The Cultural Odyssey of Maulana Hasanuddin: Bridging the Worlds of Hindu-Buddhist Traditions and Islam in Java

At the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, Javanese society entered a crucial period in its cultural history. The powerful rulers, known as dewaraja, who had held sway for centuries, were facing the twilight of their rule, succumbing to the changing spirit of the times. The influential Hindu-Buddhist political entities of Majapahit and Sunda in Java found themselves unable to escape the inexorable march of time. As noted by Hasan Djafar in “The End of Majapahit: Girindrawardhana and Its Issues” (2009), Majapahit’s demise was the result of protracted internal conflicts, with the later attack by Demak acting as the final blow to the already weakened kingdom. In contrast, the downfall of the Sunda Kingdom occurred through a coordinated assault by Demak, Cirebon, and Banten, as described by Nina Herlina Lubis et al. in “History of Sundanese Culture” (2011).

The siege of Sunda Kelapa in 1527 by a coalition of Islamic kingdoms marked a turning point for the Sunda Kingdom, isolating it from the outside world. Naturally, Sunda experienced a gradual decline until the Sultanate of Banten delivered the decisive blow to the capital, Pakwan Pajajaran, in 1579. Despite these political upheavals, classical communities in Java managed to survive in remote and inaccessible pockets, developing their culture in isolation.

However, those outside these isolated systems eventually had to interact with the new Islamic leaders. Written sources from Islamic Javanese courts provide insights into these cross-cultural interactions, dating back to the early Islamic kingdoms. One of the earliest figures mentioned in this context is Maulana Hasanuddin, the first Islamic ruler with close ties to the Hindu-Buddhist traditions, as documented in Titik Pudjiastuti’s thesis, “History of Banten: A Critical Edition of Texts” (1991).

According to historical accounts, Maulana Hasanuddin, the son of Sunan Gunung Jati, left his father’s court in Cirebon and journeyed west. His travels led him to Banten Girang, where he encountered a group of teachers, known as ajar, who still preserved Hindu-Buddhist knowledge and traditions. Accepted by these teachers, Maulana Hasanuddin eventually met their leader, Pucuk Umun. Given the opportunity to undergo meditation at the former hermitage of the sage Brahmana Kandali, Maulana Hasanuddin’s interaction with the ajar paved the way for him to succeed Pucuk Umun in Gunung Pulosari.

Maulana Hasanuddin’s spiritual journey included tapa (ascetic practices) at various sacred sites, such as Gunung Karang, Gunung Lér, and Pulau Panaitan in Ujung Kulon. The mystical events described in the “History of Banten” seem like a legend infused with myth, but archaeological evidence from Gunung Pulosari and Pulau Panaitan suggests the possibility that these locations were indeed inhabited by the ajar.

Research conducted by C. Guillot and others in “Banten Before the Islamic Era: Archaeological Studies in Banten Girang (932–1526)” (1996/1997) revealed that Gunung Pulosari held significant remnants of Hindu-Buddhist culture, including monumental statues of Shiva’s family dating back to the 10th century. The findings at Banten Girang, along with Javanese inscriptions dating to the 10th century, indicate cultural continuity. The presence of Shiva and Ganesha statues on Pulau Panaitan, possibly dating to the 7th or 8th centuries, further supports the notion of a pre-existing Hindu-Buddhist culture in the region.

Maulana Hasanuddin’s journey to Gunung Pulosari may have had political motives, considering the growing disillusionment of mountain-dwelling sages with the late Sunda Kingdom rulers. The “Carita Parahyangan,” a text authored by a sage, portrayed the late Sunda kings unfavorably. Maulana Hasanuddin, seeking stability for his political power in Banten, approached respected panditas and sages with a cultural approach to gain legitimacy among the minority population.

The cultural odyssey of Maulana Hasanuddin provides a fascinating glimpse into the transitional period between Hindu-Buddhist traditions and the rise of Islam in Java. His interactions with the ajar and the subsequent establishment of Islam in Banten demonstrate the intricate interplay between religious, cultural, and political forces during a pivotal era in Javanese history. The archaeological evidence reinforces the idea that cultural continuity persisted amidst the changing political landscape, shaping the unique synthesis of cultural elements in Java.