Monday, May 25, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 8

Gāyatrī Rājapatni: Queen, Bhikkhunī & the Prajñāpāramitā

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī[1]

In this eighth post in our “History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia” series leading up to the Sakyadhita International Buddhist Women’s Conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, we explore the life of one of Indonesia’s most interesting historical Buddhist women.  Earlier prominent women leaders and women ascetics/monastics/nuns that we’ve portrayed in this series such as Ken Dedes, Bhrikuti, Devi Kilisuci, Ratu Shima and Manimekhalai have been interesting in enigma--they are fascinating in that we catch such brief glimpses of their lives, leaving so much to be filled in by imagination, as we find in the many Indonesian, Indian and Tibetan legends, operas and ballets through which their lives are popularly remembered. In this post however, we have the benefit of a lengthy and highly-descriptive historical documentary poem written by a co-contemporary Buddhist monastic poet/biographer/documenteur passed down to us intact, and at least one very well-preserved mortuary portrait image, the Prajñāpāramitā.  Of further interest in addendum is the role that this image has come to play in the contemporary re-nascence of the Theravada Bhikkhunī Sangha on the other side of the world, in North America.

Extracted from Ayyā Tathālokā’s paper “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhuni Ancestors,” this article is part of the series leading up to the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.  This post coincides with the release of the first English-language edition of Earl Drake’s Gayatri Rajapatni: The Woman Behind the Glory of Majapahit by Areca Books.

Gāyatrī Rājapatni: Queen, Bhikkhunī & the Prajñāpāramitā

Image 1: Prajñāpāramitā image from East Java
at the National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta
We will now meet one of the greatest of those women whose life has been passed down to us in memory, posthumously captured by the Buddhist monk poet of the court who knew and wrote of her with such reverence and appreciation.  This woman is the lady Gāyatrī, also known as the Rājapatni, in a way somewhat similar to and reminiscent of the lady Gotamī, also known as the Great Prajāpatī.[2]

Gāyatrī was a devout Buddhist, and the youngest daughter of the founder of Majapahit, the last of the great Indonesian royal dynasties, known as the Rajasa Dynasty.  She had three elder siblings, and together they were known as The Four Princesses of Singasari (Singosari).  The epics remember Gāyatrī as having been a keen student of literature, and political, social and religious matters. She possessed extraordinary beauty, charm, wisdom and intelligence.  And yet, in 1276 CE, at the tender age of sixteen, in a terrible repeat of what happened to Airlangga two hundred years earlier {in Post 5}, her world went mad. She witnessed the destruction of her home and kingdom and the murder of her father under the unsuspected attack of the Duke of Kederi.

Gāyatrī escaped from the burning palace, but she was separated from her sisters, two of whom were captured and held as hostages.  For a year, she hid herself near them, posing as a servant.  Finally, her elder sister’s fiancé managed to liberate them in conjunction with the double blow of the 1293 CE seafaring attack of the Mongol forces of the Kublai Khan.  He established himself as the new king and then took her and all her sisters, as well the princess of the Malaya Dharmaśraya Kingdom as his brides, perhaps to prevent any possible competition from husbands competing over claims to the throne.

Indreśwari from Malaya bore him a son, and Gāyatrī, two daughters. The epics say that Gāyatrī was the favorite, as she was named the Rājapatni (Royal Partner/Queen Consort), and they were considered well matched in partnership, “like the two halves of Śiva and Parvati” mentioned as joining in the Ardhanīśvarī figure of her Singasari foremother {in Post 7}.  When her husband died, she became the dowager queen and matriarch of Majapahit, and after raising and mentoring her eldest daughter as a wise leader and mentoring the future prime minister Gaja Mada, she retired into monastic life as a Buddhist bhikkhunī.[3]

However, her son-in-law the king was not popular as a leader, engaged in enormous bloodshed, and tried to take her daughters, his half-sisters, as wives. He died young, killed by his physician, and Queen Mother Gāyatrī appointed her eldest daughter Tribhuvana Vijayatunggadevi[4] as Reigning Monarch or Rajāputrī (Indonesian: Raja perempuan).  She reigned for more than 20 years under the name Sri Tribhuwana Wijayatunggadewi Maharajasa Jayawishnuwardhani, with the support of the Queen Mother’s advice, her prime minister and her husband Kertarajasa Jayawardhana.

Image 2: Sri Tribhuwanatunggadewi
Maharajasa Jayawisnuwardhani, portrayed as 
Parvati (or perhaps as Harihara-type combination 
of Parvati and Lakshmi). This image is from Candi
Rimbi, Pulosari Village, Bareng District, Jombang, 
East Java. It is currently part of the collection of the 
National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta.
Image 3: Kertarajasa Jayawardhana (Raden Wijaya) portrayed as Harihara (a combination of the gods Shiva and Vishnu). Also known as Nararya Sanggramawijaya, Raden Wijaya was married to Sri Tribhuwanatunggadewi. The image was taken from Candi Simping, Sumberjati Village, Blitar District, East Java, and is now part of the collection at the Indonesian National Museum, Jakarta.

Gāyatrī passed away in her monastery in 1350 CE, and some time later Tribhuvana’s son became king. During Queen Regent Tribhuvana’s reign, Majapahit greatly expanded, uniting Java, Bali, Śrīvijaya and Malaya, and reaching Aceh in the West and the Onin/Papua Peninsula in the East, as both her father and mother had dreamed of.  This was the “string of pearls” that was to become the modern Indonesia.

Now one might wonder what Gāyatrī looked like,[5] and what the form of governance of this united realm looked like.  We will begin with the Rājapatni. The Desawarñana or “Book of State” is also popularly known as the Nagarakṛtāgama , and was originally written in Bhāṣa Kawi, literally the “language of the poets” also known as Old Javanese. A UNESCO “World Memory” text, it was written during the reign of the Rājapatni’s grandson by Buddhist monastic court poet and documenteur Mpu Prapanca,[6] who lived with her as the Queen Mother and witnessed the time of her death as a monasatic renunciate and her funeral. In Canto 2,  she is described as a shaven-headed Buddhist monastic woman elder robed in the monastic cīvara.[7] In the Indonesian Bahasa text, she is referred to as a “elder wikuni”, that is, a bhikkhuṇī/bhikṣuṇī.  Both texts liken her to Parama Bhagavati, “the highest and most venerable and blessed lady lord,” “unremitting in her devout Buddhanuśmarana[8] meditation on the Buddha.” They relate that as she passed away, she was “freed (mokta), returning to the world of the Buddha,” in Bahasa, to the Buddha-loka.

After a traditional twelve-year period of mourning, her daughter Tribhuwana, together with her daughter’s husband and their son Hayam Wiruk, the new king, devotedly and with much bhakti, performed the vrata-rites of the Buddhist Sugata denomination in the Buddhist way.  Her shraddha memorial ceremony was prepared in the auspicious month of Bhadra (August-September), twelve years after her passing away, as an enormously auspicious event.  A maṇḍapa hall with pillars and decorative roof and hangings, a prāsādi stupa pinnacle tower and a singhāsana lion throne were constructed.  All the honored wikus (we imagine bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs), together with the Buddhist Tantrists (tantragata), witnessed the drawing of the mandala by the Sthāpakṣa, the senior leading elder of the Buddhist denomination, who was attained in the Three Tantras and śāstras as principle, and served as the purohita court priest.

That holy and attained pra-siddha then practiced mudrās, mantras and japa with regards the maṇḍala, and then with the waxing moon, invited the consciousness (swa) of the Rajapatn’īśwarī to return, with both the recitation of sūtras and the offering of the homa fire-ceremony.  Dhyāna-samādhi siddhi was applied by the leading religious elder Mahā Sthāpaka to invoke, establish and consecrate her presence.

When, on the morning of the full moon, her presence was felt in the midst of the assembly, all the Buddhist communities offered their pūjā before the lion throne, each according to their customs. They were followed by all of the extended royal family, all of the Dharmadhyakṣa bishops and all of the common people, and then a great feast was offered to all. Finally, at Canto 67.2, Mahāyāna Buddhists offered last vrata-rites and Tantra yogiśvara rites and then released her.  Prajñāpāramitā was the name under which she had appeared, and now returned to the Mahā-buddha-loka. Her Dharma domain, the place of the memorial shrine for her Prajñāpāramitā image, had been made perfect at Kamal Pandak[9] with a ground purification by the master Jñanawidhi in 1351 CE, for the sake of the reunification of the land [of Java] that had been divided by Airlangga, that it might again become one.

Image 4: J.T. Bik’s drawing of the rediscovery of Candi Singosari.
With it was recorded the finding of a headless Prajñāpāramitā image, and
along with it, but separately, a head. 

Image 5: Original painting of Singosari temple monument
made and offered by H.L. Leydie Melville, Public Works
(Publieke Werken) draughtsman, gifted to the Committee in the
Netherlands Indies for Archaeological Research in Java 1905-6, and rediscovered in 2012. 

Image 6: The now headless but still graceful Prajñāpāramitā image from Candi Singosari with contrasting backdrop. There are various reasons for the headlesses of the images: vandalism, damage while moving, natural wear, the prizing of antiquity heads by collectors, and also a local custom of removing heads for the sake of preventing the images from being taken away abroad during the Colonial period. In the case of this image, the head was originally found nearby, but then again lost.

The Dharma domain was named Prajñāpāramitā-puri and a Prajñāpāramitā pratiṣṭa-establishment and consecration rite was performed by the venerable Sri Jñānawidya, who was a master of Tantra with knowledge of all the Āgamas.  And also at Boyolangu another Dharma religious domain was established, and the most venerable and holy ra-hyang[10] Jñanawidhi performed there another pūjā and bhūmi-suddha ground purification rite as well as pratiṣṭa establishment and consecration of her Prajñāpāramitā image there, naming it Viśeṣa-pura.[11]  Further, (in Canto 69), her memorial shrines and temples (caityas) were spread out for offering pūjā through all the districts (deśas) of the land yearly in the month of Bhādra (August-September).

Image 7: Candi Boyolangu (Candi Gayatri) headless
Prajñāpāramitā image sits roughly sheltered 
amidst largely unrestored temple ruins at 
Boyolangu, East Java.
Image 8: The headless Prajñāpāramitā image from Candi Maurajambi on the banks of the Batang Hari River is now sheltered in the Archeological Heritage Preservation Hall, Jambi, East Java. The hands remain clearly in the Dharmacakra mudra, and there is a folded cloth seat, but the lotus throne is missing. 

But while it was still living and vibrant, what type of land was it, this unified realm of Majapahit? From what we learn via our Buddhist monk/royal poet in the Desawarñana (Nagarakṛtāgama),[12] at its heart and center there were houses for the regent’s family, council members and government officers as well as for all the religious and spiritual leaders and representatives of the three or four great faiths, the Dharmadyakṣas and Bhujjaṅgas. The sovereign daily held audience and met with a steady stream of visitors from all over the realm, as well as with the ministers, attending to and caring for all matters of the realm. People gave their best in gifts with graciousness, and graciously received gifts as well, with the wealth continuously circulating in a prosperous gift economy. (We know that domestic and international trade was also highly important.)

The sovereign went out on tour through the realm, bringing most of the royal family out together to see the realm and meet and visit with its people.  Again they were met, wherever they went, in this spirit of graciousness and giving, the sovereign acting as appreciative patron of the unique local arts, culture, philosophy and religion of each area, and sharing with the others.  The realm was formed of many “Dharma domains,” “maṇḍalas”, and sīmas; that is, many religious communities and territories of various denominations, the sovereign participating reverently and respectfully in the worship of each place, whether Buddhist, Yogic, Śaivite, or traditional worship of the Lord of the Mountain, participating in Dharma and philosophical discussion.  Great shrines and monuments were visited as well as decaying ancient shrines, small kuṭis, and mountain forest hermitages--the abodes of rishis. Buddhist monastic communities of both men and women existed in the mountains at this time.

The mood is of a cherishing of friendships and ennobling relationships, with a commonly-held love for the leaders delighting in caring for and serving the people and the people caring for and delighting in serving its leaders, with a strong and mutual sense of Dharma, spiritualism and nobility.  The sovereign was expected to be a strong and adept religious practitioner and embodiment of the supreme qualities of the faiths and ideals that s/he represented and served.  The ideals of the Majapahit of Gāyatrī the Rājapatni and her ruling heirs, her daughter and grandson, seem to have been of benevolent unity and association for the sake of the benefit and blessings of all.


Addendum / A “PS” to the Story

Image 9: The most famous of the Prajñāpāramitā
images, now at the National Museum of Indonesia
at Jakarta, has served to inspire a new generation of
Buddhist art.
Gāyatrī Rājapatni might be the last known woman thought to have become a bhikkhunī in the old Buddhist traditions of South and Southeast Asia, before the contemporary revival of these traditions. For some time, the best-preserved of what are thought to be the Gāyatrī Rājapatni mortuary Prajñāpāramitā images was removed to the Netherlands, but in 1978, this image was returned to Indonesia and enshrined in the National Museum at Jakarta.

While the image was still in the Netherlands, something happened which was to connect the image to the Bhikkhunī Sangha once again.

[I]n the seventies at the request of Ven Amaro, the Abbot of Amaravati monastery in England; Bhante Vimalo, a monk and artist, traveled to the Netherlands to commence measuring the original statue of Prajnaparamita. which was discovered in 1818 or 1819 by D. Mannerau, a Dutch East Indian official. 
Bhante Vimalo worked patiently and painstakingly for years [since before he became a monk], first on the statue copied directly from the original, then on five additional copies which he made from the first copy. His efforts lasted 12 years. His initial copy went to their sister nunnery, and another copy is in the temple of Amaravati Monastery.[13]

Image 10: Bhante Vimalo, a Theravāda bhikkhu, with
one of the Prajñāpāramitā images he created. See also: 
Image 11: Aloka Vihara Buddhist Chanting book with Prajñāpāramitā cover from the Saranaloka website.

Image 12: Prajñāpāramitā image enshrined in the meditation hall of the new Aloka Vihara bhikkhuni monastery in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. The image is pictured here with Aloka Vihara resident teachers and co-founders, bhikkhunis Ayyā Anandabodhi and Ayyā Santacittā, together with supporters and friends of the monastery. These bhikkhunis are part of the revival of the full ordination for women in the Theravada Buddhist traditions of South and Southeast Asia.


1) Jakarta Post Interview with Earl Drake: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/04/19/earl-drake-uncovering-woman-behind-majapahit.html

2) Books on Gāyatrī Rājapatni & the Prajñāpāramitā in English and Indonesian:
Image 13: English-language Gayatri Rajapatni: the
Woman Behind the Glory of Majapahit, Areca Books 
(newly released in May of 2015)
Image 14: Gayatri Rajapatni: Perempuan Di Balik Kejayaan Majapahit in the Indonesian language, Ombak Publishing (2012)
All posts in the "History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia" series: 
Part 4: International Buddhist Networking, Bhikkhunīs and Women’s Leadership in the 5th-7th Century Indonesian South Seas
Part 5: The Mystery Story of Devi Kili Suci ~ the 11th Century Vanishing Crown Princess Bhikkhunī Hermit & Her Selomangleng Goa Cave
Part 6: Bhrikutī & the Appearance of New Non-Bhikkhunī Forms of Women’s Asceticism in Buddhism
Part 7: Ardhanāriśvārī Ken Dedes & Gender in Ancient Indian Buddhism

Part 8: Gāyatrī Rājapatni: Queen, Bhikkhunī & the Prajñāpāramitā
Part 9: Tomé Pires Witness & the Beguines, change comes to the roles of women in religion in Indonesia
Part 10: Shedding Light on the Bhikkhunīs & the Great Founding Women of Borobudur (Sakyadhita Conference Presentation)

[1] Many thanks to Ven. Anandajoti Bhikkhu and Dr. Patricia Buske-Zainal for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the “Light of the Kilis” paper. My gratitude also to Prof. Earl Drake and Prof. Dr. Stuart Robson for their helpful expert consultation and support in research, especially to Earl Drake for his generous consultation with regards to Gayatri Rajapatni.
[2] Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, the Buddha’s foster mother and founder of the original Bhikkhunī Sangha. See Walters 1994 “A Voice from the Silence: the Buddha’s Mother’s Story” for a translation of the story of the Mahā Gotamī’s final passing from the Pāli text Canon.
[3] Earl Drake, her biographer, places her entry into monastic life after the death of her stepson and her appointment of her eldest daughter as queen regent, ruling on her behalf. Gayatri Rajapatni (just released, 2015). 
[4] Tribhuvanattungadevi (Jayawisnuwardhani) and her husband Raden Wijaya (Jayawardhana) also strove for the ideal complementary relationship as Shiva and Parvati.  Their mortuary images closely mirror each other.
[5] The Prajñāpāramitā image here is considered by Earl Drake and several scholars to be a commemorative portrait image of Gayatri: http://arecabooks.com/product/gayatri-raja/. 
[6] Note: “Prapañca” is the monk poet’s pen name, and means “proliferation” in the Buddhist teachings, so this name may bear the flavor of some Buddhist monastic humor.
[7] Canto 2.1: wiçesa, utsahen yoga buddasmarana gineniran / cawari wrddamundi (ciwari wrddamundi in Old Javanese would be civari vrddhamundi in Sanskrit). In Bahasa: selaku wikuni tua tekun berlatih yoga menyembah Buda.
[8] Meaning ‘“constantly remembering” the Buddha, the more well known Buddhist Sanskrit is Buddhānusmṛti and Pāli: Buddhānusati.
[9] The now headless Prajñāpāramitā image now at the Rijksmuseum: http://volkenkunde.nl/en/node/1402.  And its discovery: http://singosari.info/en/node/1228. The head has now been found as well.
[10] Note the use of the similar honorific term rahan in Burma/Myanmar to describe a bhikkhu, and the related rahan-ma to describe a bhikkhunī.
[11] Viśeṣa is commonly spelled “Wishesha.” With regards to this statue and site, another headless Prajñāpāramitā image sits at Kamal Pandak, with remains of the base of the shrine and new makeshift covering: http://singosari.info/en/node/1262.  This image remains near its original location. According to Reichle (2007), when the images were being taken away to foreign lands during the Colonial Period, locals sometimes beheaded them to try to protect them from being taken. 
[12]  The imagery for this section comes from Sarnowsky’s “Java Sources: Materials for the Medieval History of Indonesia: Java 1365. Nagara-Kertagama” (2010)
[13] http://www.nalanda-monastery.eu/index.php/en/news-and-events/news/71-prajnaparamita-at-nalanda (accessed 24 May 2015)

Image credit:
Image 1: courtesy of Art History from StudyBlue.com, web: 143b_image_54-1454D841700230989B5.jpg.
Image 2: courtesy of Wilwatikta Online Museum, web: https://wilwatiktamuseum.wordpress.com/raja-rani-wilwatikta/rani-wilwatikta-ke-3/.
Image 3: photo by Gunawan Kartapranata, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, web: http://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkas:Harihara_Majapahit_1.JPG. 
Image 4: courtesy of: Singosari.info: The Origins of Majapahit, web: http://singosari.info/en/node/1228.
Image 5: courtesy of Museum Volkenkunde, web: http://volkenkunde.nl/en/node/885.
Image 6: courtesy of Museum Volkenkunde, web: http://volkenkunde.nl/en/node/1402
Image 7: Image of Travellers 2009 courtesy of Museum Volkenkunde, web: http://volkenkunde.nl/en/node/1262
Image 8: courtesy of Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Preservation of the Republic of Indonesia Balai Perestarian Cagar Budaya Jambi, web: http://kebudayaan.kemdikbud.go.id/bpcbjambi/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2014/08/Arca-Pradnya-Paramita-DSC_0460-.jpg
Image 9: Image by Lenny Syarlitha on “Queen of the East,” web: https://queenoftheeast.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/prajna-paramita-e1383226670398.jpg
Image 10: courtesy of: NalandaMonastery.eu, web: http://www.nalanda-monastery.eu/images/news/Bhante_Vimalo.jpg.
Image 11: courtesy of Saranaloka Fourndation, web: http://saranaloka.org/teaching/chanting/. 
Image 12: courtesy of Saranaloka Foundation, web: http://saranaloka.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Evening-Meditation.jpg.
Image 13: courtesy of Areca Books at: http://arecabooks.com/product/gayatri-raja/
Image 14: courtesy of: http://www.langitperempuan.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/gayatri-400x548.jpg.

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhuī (sans diacritics Ayya Tathaaloka)

Ven. Tathālokā Bhikkhunī is an American-born Theravada bikkhunī, Buddhist monastic scholar and teacher. She is the co-founder of the non-profit NGO Dhammadharini (Women Upholding the Dhamma), the North American Bhikkhuni Association and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, as well as a senior monastic advisor to Sakyadhita USA and the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. She was a recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award and a presenting scholar at the 2007 International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha on her special areas of scholarship: Bhikkhuni Sangha History and Bhikkhuni Vinaya.  Ayyā Tathālokā served as preceptor for the historically significant bhikkhuni ordinations held in Western Australia and in Northern California between 2009 and 2014. She is currently working with the Dhammadharini support foundation to establish a permanent monastery/vihara for the Dhammadharini Bhikkhuni Sangha in Northern California north of the San Francisco Bay Area (see dhammadharini.net).

No comments:

Post a Comment