Gunung Padang; built in one night

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The mysterious megalithic site Gunung Padang; the hill of light.

There are many folktales about extraordinary feats, such as building a huge structure in one night. In many cases, a covenant with the devil would have been forged for this. In exchange for the construction of a church, dike or megalithic structure, payment must often be made with a soul. And in the stories, this fate can sometimes be narrowly escaped.

Sometimes the devils threw the stones, leaving fingerprints. Occasionally they tried to prevent the construction of a shrine by throwing stones and the megalith ended up close to such a structure, so the stories tell. We now know that this happened in the exact opposite way than these stories tell; they built a shrine (or other building, or cross) near the pre-Christian places to Christianize it (or to include it in a new faith other than Christianity).

In other cases, it is giants, fairies or mythical heroes who were responsible for the construction of impressive sites. And sometimes it was just saints who helped, such as the virgin Mary. These figures also left imprints in the stones, sometimes from their knees as they prayed. Or prints of the hoof of the horse on which the mythical hero rode. In the Netherlands, stories are known about the hoof prints of Lodewijk Napoleon’s horse, as was already told in Horseshoe shapes and megaliths. Some horseshoe stones are associated with Charlemagne (see Charlemagne and (the destruction of) dolmens) and in other cases the horse itself is an important mythical creature (as was explained in Pas Bayard; hoof prints in stones in Belgium).

Impressions in a stone that resemble tiger footprints on one of the rocks at Gunung Padang, this is similar to the impressions of fingers, feet, hooves, knees or hands in stones in Europe. Examples of this can be found in, among others, sacraficial stones and sacraficial stones II

Similar stories are also known in Indonesia. And one of those stories is connected to a very special building: Gunung Padang on Java. Many of the visitors wash in the spring before going up. The Sundanese people consider the place sacred and believe that this mysterious place is the result of King Siliwangi’s attempt to build a palace in one night. Amidst the silence and mystery of Gunung Padang waiting to be revealed, there are priceless life lessons associated with this mound of light. Gunung Padang is also called the Mother of Civilization. It is also said that giants are regularly sighted on the mountain.

There is a stone with impressions reminiscent of a tiger’s footprint. And on other stones traces can be seen that resemble a Kujang (cleaver) or the shield of the symbol of West Java. In addition, there is a stone slab at the site believed to be a gong. Not far away there are rocks that resemble the shape of a gamelan (musical instrument, comparable to a xylophone).

King Siliwangi or Prabu Siliwangi was a semi-legendary great king of Hindu Sunda kingdom. He is a popular character in the Pantun Sunda oral tradition; folklore and stories describing his reign as a glorious era for the Sundanese people. According to tradition, he brought greatness and prosperity to his kingdom.

Pantun Sunda is a Sundanese oral narrative performance interspersed with songs and music played on a kacapi, a type of zither. A pantun is meant to be recited during a full-length performance in which a single performer tells the story of a hero’s initiation: the protagonist leaves his kingdom to gain experience, meets beautiful princesses to become his wife, enters other kingdoms to subduing it and/or the realization of a dream. Having succeeded in achieving his goal, the hero returns to his kingdom. In addition to descriptions of historical events, the stories often contain mythical elements. Pantun was not originally written down, the bards were often illiterate and in many cases blind.

Originally the performances had a sacred character, as evidenced by the offerings at the beginning of the recitation and also by the content of the introductory part of the story, called rajah, which was an incantatory song, in which the help of divine figures was invoked to ward off bad influences.

It was not until late in the nineteenth century that the first pantuns were written down at the instigation of western (Dutch) enthusiasts. New interpretations of the ancient stories are still appearing.

Interpretation of Wangsit Siliwangi, 2016

The other side of King Siliwangi’s character is that he is symbolized as a mighty animal, namely a “maung” (tiger). This Maung later became the totem of the Sundanese people and Kasundan communities. The character of King Siliwangi is semi-mythological as in Sundanese oral tradition the great king of Sunda is simply identified as “King Siliwangi” regardless of era or historical periods. It is difficult to identify the exact historical character represented in the legend of King Siliwangi.

Traditions associated King Siliwangi with the mythical tiger and sometimes with the black and white leopard as his guardian. According to legends, after the sultanates of Cirebon and Banten sacked the capital Pakuan Pajajaran, the king refused to convert to Islam, but he also refused to fight the invading Muslim forces as the sultan of Cirebon was related to him.

According to tradition, after the fall of Pakuan, the last king of Sunda, accompanied by his loyal followers, retreated to Mount Salak south of the capital to avoid further bloodshed.

Then the king is ngahyang; to become a hyang or ghost. In Old Sundaneds, the term “nga-hyang” means “to disappear” or “unseen”. He turned into a mythical beast, the sacred tiger. According to tradition, the king disappeared in the Sancang forest, near the southern sea, far south in Garut Regency. The term Hyang is of Old Javanese origin. It literally means “god”, “goddess”, “deified being” or “divinity”. The reverence for this spiritual entity is found in the folk religions of Java and Bali.

The term hyang has its roots in traditional animism. Indigenous pre-Hindu, pre-Buddhist and pre-Islamic Indonesians have worshiped ancestral spirits and they are still revered in many places. They believe that some spirits can inhabit certain places such as large trees, stones, forests, mountains or sacred places. The hyang concept was developed natively in the Indonesian archipelago and is not believed to have originated from Indian dharmic religions.

Offerings are made daily to the goddess Sang Hyang Dedari

Hyang is usually described as a sacred and luminous personal form. It is also called the name for a spiritual existence with supernatural powers, depicted as the sun in a dream and often mentioned in male form. The arrival of a Hyang in a person’s life is known to bring great satisfaction and happiness to the person.

In ancient Sundanese, Javanese and Balinese society, this unseen spiritual entity is identified as “hyang”. These ancestral divine spirits are believed to inhabit high places such as mountains, hills, and volcanoes.

These mountainous regions are considered sacred realms, the abode of gods and the resting place for the souls of the ancestors. The realm where Hyang lives is called the Kahyangan, which is an old Javanese term that literally means “the abode of Hyang”, “part of Hyang”, or “heaven”.

Gunung Padang and the starry sky

Hyangs would only move in straight lines. Accordingly, traditional Balinese buildings have a wall called aling-aling located just inside the doorway which keeps the ghosts out (because they only move in straight lines and thus ricochet off). Similar walls can be seen at the entrance of some Javanese cemeteries. Parallel beliefs can be found in other spiritual traditions, such as in the straight European death roads.

The term kujang, a type of cleaver, comes from the word ‘Kudhiyang’ with the roots ‘Kudi’ and ‘Hyang’. Kudi is taken from the ancient Sundanese language, meaning a weapon with supernatural powers, as a talisman and as a repellent for reinforcements. From an agricultural implement, the cleaver has developed into an object that has its own characteristics and tends towards a weapon of symbolic and sacred value. Therefore, many keep them as heirlooms to protect the house from damage and keep the kujangs in a special chest or in a certain place in the house.

The rock named Telapak Kujang at Gunung Padang site. This can be translated as “the palm of the cleaver”.
Kujang is a tool that represents the seeds in life, and also represents the power of faith in the defense of right and truth. This legend originated from the 8th or 9th century. A kujang is made of iron, steel and other prestigious materials. A kujang is solidly forged with a length of 20 to 25 cm. and a weight around 300 grams.

The story of King Siliwangi spanned a vast area and varied in time from the mythical era of Sundanese gods to the arrival of Islam in the land of Sunda and the fall of the kingdom. This can be compared to the vast amount of stories associated with King Arthur, which is still not agreed upon in scientific circles whether this king actually existed. This king is also associated with megaliths, see King Arthur and megaliths and King Arthur and Stonehenge. His horse and dog also left footprints and hoof prints in stones.

That the king built Gunung Padang in one night was refuted and rejected in the Bujangga Manik manuscript. It is stated in one of the paragraphs that the Gunung Padang site existed before the construction or establishment of the Sunda Kingdom. Siliwangi is still the name for a layer of government in Indonesia, the Siliwangi Division is an elite unit of the Indonesian army.

Stucture of Gunung Padang

Gunung Padang consists of a series of five artificial terraces, one rectangular and four trapezoidal, occurring one to five at increasing heights. They are artificial platforms made by lowering high spots and filling low spots with stone, until a level surface is reached. The perimeter of the terrace consists of retaining walls formed by volcanic polygonal columns stacked horizontally and placed vertically as piles. This complex of terraces is accessed via a central staircase with 370 steps, a slope of 45 degrees and a length of 110 meters.

Rogier Verbeek mentioned Gunung Padang in “Antiquities of Java: list of the most important remains from the Hindu period on Java” as follows: “Goenoeng Padang: On the mountain top Goenoeng Padang, near Goenoeng Melati, a succession of 4 terraces, connected by steps of rough stones , floored with rough flat stones and adorned with numerous sharp and columnar upright andesite stones. On each terrace a mound, probably a grave, surrounded and covered with stones, and topped with 2 pointed stones. In 1890, visited by Monsieur De Corte.”

The Gunung Padang site near the village of Karyamukti, West Java, was discovered in the 19th century and was marked by the discovery of rows of ancient stone pillars. However, the site is much larger than the terraces (marked in yellow).

In 1914, N.J. Krom, a Dutch archaeologist who was also researching Borobudur at that time, pointed out the existence of the megalithic site on Mount Padang. But after 1914 this site was ignored until the year 1979 when a group of local farmers rediscovered Gunung Padang. In 2014, an artifact dated to 5200 BC till 500 AD. was found. “Because it resembles the shape of a weapon, we will call it ‘Kujang Gunung Padang,'” explains archaeologist Ali Akbar.

Artifact Kujang Gunung Padang looks a bit like a cleaver

The people of the area believe that the Gunung Padang site is a place of worship. There are local people who associate Gunung Padang with the luminescent mountain Jabal Nur in Saudi Arabia near Mecca. Jabal Nur houses the cave Hira, which is important to Muslims, where, according to Islamic tradition, the prophet Mohammed received God’s revelation through the archangel Gabriel. Jabal Nur is a creation of the Almighty. Gunung Padang is also the same, a creation of the Almighty. Gunung means a mountain or hill and Padang means day or light in Sundanese.

Five has a special meaning in Indonesia and also has a special connection with Gunung Padang. As expressed by Pak Asep, administrator of Gunung Padang: “both for the Islamic religion and for the Indonesian nation”. He gave an example, the number five is used for the basis of the state. In addition, the five pillars of Islam symbolize perfection. “If we pray five times a day, that is a perfect prayer,” Pak Asep continued. In addition can be mentioned:

  1. The Gunung Padang site is flanked by five rivers namely S. Cipanggulaan, S. Cikuta, S. Ciwangun, S. Pasir Malang and S. Cimanggu. This river flows on both sides at the foot of Mount Padang.
  2. Each terrace is connected by five small steps.
  3. It turns out that about 95% of the rocks used are pentagons.
  4. Surrounded by five hills namely Karuhun, Pasir Emped, Pasir Malati, Pasir Malang and Pasir Batu.
  5. Its orientation is perpendicular to the five parallel mountains, namely Mount Pasir Pogor, Mount Cikencana, Mount Pangrango, Mount Gede, and Mount Batu.

Moreover: there are 5 terraces on Mount Padang, the highest peak of which the locals believe is the location for meditation.

In Gunung Padang, people get enlightenment or it stands for the light that will illuminate life in the real world and the unseen world.

On the first terrace is Eyang Pembuka Lawang (grandfather who opened the door). There are two large menhirs here, of which unfortunately only one is still standing. Philosophically, as a symbol of opening and preparing the heart before entering the realm of worship. There are also two crooked menhirs, like people prostrating themselves. The direction of prostration is toward Mount Gede.

Two men sit by the crooked menhirs on terrace I, which seem to be kneeling towards Mount Gede
The arrangement of the menhirs on terrace II is called World Crown
Batu Gendong, on terrace IV

On Terrace II is the so-called World Crown and on Terrace III there is a rock called Telapak Kujang. This can be translated “the palm of the cleaver”; it is heirloom weapon of sundanese people. According to Nanang, the stone is located right in the middle of the Gunung Padang site: “it used to stand upright, but now it has collapsed”. On the third level are rocks that form a circle. This stone circle is said to be a way of calculating the seasons, such as harvest season, rainy season and others.

On the fourth level, there is the Batu Gendong, a symbol of strength. Many people think that if they manage to lift the Batu Gendong, their prayers will be answered. On the 5th terrace in the vast Gunung Padang there is also a place called Prabu Siliwangi’s throne (or sometimes his palace). That place used to be used by King Siliwangi to pray according to the stories. At the end of the last steps there is a large rock that leads slightly to the sky. Local people believe that the stone is pointed towards a certain constellation.

Visitors try to lift stones
The arrangement of menhirs on Terrace V is called the King’s Throne

There are also stones on Gunung Padang that are an attraction because they make noise. Sinden groups, puppeteers and artists often come to meditate on the stones. Also in Talang Anau (West Sumatra) the menhirs found there are currently used as objects in rituals: they are placed on wooden poles and used as gigantic xylophones or gamelans. Hitting these stones gives the sound similar to a Talempong: you can really make music with it. Knocking on stones is said to be related to fertility, as can be read in Child Stones. Knocking or beating also occurs over the bauta stones that can be found in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark (also some examples in England and Poland can be found), as explained in Baldr’s Stone.

Stones at Gunung Padang site can be used as a gamelan, music can be made by knocking on them

Megaliths are also associated with sound in Europe. Sometimes mysterious sounds could be heard, while no source could be identified. Sometimes this involved music or singing, such as during San Juan (Saint John, midsummer) in Spain (see Who built the megaliths on the Iberian Peninsula). In the Netherlands, the Stemberg, a hunebed of the step grave type, is associated with sound.

According to Abah, there used to be two wells in Gunung Padang. The top one is now dry and the bottom one, near the stairs leading up, still has water. This well is called the Cikahuripan well. It is believed that drinking water from the well will give you a good melodious voice, stay young and get a partner. Currently, the water from the Cikahuripan well is used by local residents for domestic needs. Water is piped to several houses at the foot of Mount Padang Hill via hoses. Springs also play an important role in Europe, where the water is said to have special properties, as mentioned in Sacred stones and miraculous springs.

The source, which still has water
A man drinks water from the well

There is much debate about the age of Gunung Padang. Whatever its age, it is a special and mysterious megalithic site. However, the megaliths are not man-made like bricks. Each piece is solid rock and was created by a volcano long ago. Man has transported and arranged these stones to create what once stood here on this peak.

Gunung Padang is undeniably the largest megalithic structure in Southeast Asia. There are more megaliths to be found in Indonesia and megaliths are still being erected in some places, examples can be found in Megalithic culture in Indonesia (not yet translated, but available in Dutch).

Marinda Ruiter

Artistic representation of what Gunung Padang might have looked like once

This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: Gunung Padang; in één nacht gebouwd

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