The Singhasari Temple and the Volkenkunde Museum



Some of the statues from the Singhasari Temple at the entrance to the Indonesia exhibit at the Volkenkunde Museum

The Singhasari temple near Malang in East Java is believed to memorialize King Kertanegara, the last of the Singhasari Dynasty. A Javanese chronicle relates that Kertanegara was buried at Singhasari in 1295, three years after his death, and deified as a Shiva-Buddha. The temple tower is divided into two parts, the lower one Sivaïtic, the upper one Buddhistic, because in his life he prided himself on honouring the Hindu god Shiva as well as Buddha.


The Singhasari Temple after its restoration


The Singhasari temple during the Dutch Colonial period

King Kertanegara is believed to have been killed by an assassin during a Tantric ritual or a Tantric orgy as some have written. His deified statue is that of Bhairava, a demonic form of Shiva, who is portrayed standing on a pedestal of skulls, wearing a chain of skulls around his naked body and a crown of skulls on his head. This deified statue of King Kertanegara is missing from the central temple niche in Candi Singhasari and now stands at the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden.


This statue of Bhairava, a demonic form of Shiva, originally stood in the main niche of the Singhasari temple and now stands in the Volkenkunde Museum

Bhairava is a frightening form of Shiva. The statue symbolizes for his worshippers the destruction of ignorance and spiritual liberation. Shiva together with a jackal stands on a pedestal surrounded by skulls. His demonic traits are represented by his wild curly hair, his open mouth; and the skulls in his crown, earings and chains.


Bhairiva standing before a photo of the Singhasari Temple

Durga as a manifestation of Parvati, Shiva’s consort, originally stood in the northern niche of the Singhasari Temple and here she is shown as fighting a demon. The craftmanship and suggestion of movement makes this the very finest of the Singhasari statues.


Durga fighting a demon

In 1803 the Governor of East Java, N Engelhard, had the Singhasari statues placed in the garden of his official residence in Semarang. Since 1903, they are now among the masterpieces of the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden.

You can read more about the Singhasari Temple in the book Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia by Ian Burnet.

About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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4 Responses to The Singhasari Temple and the Volkenkunde Museum

  1. Denis O'Hara says:

    A somewhat lost part of Javanese history. “One day” it would be great for the collection to find its way back to Indonesia and be well housed/displayed. Thanks Ian for the insights.

    • ianburnet says:

      Hello Dennis,
      I agree with you in principle but in practice their are many statues in Indonesia that are still not well housed, displayed or described.

  2. carol graham says:

    Fascinating, Ian. I should like to see the statue in Leiden before it returns to Java…

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