considered him a hero, a symbol of patriotism and national unity.

The story of his life, career and struggles can be obtained from several sources, especially from the Pararaton Book, Kakawin Nagarakretagama ( Nāgarakṛtâgama ), and inscriptions dating from the late 13th century.

However, Nagarakretagama’s records or the Singhasari Inscription 1351 (Gajah Mada Inscription), two of the main sources for classical historical studies, are not sufficient to explain Gajah Mada in detail and completely.

Likewise, several chronicles that appeared later, some of which even describe the figure of the Mahapatih as a figure in the air and come from a land that is out of nowhere.

So, to get to know this figure more clearly, let’s look together at a brief explanation about Gajah Mada, which has been summarized from the following sources. Happy reading.

The Origins of Gajah Mada

Illustration of Gajah Mada, this sketch is based on an old drawing by Mohammad Yamin that is out of date.

No one knows for certain that Gajah Mada was born, except for his own father and mother. This is because there are no written sources that mention it clearly, unequivocally and with certainty. Several chronicles describe the birth of Gajah Mada with explanations that are far above logic.

However, Mohammad Yamin, a figure from the Indonesian movement, dared to mention the origins of Gajah Mada. This opinion was later expressed by Agus Aris Munandar, a doctor and archeology expert from the University of Indonesia.

In essence, these two figures said that Gajah Mada was born around the headwaters of the Brantas River and at the foot of Mount Kawi and Mount Arjuna. Agus Aris Munandar said Gajah Mada was born in Pandaan, a small town that was developing on the slopes of Mount Welirang Arjuna.

Pandaan or Pandakan (now including the Pasuruan Regency, East Java), was once noted as a special place by Pararaton, when Singhasari fell and Majapahit grew.

Gajah Mada’s father was probably named Gajah Pagon, who accompanied Raden Wijaya when fighting Jayakatwang followers from Kediri. Gajah Pagon could not be an ordinary person, it is even very possible that he was the son of one of Kertanagara’s concubines because in the Pararaton Book, the name Gajah Pagon is specifically mentioned.

At that time, Raden Wijaya was so worried about Gajah Pagon who was injured and was entrusted to a Head of Pandakan Village. According to Agus, Gajah Pagon probably survived and then married the daughter of the Head of Pandakan Village and eventually had a child, namely Gajah Mada who served Majapahit.

Gajah Mada may also have the same grandparent as Tribhuwana Tunggadewi. The difference is that Gajah Mada is the grandson of the concubine’s wife, while Tribhuwana Tunggadewi is the grandson of Kertanagara’s official wife. Thus, it is not surprising and understandable that Gajah Mada respects Kertanagara very much.

Kertanegara is his own grandparent. Only the descendants of Kertanegara will be happy to build a caitya (sacred building) in the form of the Singasari Temple to commemorate the greatness of their ancestor. The concept of the Dwipantra Mandala political idea from Kertanagara may have also inspired and encouraged Gajah Mada to initiate the Palapa Oath.

The majority of sources state that Gajah Mada was born in 1299 and has another name Jirnnodhara. He was a warlord and mahapatih of the Majapahit Kingdom who was very influential during the leadership of Hayam Wuruk and was famous for his oath, namely the Palapa Oath.


The meaning of the name Gajah Mada

According to Hindu mythology, the word “elephant” is believed to be the vehicle (riding animal) of the god Indra, while “mada” in Old Javanese means drunk. The name Gajah Mada is interpreted in two ways, namely as a vehicle for the king or executor of the king’s orders and as a person who seems drunk when facing various obstacles that hinder him.

Gajah Mada inscription dated 1273 Saka (1351 AD), found in Singasari, Malang, East Java.

In the Gajah Mada Inscription it is written that Gajah Mada has another nickname, namely Rakryan Mapatih Jirnnodhara which may only be considered as a title. However, it can also be considered as his real name. As for Jirnnodhara itself, it means “builder of something new” or “restorer of something that has been damaged/collapsed”.

In a literal sense, Gajah Mada is the builder of a sacred building for Kertanegara which did not exist before. However, in a figurative sense, he can be seen as a restorer and successor of Kertanegara’s ideas in the Dwipantara Mandala concept.

Gajah Mada career

Gajah Mada began his career in Majapahit by becoming a bekel (troop head) bhayangkara (king’s bodyguard) during the reign of Prabu Jayanegara in 1309–1328. According to Pararaton, when he was the commander of the Bhayangkara special forces, Gajah Mada managed to save Prabu Jayanegara and take him away to Badander Village, and succeeded in quelling Ra Kuti’s rebellion.

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As a reward, Jayanegara made Gajah Mada a governor in Kahuripan in 1319–1321 to accompany Tribhuwana Tunggadewi. However, two years later he was appointed governor to replace Arya Tilam who resigned as governor in Daha/Kediri.

After Jayanegara died in 1329, Aryo Tadah or Mpu Kewes as the Majapahit governor wanted to resign from his position. He submitted his resignation to the queen mother Gayatri who replaced Jayanegara.

Mpu Kewes resigned because he was old and sick. He then appointed Gajah Mada who was then a governor in Kediri as his successor. However, Gajah Mada did not immediately agree because he wanted to provide a service first to Majapahit by defeating the rebellion of Keta and Sadeng, who were rebelling at that time.

After Keta and Sadeng were conquered by Gajah Mada in 1334, he was officially appointed Mahapatih Amangkubhumi (Prime Minister) to replace Mpu Kewes, who had wanted to retire from 1329.

Gajah Mada is famous for his oath, namely the Palapa Oath. The Palapa Oath was a statement made at the ceremony of his appointment as Mahapatih Amangkubhumi Majapahit in 1334. At that time, Queen Tribhuwana Tunggadewi ruled Majapahit.

The contents of the Palapa Oath are found in the Middle Javanese text Pararaton which reads:

” Even if Huwus loses to the Archipelago, Isun Amukti Palapa, but loses to the Gurun ring, Seran ring, Tanjung Pura, Haru ring, Pahang ring, Dompo, Bali ring, Sunda, Palembang, Tumasik, Samana Isun Amukti Palapa” .

The meaning of the oath is:

“ If I have subdued the entire archipelago under the rule of Majapahit, I (will) break my fast. If you defeat Gurun, Seram, Tanjung Pura, Haru, Pahang, Dompo, Bali, Sunda, Palembang, Tumasik, then I will break my fast “.

When the oath was made, many laughed at and belittled Gajah Mada’s aspiration to unite the archipelago.

The meaning of the names of the places mentioned in the Palapa Oath are as follows:

  • Desert: Lombok Island;
  • Seram: Kingdom of Seram, West Sumbawa Regency, West Nusa Tenggara;
  • Tanjung Pura: Kingdom of Tanjungpura, Ketapang Regency, West Kalimantan;
  • Haru: Kingdom of Aru, Karo Regency, North Sumatra;
  • Pahang: Pahang, Malaysia;
  • Dompo: Dompo Kingdom, Dompu Regency, West Nusa Tenggara;
  • Bali: Bali Island;
  • Sunda: Kingdom of Sunda;
  • Palembang: Palembang or Sriwijaya;
  • Tumasik: Singapore.

Although many people doubted the oath he swore, he almost succeeded in conquering the Archipelago. Gajah Mada carried out the policy of unifying the archipelago for 21 years, namely between 1336 and 1357.

Gajah Mada started his conquest campaign assisted by Admiral Nala by using sea troops to the Swarnnabhumi (Sumatra) area in 1339, Bintan Island, Tumasik (now Singapore), the Malay Peninsula.

Furthermore, Gajah Mada together with Arya Damar in 1343 conquered Bedahulu (in Bali), Lombok, and a number of countries in Kalimantan, such as Kapuas, Katingan, Sampit, Kotalingga (Tanjunglingga), Kotawaringin, Sambas, Lawai, Kendawangan, Porcupine, Samadang, Tirem , Sedu, Brunei, Kalka, Saludung, Sulu, Pasir, Barito, Sawaku, Tabalung, Tanjungkutei, and Malano.

During the Majapahit reign led by King Hayam Wuruk (1350–1389), Gajah Mada was the mahapatih who led the Majapahit Kingdom to reach its peak of glory. It was also during the reign of Hayam Wuruk that Gajah Mada’s career peaked.

He continued to make conquests to the eastern region until 1357, such as Logadah, Gurun, Breadfruit, Taliwung, Cow, Volcano, Seram, Hutankadali, Sasak, Bantayan, Luwu, Buton, Banggai, Kunir, Galiyan, Salayar, Sumba, Muar (Saparua) , Solor, Bima, Wandan (Banda), Ambon, Wanin, Seran, Timor, and Dompo.

However, Gajah Mada’s glory faded when the Bubat War broke out in 1357. The Bubat War was a war that took place in 1279 Saka or 1357 AD in the 14th century, during the reign of Hayam Wuruk.

The war occurred due to a dispute between Gajah Mada and Prabu Maharaja Linggabuana from the Sunda Kingdom at Bubat Guesthouse, due to an imbalance between the Majapahit troops and the Sunda Kingdom troops which resulted in the death of almost the entire Sundanese party, including the King of Sunda and Princess Dyah Pitaloka.

The events of the Bubat War began with King Hayam Wuruk’s intention to marry the daughter of Dyah Pitaloka Citraresmi from the Land of Sunda. That said, Hayam Wuruk’s interest in the princess was due to the circulation of a painting of the princess in Majapahit; painted secretly by an artist of the time.

The intention of the marriage was to strengthen a long broken brotherhood between Majapahit and Sunda. Raden Wijaya (founder of the Majapahit Kingdom) is a descendant of Dyah Lembu Tal and Rakeyan Jayadarma (king of the Sunda Kingdom).

The general reason that can be accepted is that Hayam Wuruk did have the intention to marry this woman driven by political reasons, namely to tie an alliance with the Land of Sunda. With the blessing of the Majapahit Royal family, Hayam Wuruk sent a letter of honor to Maharaja Linggabuana to propose to Mayang Sari.

The wedding ceremony is planned to be held in Majapahit. The Sundanese royal council actually objected, especially Mangkubumi Hyang Bunisora ​​Suradipati. This was because according to the customs prevailing in Indonesia at that time, it was not uncommon for the bride to come to the groom’s side. In addition, there are allegations that this was a diplomatic trap for Majapahit, which at that time was expanding its power, including by controlling the Kingdom of Dompu in Nusa Tenggara.

Linggabuana decided to still go to Majapahit, because of the sense of brotherhood that already existed from the ancestral lines of the two countries. Linggabuana left with the Sundanese group for Majapahit and was accepted and placed at the Bubat Guesthouse.

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The Sundanese king came to Bubat along with his consort and daughter Dyah Pitaloka, accompanied by soldiers using 200 small boats and the total number was 2,000 ships coming to the Majapahit Kingdom, as told in the Sundanese Song.

However, according to an interpretation of the Panji Angreni story by historian Agus Aris Munandar (an archaeologist at the University of Indonesia), Gajah Mada was ordered by Krtawarddhana (Hayam Wuruk’s father) to cancel the marriage because he had arranged for him to marry Indudewi, daughter of Rajadewi Maharajasa who was domiciled in Daha (Kediri).

Agus said that Gajah Mada was only an extension of Hayam Wuruk’s parents, who were worried that the position of empress of Majapahit would fall into the hands of Dyah Pitaloka. Gajah Mada then advised Hayam Wuruk not to continue with the wedding plans. This made the Sunda Kingdom feel humiliated, so they finally chose to fight against Majapahit to protect their honor.

The general version circulating in society according to the Song of Sundayana, this war occurred due to the ambition of Gajah Mada’s Palapa Oath. With this intention, Gajah Mada made excuses that the arrival of the Sundanese group at Bubat Guesthouse was a form of the surrender of the Sunda Kingdom to Majapahit.

Gajah Mada urged Hayam Wuruk to accept Dyah Pitaloka not as a bride, but as a sign of submission to the State of Sunda and acknowledgment of Majapahit superiority over the Sundanese in the archipelago.

Before Hayam Wuruk had yet to give his decision, Gajah Mada had already deployed his troops to Bubat Guesthouse and threatened Linggabuana to admit Majapahit’s superiority.

In order to maintain his honor as a Sundanese knight, Linggabuana refused the pressure. Finally, there was an unequal war between Gajah Mada and his large army, against Linggabuana with a small army of balamati (royal bodyguards), as well as royal officials and ministers who participated in the visit.

As a result of this Bubat incident, it is said in the records of the Sundanese Song that Hayam Wuruk’s relationship with Gajah Mada became tenuous. Gajah Mada himself faced opposition, suspicion and criticism from various officials and nobles of Majapahit. This is because they think that Gajah Mada’s actions were very careless and reckless.

He was considered too bold and presumptuous by not heeding the wishes and feelings of King Hayam Wuruk himself. This unfortunate event marked the decline of Gajah Mada’s career, because Hayam Wuruk then bestowed upon him a fief in Madakaripura (now Probolinggo).

Although this action appears to be a gift, it can be interpreted as a subtle suggestion that Gajah Mada should start considering retirement. Madakaripura land is located far from the capital city of Majapahit.

Gajah Mada also died in 1364 and after that died of illness. With the death of Gajah Mada, the greatness of Majapahit was increasingly receding.

This incident also elicited a number of reactions reflecting the disappointment of the Sundanese people, namely the enactment of a regulation banning estri from outsiders , the contents of which were not allowed to marry outside the Sundanese circle of relatives, or some said one was not allowed to marry Majapahit. This regulation was then interpreted more broadly as a prohibition for Sundanese to marry Javanese.

Several other reactions of disappointment from the Sundanese people were the absence of roads bearing the names Gajah Mada or Majapahit in the city of Bandung, the capital city of West Java, which is the cultural center of the Sundanese people.

On March 6 2018, ‎Soekarwo (Governor of East Java), Ahmad Heryawan‎‎ (Governor of West Java), and Sri Sultan ‎‎Hamengkubuwana X (Governor of Yogyakarta) held a Cultural Reconciliation of Sundanese-Javanese Cultural Harmony at Hotel Bumi Surabaya.

They agreed to end the post-Bubat problem by changing the names of arterial roads in Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Bandung. The first Indonesian telecommunications satellite was named the Palapa Satellite, as a form of respect for Gajah Mada as the telecommunications unifier of the Indonesian people.

Not only that, the name Gajah Mada is also used as the name of the best university in Yogyakarta, namely Gadjah Mada University.

So, that’s a brief explanation of the Origins and Career History of Gajah Mada . Appreciating the services of national figures, like Gajah Mada, is not only by remembering and thanking them in their hearts, but also by emulating their attitudes and actions.

Sinaumed’s can visit sinaumedia’s book collection at to get references about other heroes, starting from their life background, education, and struggle history.

The following is a recommendation for sinaumedia books that Sinaumed’s can read to learn about Indonesian history so they can fully interpret it. Happy reading.

Author: Fandy Aprianto Rohman

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