Ancient Prasastis: A Glimpse into Indonesia’s Historical Battle with Floods

As the rainy season arrives, various regions once again find themselves grappling with floods. The occurrence of floods in Indonesia has a historical precedent, dating back to the classical Hindu-Buddhist era in the archipelago. Prasastis, ancient inscriptions on stone, reveal the intricate relationship between the rulers of these ancient kingdoms and their efforts to control natural disasters, including floods.

One of the oldest records of floods in Indonesia is found in Prasasti Tugu, dating back to the Tarumanagara Kingdom. Carved on a 130 cm tall and 80 cm diameter andesite stone, this Pallawa-scripted Sanskrit inscription details the construction of two rivers, Chandrabaga and Gomati, ordered by King Purnawarman, who ruled from 395 to 434 AD.

The inscription, stored at the Museum Nasional Indonesia, primarily discusses the creation of the rivers to address flooding and irrigate the surrounding farmland. Unfortunately, the exact year of the discovery of Prasasti Tugu remains unclear, but it was eventually moved to the museum in 1911.

Moving forward in history to the Mataram Kuno era, Prasasti Sukabumi, or Prasasti Harinjing, sheds light on water management efforts to combat floods. Found in Kediri in 1916, this Jawa Kuno-scripted andesite stone inscription, now housed in the Museum Nasional Indonesia, reveals the efforts made in 804 AD to establish the Culanggi’s tax-exempt land as a reward for building the artificial canal, Kali Serinjing. This canal, similar to those constructed during the Tarumanagara Kingdom, served both irrigation and flood control purposes.

Fast forward to the Kahuripan Kingdom in 1037 AD, during the rule of King Airlangga. Prasasti Kamalagyan records the construction of Waringin Sapta, a dam built to safeguard villages and tax-exempt lands from the recurrent floods of the Brantas River. With dimensions of 115 cm by 28 cm by 215 cm, this Jawa Kuno-scripted andesite stone is currently located in Krian, Kabupaten Sidoarjo. The inscription reflects the pragmatic response of ancient rulers to the economic and agricultural repercussions of flooding.

The ancient prasastis serve as invaluable historical records, offering insights into the proactive measures taken by rulers in ancient Indonesia to combat the perennial challenge of floods. From the Tarumanagara Kingdom to the Kahuripan Kingdom, these inscriptions reveal a consistent pattern of water management and engineering efforts aimed at mitigating the impact of natural disasters on the environment and the livelihoods of the people. As contemporary Indonesia continues to grapple with floods, there is much to learn from the resilience and foresight of our ancestors in addressing this age-old challenge.