Traces of syncretic kingdom in West Sumatra

The village is located in a remote area in Siguntur district in Sawahlunto Sijunjung regency, West Sumatra, accessible only by a 25-minute ponton (traditional wooden boat) trip down Batanghari river, followed by a walk along a four-kilometer stretch of unlit road.

Nobody would believe that eight centuries ago, the village was the seat of Dharmmasraya Kingdom that embraced Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic cultures. Its first king, Tribhuwana Mauliwarmmadewa, reigned around 1286 and was believed to have developed links with King Krtanegara, or Kartanegara, of the Singosari Kingdom in Java.

Relations between the two kingdoms developed thanks to the discovery of a Buddhist Amoghapasa statue that dates back to 1286. King Krtanegara sent the statue to King Tribhuwana from Java to Swarnabhumi (Sumatra).

Historians believe that Dharmmasraya was actually under Singosari's rule after the latter started the Pamalayu expedition in the 13th century in an attempt to, among others, dominate the pepper trade along Batanghari river.

The river runs through Bukit Barisan mountain range.

Batanghari river was also the main access route to major towns in West Sumatra and Jambi kingdoms of the past.

Tribhuwana was succeeded by King Akarendrawan, King Adityawarman, and King Ananggawarman respectively.

Adityawarman, who was half Javanese and also the most popular king in the history of West Sumatra's kingdom, extended his power and finally moved the palace to Batu Sangkar regency, West Sumatra, in 1347. Later on the kingdom was referred to as the Pagarruyung Kingdom.

Little was known about the history of the Dharmmasraya Kingdom until a team of archeologists from the West Sumatra Ancient Heritage Conservation Center revealed in 1995 that they were conducting a study on historical sites believed to show new evidence marking the meeting of Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic cultures. The archeological artifacts were found in Pulau Sawah, Bukit Awang, Padang Roco, Rambahan and Padang Laweh areas.

"The artifacts, which tell of Hindu and Buddhist influences are in the form of monuments and relics, such as temple complexes, statues and jewelry. Later, the arrival of Islam in the region influenced local architecture, including rumah gadang (a traditional mansion), the mausoleum, and also the ancient mosque of Siguntur," Budi Istiawan, a member of the team who started excavation in the area in 1995, told The Jakarta Post.

During his excavation, Budi set off to reconstruct the temple complex, namely Candi Padangroco which comprises four temples. The biggest is called Candi Padangroco I. The three other smaller temples are called Candi Padangroco II, Candi Padangroco III and Candi Padangroco IV.

"All of these temples were made of bricks that were twice the size of present-day bricks. The size of the bricks indicates that the bricks were made during the era of ancient Hindu-Buddhist architecture," said Budi from Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University (UGM).

As it was missing hundreds of bricks, Budi could only reconstruct the lower part of Candi Padangroco I measuring 95 centimeters high, 20.5 meters long and 20.5 meters wide.

"The original temples were higher, but since the local people did not realize that these stacks of bricks were part of a valuable heritage, they used them to build their houses and mosques," Budi said.

Candi Padangroco I also has four entrance staircases at its sides which lead to the center part of the temple.

Candi Padangroco II is located some 15 meters to the southwest of Padangroco I. Like the major temple, Budi could only reconstruct the lower part of the temple measuring 1.4 meters high and consisting of 35 layers of bricks.

Meanwhile, the team of archeologists is currently trying to reconstruct Candi Padangroco III which is located some 15 meters to the southeast of the major temple. These three temples form a triangle.

"This temple has suffered serious damage as the remaining bricks could only be used to rebuild seven layers of bricks of the original temple estimated to be 19 meters in height and 8 meters in width," Budi said.

Candi Padangroco III consists of two parts: the eastern part and western part, both of a similar size, each part having a smaller structure inside.

The last temple -- also the worst damaged -- is called Candi Padangroco IV. It was discovered in 2001 and is located at the back of Candi Padangroco II. Budi is currently trying to reconstruct this temple using bricks found scattered around its vicinity.

"Some of these temples have also suffered serious damage due to their age," he said.

"These buildings are proof that in the ancient past various activities took place here," Budi said.

Separately, a gigantic stone has also been discovered in Limapuluh Kota regency, although it remains a question whether or not it dates back to the Megalithic era.

Based on the lines drawn on the stone's surface, local people in Taeh Bukik village, some 120 kilometers east of Padang, where the stone is located, believe that it is a stone relief of a map of an ancient kingdom. Nevertheless, it is unclear which kingdom they refer to.

Locals also call the stone Batu Barabono (Barabono Stone).

A myth has it that the stone sometimes lights up in twilight, and that once a young woman -- believed to be a spirit -- appeared near the stone.

According to Taeh Bukik villagers, certain state officials from Jakarta once visited the village and held prayers in front of the stone.

"We plan to invite historians to conduct research here," Sjafril, an official of the local tourism office, told the Post.

Nevertheless, Budi said that the team of archeologists had not yet studied the location and were still collecting data on the possible link between the stone and the Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Yogyakarta.

Tiarma Siboro and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Padang, West Sumatra, 11/30/2002