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Babad Dipanagara: Background and Textual Analysis

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Babad Dipanagara: Background and Textual Analysis

Babad Dipanagara is possibly the first autobiography in modern Javanese literature. It is the account of Prince Pangeran Dipanagaro, a Javanese nobleman and Indonesian national hero, written by himself. Prince Diponagaro is literally translated as ‘The Light of the Country’ of Yogyakarta. He is the grandson of the first Sultan of Jogjakarta, Amangkubuwana I (Sultan Swargi) with a wife of lower rank. He is largely brought up by his grandmother who carried the title Ratu Ateng. It was under the Ratu Ageng's guidance that Dipanagaro first became seriously concerned with religion. He was well acquainted with both Islamic and mystical elements. Diponagaro was denied of his right to the throne after the death of his father, Amangkubuwana III in November 1814 as it was given to the thirteen year-old Mas Ambjah (Amangkubuwana IV), whose mother was the Sultan's queen. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that Diponagaro had been promised the throne if his brother died while still a minor or if he had conducted himself improperly. Amangkubuwana IV did die as a minor but he was not followed by Diponagaro but by his three-year-old son, under a Regency council. Dipanagaro broke from the government of Jogjakarta three years after and started the Java War.

With Diponagaro as its central figure, the Java War, also known as the Diponagaro War, is the last resistance of the Javanese nobility to Dutch rule during the period of the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) also known as the Dutch East India Company in the late 16th century. Diponagaro had access to the aristocracy, as a mystic to the religious community, and as a rural dweller to the masses in the countryside that he was able to easily mobilize the nobilities and the common people to go against the Dutch. The direct cause of the revolt was the decision of the Dutch to build a road that crosses a piece of Dipanagaro’s property that housed a sacred tomb and his disappointed ambitions. The war was also due to the resentment of the aristocrat landlords of Yogyakarta whose lease contracts to their lands where nulled by the governor-general. The war was supported by Islamic leaders and the anticipation of the emergence of a Just Ruler who would restore peace in the kingdom. Diponagaro sought a Dutch-free Java. The guerrilla caused the death of about 200,000 Javanese from fighting or from indirect causes. The uprising ended after the Dutch implemented the “fortress sytem” wherein small troops were posted in forts scattered throughout the territory in 1830. They arrested the Prince and exiled him at a peace conference in North Sulawesi (Celebes) then to Makassar where he spent the last of his days.

        Babad Dipanagara illustrates Dipanagara’s journey to spiritual growth. It started with his narrative about his life onto his journey to practice severe self-discipline and self-purification. He travelled from cave to cave towards the South Coast of Java to encounter the greatest spiritual forces in Central Java. He journeyed through the countryside and named himself as Sheik Ngabdurahkim, an Arabic name that reflected his religion Islam, and went on to live as a religious mendicant who only serves God.         

Dipanagara visited a number of holy sites in Java as a traditional practice for there live malevolent and benevolent spirits whose influences can directly affect the traveller. He travelled through mountains and coastlines and slept and meditated in caves. These natural features render some symbolisms according to Islamic beliefs such as the mountains of which he passes through represent the challenges and obstacles that he faces and could face. The verse recounts the times that he submits himself to the protection of God as he enters and sleeps in caves and become one with Him. He also spent seven nights in Bengkung, a pond that sat atop the stairway of the royal graves at Imagiri, possibly, as a body of water, as a ritual of purification and to rid himself of vanity to appear as a servant of God. Water in Islam symbolizes rebirth and spiritual awakening, life and knowledge. The number seven could also represent the seven heavens of Islam. His descent down the staircase to the mosque at Imagiri implies of him repenting his sins. Lastly, Imagiri, the royal burial ground or simply the graveyard, with his purpose of asceticism, implies his reflection on the words of truth, wisdom, knowledge, admonition and devotion.

Dipanagara experienced his first visitation in the cave of Song Kamal, which he sought for during Ramadan where he faced a trial and was tested, when an apparition of Sunan Kali, one of the nine walis (apostles) of Islam in Java and the agent of the division of the kingdom during the Mataram dynasty, who revealed to Dipanagara that he was to be the future king. Upon Sunan Kali’s disappearance, Dipanagara again went across the countryside, distracted by his contemplation of God’s love, perplexed within his heart and arrived at Bengkung to join them for the Friday prayer. He journeyed to the cave of Langse, a famous cave where Ratu Kidul, the princess of all spirits of Java, is said to appear. He was in a trance when he encountered Ratu Kidul that he could not recall of what happened. Entering a trance meant achieving the ultimate meditative state. Ratu Kidul promised Dipanagara to come to him when the time comes for she is an ally to all the great rulers of Java. Her aid is also a big step of an investment in Dipanagara’s future as king for her support is only given to kings. Dipanagara then bathed at Parangaritis to wash away his sins and meditated against a stone in Parangkusuma where his last visitation occurs. The Goddess of the Southern Ocean spoke to him speaking of his change of name to Ngabdulkamit derived from the Arabic name Abd Al-Hamid, the name of the Ottoman sultan that reigned in 1774-1789 though the reason for the choice of name is not clear same as his former name Ngabdurahkim. The Goddess expressed the fall of Jogjakarta through the capture of the court by the British Indian forces under the leadership of Raffles in 1812. She determined that Dipanagara is to be the means of God’s destruction of Java (Java War). Dipanagara was warned decline to be made as the Crown Prince because it may be a plan to set him up as an independent prince; it is a warning to renounce himself from court. The Goddess also hinted that his father’s reign as the result of Jogjakarta’s fall and excile of Hamengkubuwana III is to short-lived and thus, advised him to return home to fulfil the prophecy of being cast as the “Just King” (Ratu Adil) who will cause a great devastation that will lead to the restoration of the moral order in Java. Near the end of Dipanagara’s journey, he stopped by the Setjang cave which became his main strongpoint during the Java War.

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