Surawisesa: The Brave 16th-Century King Who Fortified the Sunda Kingdom

Surawisesa, a prominent figure in the 16th century, played a crucial role in the history of the Sunda Kingdom. His life and reign are chronicled in the Carita Parahyangan and Carita Ratu Pakwan manuscripts. Born to Jayadewata, a prince of Galuh, Surawisesa’s story unfolds through his father’s marriage to Mayang Sunda, a princess of the Sunda Kingdom. This union elevated Jayadewata to the position of Maharaja Sunda-Galuh, bearing the title Sri Baduga Maharaja.

Before marrying Mayang Sunda, Jayadewata had a wife named Subang Larang, a follower of Islam. Records from the Cirebon manuscript, as published by Atja in “Carita Purwaka Caruban Nagari: Karya Sastra sebagai Sumber Pengetahuan Sejarah” (1986), reveal details about Jayadewata’s first marriage. The couple had three children—Cakrabuana, Rara Santang, and Raja Sengara—all of whom embraced Islam.

Surawisesa spent his childhood in the prosperous and flourishing Sunda Kingdom, as depicted in the Prasasti Batu Tulis (1533 M) that he himself issued. The inscription, cited in Hasan Djafar’s journal “Prasasti Batu Tulis Bogor” (2011), credits Surawisesa’s father for numerous constructions, including hardened roads, places of worship, irrigation systems, and protected forests known as samida.

Sri Baduga Maharaja is remembered as a tolerant leader who allowed the spread of Islam in the coastal areas of the Sunda Kingdom. This decision influenced Surawisesa’s siblings to leave Pakuan Pajajaran in search of Islamic education.

After the demise of Sri Baduga Maharaja, peace in the Sunda Kingdom was short-lived. Surawisesa, ascending to the throne, faced rebellion from his brother Cakrabuana in Cirebon. Uka Tjandarasasmita’s “Arkeologi Islam Nusantara” (2009) details the conflict, stemming from Cakrabuana’s strengthened position and refusal to pay tribute to the Sunda Kingdom after Surawisesa’s ascension.

Tensions escalated between the descendants of Subang Larang and Mayang Sunda with the arrival of Rara Santang’s son, Syarif Hidayatullah (Sunan Gunung Jati), who openly opposed Surawisesa. Sunan Gunung Jati declared himself ruler of Cirebon and attacked the eastern territories of the Sunda Kingdom, bolstered by an alliance with Demak, the successor of the Majapahit Kingdom.

Aware of the hostility between Demak, Cirebon, and the Portuguese in Malacca, Surawisesa initiated an alliance with the Portuguese. Scholars like Nina Herlina Lubis et al. in “Sejarah Provinsi Jawa Barat Jilid I” (2013) suggest that Surawisesa may have personally gone to Malacca to negotiate. This aligns with Saleh Danasasmita’s claim in “Melacak Sejarah Pakuan Pajajaran dan Prabu Siliwangi” (2015) that the Sundanese people remembered Surawisesa’s journey through the tradition of the Mundinglaya Dikusumah pantun.

The agreement proved effective, granting the Portuguese the right to build a fortress in Sunda Kelapa. In return, they were tasked with defending the Sunda Kingdom from Cirebon and Demak. This alliance became a cause for concern for Sultan Trenggana in the Demak Kingdom.

Portuguese plans were thwarted by Wong Bagus Pasé, also known as Fatahillah, who successfully repelled them in Sunda Kelapa. Fatahillah subsequently declared himself the ruler of the conquered city, renaming it Jayakarta or Jaketra. Following this setback, tragedy struck the Sunda Kingdom in Banten, where Maulana Hasanudin, the son of Sunan Gunung Jati, defeated local rulers and limited Sunda’s access to international trade.

Despite the challenges, Surawisesa did not lose hope in safeguarding the Sunda Kingdom. According to the Carita Parahyangan, he engaged in battles across the Sunda region until his death. His bravery in fighting 15 battles over 14 years earned him the reputation of a courageous and powerful ruler. After his military endeavors, Surawisesa returned to Pakuan Pajajaran, where he passed away not long after.

Surawisesa’s life and reign in the 16th century provide a captivating narrative of political turmoil, strategic alliances, and courageous leadership. His efforts to defend the Sunda Kingdom against internal rebellions and external threats showcase the complexities of the historical landscape during that era. Surawisesa’s enduring legacy as a resilient and bold ruler remains etched in the annals of Sunda’s history.