Gajah Mada : Majapahit Mahapatih Who Unified Nusantara

Gajah Mada was the Mahapatih of Majapahit in its glorious period. He was estimated to be born in 1300, on slope of Mt Kawi- Arjuna, currently recognized as Malang , East Java. Since his childhood, Gajah Mada had shown good behavior, strong and skillful. His intelligent drew a patih of Majapahit attention and made him as one of his student. Later Gajah Mada became a bekel or head of Bhayangkara troop (secret service). As he could save King Jayanegara (1309-1328) and solved Ra Kuti Rebellion, he was then promoted as the patih of Kahuripan in 1319. Two years later he was promoted as patih of Kediri.

Ra Kuti Rebellion
Gajah Mada was a mahapatih of Majapahit agreed by Indonesian historian as someone who could unify Nusantara. There are Majaoahit remains show evidence on this opinion, such as in Trowulan, the former capital of Majapahit. IN Sumbawa Island, there was a copy of Negarakertagamam found.

The most bloody rebellion in Gajah Mada period was when Sri Jayanegara reigned, the second king of Majapahit. The rebellion was committed by Dharmaputra Winehsuka led by Ra Kuti- Garan Mada colleague, could made Jayanegara lost his throne for temporary and left to carst mountain on the north called as Bedander.

Ra Kuti, Ra Tanca, Ra Banyak, Ra Wedeng, and Ra Yuyu were considered as meritorious knights, that Jayanegara gave them honor title as Dharmaputra Winehka to the five knights. Later Ra Kuti led rebellion against the palace by persuading Jala Rananggana troop to support him. In that period Majapahit had 3 unit of divisions of troop called as Jala Yudha, Jala Pati, Jala Rananggana. Each was led by Tumenggung position. Gajah Mada was only a bekel, only higher than lurah knight, but lower than Senopati. One level above Senopati was Tumenggung, the highest position.

Gajah Made was the head of company to secure palace. This company is called as Bhayangkara with total member less than 100, yet this unit has outstanding quality. The information about the rebellion was given to Gajah Mada by a person that was allegedly had close relation with the rebellion. After receiving the information, Gajah Mada coordinated Bayangkara troop. In ther period the mahapatih of Majapahit was Arya Tadah, who was close to Gajah Mada. Gajah Mada also did coordination with head of units, which was not easy for a bekel as he had to meet persons with higher position, but Arya Tadah had gave him kepatihan badge for this duty.

Two of the head of unit could be informed, but they both had different gestures. Jala Yudha supported palace while Jala Pati was neutral. Jala Rananggana was away from palace for an assault. Later there was a battle among the troops and palace lost, rebel won. Jayanegara was evacuated by Bhayangkara.

But not all Bhayangkara members were on the king’s side, this made the evacuation complicated that Gajah Mada decided to take the king to Bedander. Finally Gajah Mada could used power and network he got, and could return the king to his throne. But nice years later one of Dharmaputra Winehsuka given mercy after involving in that rebellion could poison the king to his death.

Sadeng Rebellion
In 1392, patih of Majapahit, ARyo Tadah (Mpu Krewes) resigned from his position. He appointed Gajah Mada from Kediri as his predecessor. Gajah Madad did not agree wit this as he wanted to do more service to Majapahit by conquering Keta and Sadeng which doing rebellion to Majapahit. But Keta and Sadeng were finally could be conquered. Gajah Mada was finally inaugurated as Rakryan patih by queen Tribhuwana Tunggadewi in 1334.

When he was inaugurated he officially announced his political program, popular as Sumpah Palapa or Palapa Vow. The vow was depicted on a text in Pararathon.
‘Sira Gajah Madapatih Amangkubhumi tan ayun amuktia palapa, sira Gajah Mada: “Lamun huwus kalah nusantara isun amukti palapa, lamun kalah ring Gurun, ring Seran, Tañjung Pura, ring Haru, ring Pahang, Dompo, ring Bali, Sunda, Palembang, Tumasik, samana isun amukti palapa’
‘He is Gajah Mada, Patih Amangkubumi does not quit fasting. He is Gajah Mada,’ If could conquer Nusantara, I would quit fasting. If conquering Gurun, Seram, tanjung Pura, Haru, Pahang, Dompo, Bali, Sunda, palembang, Tumasik, I would quit fasting’
From that text, Nusantara regions mentioned in Sumpah Palapa had not been conquered by Majapahit.
Place translation:
Gurun = Nusa Penida
Seran = Seram
Tañjung Pura = Tanjung Pura Kingdom in West Kalimantan
Haru = North SUmatera (possibly refered to Karo)
Pahang = Pahang in Semenanjung Melayu
Dompo = Dompu
Bali = Bali
Sunda = Sunda Kingdom
Palembang = Palembang or Sri Wijaya
Tumasik = Singapore

It said that when gajah Mada announced his vow, the audiences surprised and few people laughed such as Ra kembar and Warah. Gajah Made got rid of them as according his political view, officials promoted by previous king slower his pace to unify Nusantara, as kingdom was too busy with rebellions committed by those officials. Regions conquered by Gajah Mada are; Bedahulu (Bali) and Lombok (1343), Palembang, Swarnabhumi (Driwijaya), Tamiang, Samudra Pasai, and other kingdoms in Swarnadwipa (Sumatra). Pulau Bintan, Tumasik (Singapura), Semenanjung Malaya, and several kingdoms in Kalimantan such as Kapuas, Katingan, Sampit, Kotalingga (Tanjunglingga), Kotawaringin, Sambas, Lawai, Kandangan, Landak, Samadang, Tirem, Sedu, Brunei, Kalka, Saludung, Solok, Pasir, Barito, Sawaku, Tabalung, Tanjungkutei, and Malano.

This unifying concept, war between kingdoms decrease and Majapahit ruled with motto Bhineka Tunggal Ika, tan Hana Dharma Mangrwa and each kingdom focus on making more prosperity for its people. And Majapahit was more powerful than that foreign power threat was changed as profitable trading and cultural relationship.

Here are records of Gajah Mada achievements:
-Silence Ra Kuti Rebellion
-Gajah Mada could succeed transformation after Jayanegara died, and palace was troubled as it has no royal prince, the climax was conflict of Cakradara and Kudamerta.
-Silence Sadeng Rebellion in 1331.
-Sumpah Amukti Palapa could unify Nusantara even until the south of The Philippines.
-Publishing Law of Majapahit Kingdom.

Gajah Mada is also a law expert. He made law book as base of Majapahit called Kutaramanawa, based on Kutarasastra (older law book) and Hindu law of Manawa sastra adapted to local culture.

Though he was young when promoted as Mahapatih, people trust him for his loyalty to his king and country. He had saved Jayanegara from Ra kuti rebellion and returned the king to his throne. And because of Gajah Made leadership, political rivalry between two knights, husbands of princess could be silenced that the shift of king was smooth.

Keta and Sadeng were regions of Majapahit which tried to separate and they made serious preparation. They recruit civilians and trained to be soldiers at Alas Lawang and with the power they would try to attack Majapahit. Gajah Mada considered that Majapahit should make step to minimize the cost to silence Keta Sadeng rebellion.

Keta-Sadeng power was not as big as Majapahit’s troop. Yet Keta Sadeng was protected by former protector of Raden Wijaya, the first king of Majapahit, Wirota Wiragati, who was famous for his magic power. It said that he could make people sleep, and power to create mist to block enemy’s vision. Finally for Gajah Mada’s strategy, the rebellion could be finished with minimum expenses.

Aftee Keta-Sadeng, Gajah mada then promoted as mahapatih replacing Arya Tadah. In that period Majapahit had a relationship with Swarnabhumi, and its king, Adityawarman came to Gajah Mada inauguration as Mahapatih. Swarnabhumi came to Majapahit with gigantic ship that Majapahit did not have such ship yet.
Adityawarman was the cousin of Jayanegara and he had close relation with Gajah Mada. Seems that the ship of Swarnabhumi was the beginning of technology adopting that later making Majapahit as a big maritime kingdom.

Bubat War
This war was the black sheet in Majapahit history and is a negative side of Gajah Mada political career. The source of this was was written in Pararaton, but Negarakertagama does not mention at all about this war. Majapahit had became powerful maritime kingdom, and its navy was led by Admiral Nala. Gajah Mada could persuaded kingdoms in Nusantara to make strong power against Tartar troop which intended to extend its region.

Nusantara was mostly consist of ocean that Gajah Mada developed Majapahit’s maritime power. While region like Tumasek/ SIngapore, Tanjungpura, Bali, Dompo to Seram had become part of Majapahit, its neighboring regions Galuh (Now Ciamis) and Sunda pakuan which are located on the western part of Java did not join Majapahit yet.

As a powerful kingdom, Majapahit could force Sunda Kingdom easily, but Gajah Mada did not choose bloody action over the kingdom led by king Lingga Buana. Sunda Galuh east border to Majapahit was Pamali river. While the west border of Sunda Galuh was Sunda Pakuan area, along Citarum River. Palace members, especially Tribhuana Tunggadewi did not agree with Gajah Mada plan to conquer Sunda as Sunda is their relative,their family, as according to family pedigree, one her ancestor was a Sundanese royal.

King Hayam Wuruk supported Tribuana Tunggadewi. Dyah Hayam Wuruk Sri Rajasanagara (Raden Tetep) grew up that he sould find himself a queen. He sent a drawer to neighbors kingdom and subordinate kingdoms to draw beautiful princesses and later shown to the king. After many drawings shown, the king did not feel suitable with any of them. Until when there was a drawing of Dyah Pitaloka Citraresmi, princess of Sunda Galuh, who was popular for her beauty.

King Lingga Buana agreed that his daughter to marry Hayam Wuruk. On the date, Lingga Buana, queen and palace officials went to Majapahit to take Dyah Pitaloka for her wedding in Majapahit. They were not accompanied by troop as it is for marriage purpose. On Bubat, they were intercepted by Gajah Mada messenger that Dyah Pitaloka should be given to Majapahit as a tribute, as a mark that Sunda Galuh obeyed Majapahit. King Lingga Buana felt that his dignity was ignored by Majapahit. Eventually, a fight could not be avoided. All of Sunda Galuh members died including the king and queen. Princess Dyah Pitaloka killed herself. For that, Hayam Wuruk took back Gajah Mada’s position as Mahapatih.

Madakaripura Waterfall is believed to be the place when Gajah Mada isolated himself after Bubat war. Gajah Mada role was very paramount to Majapahit and even greater than the king himself. Firing Gajah Mada could create upheaval in Majapahit regions. In Gajah Mada opinion, Bubat was not his fault and not even Majapahit’s fault. Majapahit was the kingdom that protect and give umbrella to other kingdoms that they should obey Majapahit. Majapahit should not take any kingdom specially, not even to Sunda. If the king chose to pick peace way, Gajah Mada the other way, militarily.

The peaceful way was by marriage. Gajah Mada asked kingdoms to unify to gain power to defense against Tar tar who intended to extend its region southward. Maritime fleet of Majapahit protected trade ships in Nusantara and protected Nusantara from Tar Tar assault.

Bubat incident did not make Sunda Galuh built military power to attck Majapahit, as they love peace. Yet, individually, several people who were loyal to Sunda king decided to commit revenge quietly. They later formed a tayub dance troupe and departed to Majapahit to kill Gajah Mada. This quiet movement was planned by Sundanese to enter Majapahit palace. Every member of the troupe should speak Javanese and skillful about Javanese arts. The beauty of the dancers are their main weapon. Their plan was almost succeed when a lurah of knights who was very loyal to Gajah Mada could be trapped.

In pararaton, after Bubat, Gajah Mada went  away to avoid Hayam Wuruk anger. But in 1281 Saka or 1359, he came with Hayam Wuruk group to visit Lumajang. This is also written in Negarakertagama pupuh 18/2 that in 1284 Hayam Wuruk held Srada ceremony to honor Gayatri, Gajah Masa as patih amangku bumi dedicated a sad beautiful princess statue under Nagapuspa circling Rajasa.

In pararaton, after Bubat, Hayam Wuruk was sick as he was sad for the failure of his wedding with Dyah Pitaloka. But as time went by, the King then prioritized government sustainability. On second period of patih position, Gajah Mada did not make any remarkable achievement as probably because of tiredness, old age and disappointment. He was not as active as his first period mahapatih position. In his second period, Gajah Mada was involved in Hayam Wuruk’s inspection as written in Negarakertagama such as: To Pajang on 1275 Saka , to Lasem on 1275 Saka , to pajang on 1279 Saka and to Lumajang on 1281 Saka. But on the last visit Gajah Mada did not come with the king

Hayam Wuruk appreciated Gajah Mada as wise, and loyal  Mahamantri Agung. The king gave him Madakaripura village with nice scenery located in Tongas Probolinggo. There was an opinion that in 1359, Gajah Mada was promoted as patih again but he ruled from Madakaripura. In Negarakertagama, after Hayam Wuruk returned from religious ceremony in Simping, he found Gajah Mada was sick. Gajah Mada died in 1286 Saka or 1364. Hayam Wuruk was touched and mourning for the death of Gajah Mada. Gajah Mada’s death was written by Prapanca in Negarakertagama  in Pupuh LXXI/I. In Pararaton, Gajah Mada died in 1290. Regarding this, Negarakertagama is more accurate as Prapanca lived in Gajah Made period.

Here is dialogue by a sidekick with Gajah Mada:

‘ I was a child when pranyatan kemardikan (javanese for proclamation or independece, concomitant when Raden Wijaya was inaugurated as the first king of Majapahit) of Majapahit was all over. I still remember when suddenly people talked about Wilwatika. Wilwatika was expected as a gigantic kingodom.’

‘Who am i? People call me as Gajah Mada. But no one knows where i am from. Where am i from? Some said that my name is Gajah and i am from Mada villafe. Some said i am from Bali. I have decided to keep this in me, no one needs to know about me and my parents, my children and where i was buried. My name was recognized since i became knight in Majapahit and responsible to secure palace and guarded palace family members.’

‘I was lucky as i was at the right place when chaos of Ra Kuti happened. I was succeed saving the king and returned him to throne taken by Dharmaputra Winehsuka, i was promoted as Patih of Kahuripan , assisted Princess Breh Kahuripan or Sri Gitarja. later i was appointed as patih in Daha assisted Princess Breh Daha or Dyah Wiyat.

My close relation with Uncle Arya Tadah, Patih Amangkubumi of Majapahit showed me that i was in the right time and place. I was asked to replace him as he was sick.  I suddenly realized that my opportunity to be on that high position was high. While there were many candidates deserved to be new mahapatih.There were few mahamenteri on katrini lines who deserved this more than i did.’

Yet, i did not take that offer quickly. I knew there were many people deserved more and meritorious more for this position. To Uncle Arya Tadah, i asked him if i could finish two rebellions first, Sadeng and Keta. If i could finish those rebellion i would say i do for that position.  I announced my vow to unify Nusantara signed by taking off Aksobhya and replaced with gupala Camunda.

Since then, i spent my time to unify Nusantara. One by one, i asked kingdoms to join. They should realize, unity and integrity was paramount as from outside, Tartar always tried to find chance put influence as experienced by Singasari. Fortunately, King Kertanegara did the right thing, he cut ear of Tartar messenger and had the messenger hair cut bald.’

‘So that something like that would not happen again, there was only one solution, all kingdoms should unify under Majapahit. No matter how strong  Tartar was in its land, but not here. If thousands if Tartar sent, Majapahit would be ready to counter same number. To unify all Nusantara regions was not enough only by sitting in chair, behind desk and giving order. I was so sure about that, there is no other choice but to get rid of hamukti wiwaha lust’

‘Hamukti Wiwaha is anything to do with worldly pleasure. Enjoying high position and grade, enjoying life without bujana handrawina (Javanese for party) were things i could do when i was mahapatih represented the king. Yet, it was not hamukti wiwaha i took. I chose the antonym, Hamukti Palapa. Onlu lara lapa (suffering) spirit or palapa could take me to my dream. I would not eat palapa fruit, or spices. No matter what they said, hamukti palapa choice i took was to prihatin (suffer). WIthout suffer, a prayer would not be granted by God. a hardwork would not yield a result. BY prihatin behavior and hamukti palapa hardwork, one by one strands of zamrud in Nusantara could be realized. Few kingdoms i asked to unify, agreed to join. Yet there were kingdoms i asked few times and by perforced should be threatened. If those kingdoms did not agree to join, for them only one word left: assaulted. My wars were everywhere, in Bali, Tumasek, Luwuk, Tanjung Pura, Dompo to Riau. Finally Majapahit became big. Heavy burden if  borne together would be easy. With co-own sea fleet, foreign force tried to stick power could be driven away. Unity and integrity of Majapahit gave excellent impact such as the disappearance of  war among subordinate kingdoms. All problems could be solved in Tatag Rambat Bale Manguntur on an annual  assembly. ‘

‘Then a problem came from Sunda Galuh. I was not content with Sunda Galuh attitude which still rebel, did not agree to join Majapahit. In an assembly, i said the importance of assaulting Sunda Galuh and forced it to join Majapahit. Yet, i met a difficulty for the disagreement of Ibu Suri (queen mother). Their excuse was her ancestor was from Sunda Galuh. I believed there will no big deal assaulting Sunda Galuh as this kingdom  prioritized on peace. But to conquer Sunda Galuh i should face the king’s intention to marry the daughter of Sunda Galuh’s king, Dyah Pitaloka Citaresmi. ‘

‘Bubat was mismanage situation i did. Honestly, i should regret this. If only i was patient a bit, the unity would happen as well. The situation was out of control as Sunda Galuh King had no guts, but he had self esteem. I needed long time to admit that incident should not happen.

With My spirit to develop Majapahit, i had stained myself with hamukti palapa. I avoided the glitter of the world. I avoid worldly lust, including avoided having wife. This great dream took a hard work, i did not want to be distracted by wife’s sob, or children’s cry. To have no wife and children was such a hard  choice. Yet i am thankful i could do that. With the freedom i had, i could be anywhere, long enough , and nothing made me home sick. Moreover, i expected what i did could perfect the end of my life in spirit of hamukti moksa (Javanese for disappearing, did something for others)’

‘Let people remember me as Gajah Mada, without any clear background, no parents, no grave, no children information. Let Gajah Mada disappear, moksa without trace, turns to air.’


In Pupuh 12/4, Prapanca wrote in his kidung  ‘On the north east is Gajah Mada house, patih Wilwatika, a Menteri wira, wise and loyal to king, eloquent, smart, honest, calm, persistent, skillful, and intelligent, right hand of king who protected life of the world.”

The origin of Gajah Mada was from Sumatera, some say. As it is the only Island in Indonesia which has Elephant. Dara Petak was from Dharmasraya kingdom located in Sumatera. Afer finishing Pamalayu expedition, Mahesa Anabarang took Dara Jingga and family and Dara Petak returned to Java to meet Kertanegara, the king who sent him. Kertanegara had died when he arrived and Singasari was destroyed by Jayakatwang, king of Kediri.

Dara Petak, Dara jingga’s sister then was dedicated to Raden Wijaya. Raden Kalagemet or Sri Jayanegara  , second king of Majapahit, was born from Dara Petak. Other word, second king of Majapahit was the nephew of mahesa Anabrang and cousin of Adityawarman, the founder of Pagaruyung Kingdom.

According to the above information, can be concluded that when Mahesa Anabrang took Dara Jingga and Dara Petak from Sumatera to Java, Gajah Mada was in the group and guarded the princess as knight from Damarsraya. Or perhaps Gajah Mada was assigned specially to accompany Dara Petak. Finally he settled in Majapahit, as her princess became the queen of Majapahit.

Below the patih of Majapahit in Pararaton:
Mahapatih Nambi (1294 – 13162)
Mahapatih Dyah Halayuda (Mahapati) (1316 – 1323)
Mahapatih Arya Tadah (Empu Krewes) (1323 – 13344)
Mahapatih Gajah Mada (1334 – 1364)
Mahapatih Gajah Enggon (1367 – 13946)
Mahapatih Gajah Manguri (1394 – 13987)
Mahapatih Gajah Lembana (1398 – 14108)
Mahapatih Tuan Tanaka (1410 – 1430)
Pararaton and Negarakertagama are trustworthy. Gajah Mada was mentioned in Singhasari inscription 1351 as Mahamantrimukya Rakryan Mapatih Mpu Mada

Poesponegoro & Notosusanto (ed.). 1990. Sejarah Nasional Indonesia Jilid II. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka
R.M. Mangkudimedja. 1979. Serat Pararaton Jilid 2. Jakarta: Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, Proyek Penerbitan Buku Sastra Indonesia dan Daerah
Slamet Muljana. 2005. Menuju Puncak Kemegahan (terbitan ulang 1965). Yogyakarta: LKIS
Slamet Muljana. 1979. Nagarakretagama dan Tafsir Sejarahnya. Jakarta: Bhratara
“ Mada”

Translated from