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Wali Songo Pilgrimage

Indonesia is fast becoming recognized as an exciting country to visit. Of course, many of the nation's attractions are already world famous and some, like Java's Temple of Borobudur, Sumatra's Lake Toba and the Island of Bali have for years been compelling destinations. More recently, the Province of East Java has begun to reveal a wealth of cultural and natural resources, among them the spectacular volcanic regions of Mt Bromo and Kawah Ijen, the rugged southern coastline and, in the field of history, the rich cultural heritage to be witnessed at sites such as Trowulan, ancient capital of the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit. The purpose of this book is to expose yet another of Indonesia's hidden treasures; the as yet little known area of Java's north coast, in particular the legacy left to us by the island's first Muslim missionaries, who have come to be known as the Wali Songo, or 'Nine Saints of Islam'. According to tradition, there were nine outstanding figures that together were largely responsible for the dissemination of the Islamic faith. Known as the Wali Songo, they are recognized today as having been especially influential in the transformation of Javanese religion and culture. The tombs of the Wali Songo, as well as those of many other important historical figures, can be found scattered along Java's north coast between Surabaya and Cirebon. Below is a list of the nine walls and the locations of their graves. 

Maulana Malik Ibrahim - Syekh Maghribi - Gapura Wetan, Gresik
Sunan Ampel - Raden Rachmat - Ampeldenta, Surabaya
Sunan Giri - Raden Paku - Giri, Gresik
Sunan Drajad - Raden Qosim - Paciran
Sunan Bonang - Raden Makhdum Ibrahim - Tuban
Sunan Kudus - Ja'far Shodiq - Kudus
Sunan Muria - Raden Umar Said - Colo, Mt. Muria
Sunan Kalijaga - Raden Mas Said - Kadilangu, Demak
Sunan Gunung Jati - Syarifudin Hidayatullah - Mt. Sembung, Cirebon

History and Legend

Even though it is certain that Muslims from foreign countries had for a long time been visiting the Indonesian islands, it was not until the 15th and 16th centuries that the religion of Islam began to have a strong influence on traditional Javanese culture. Muslim missionary activity in Java began in earnest during the early 1400's and coincided with the decline of the last and greatest of the island's Hindu empires, Majapahit. From its birth and initial growth in the regions of Gresik and Surabaya, the religion spread rapidly until, by the end of the century, a powerful and semi-independent Islamic state was centred at Demak in the north of Central Java. Twenty-five years later Majapahit collapsed entirely and the power of Demak had extended westward along the coast. This was the age of the Walis, charismatic and influential religious teachers, who spread the message of Islam across the island. Often carrying the title of Sunan, many of their names have become legendary and their tombs are regular places of pilgrimage for Indonesian Muslims.

The Wali Songo - A Genealogical Diagram

Click to see the Genealogical Diagram

A side from the above-listed walls, there were numerous other 'minor' saints and missionaries, many of whose graves can still be visited, among them Sunan Prapen, Sunan Bejagung, Sunan Sendang, Syekh Siti Jenar, Maulana Ibrahim Asmoro and Maulana Ishak, to name a few. As the final resting places of holy men, these tombs were naturally made to look beautiful and were invariably built to a high artistic standard. Lovers of art and culture, therefore, will certainly not be disappointed when exploring some of these locations. Those inclined to history, too, will be excited by many of the original structures which, though frequently displaying a great variety of foreign elements, remain ever loyal to the Javanese aesthetic. Judging by the ever-increasing number of visitors to the ancient temple sites of Central and East Java, it is evident that one does not need to be a Buddhist in order to appreciate the grandeur of Borobudur. Likewise, the rich heritage of the Wali Songo is open to admiration from people of all races and creeds. It is hoped, then, that the following pages will furfil their purpose by offering a glimpse of yet another of Indonesia's great cultural assets and will inspire readers to undertake the Wali Songo Pilgrimage themselves.

The Wali Songo

Maulana Malik Ibrahim - (Syekh Maghribi)

Maulana Malik Ibrahim, also known as Syekh Maghribi, is generally considered to be the 'father' of the Wali Songo. Little is known about his origins, although it has been suggested that he came either from Persia, Turkey, or Northern India. A possible date for his arrival in Java is A.D. 1404. As one of Indonesia's pioneers in the spreading of the Islamic faith, he was based in East Java and attracted converts in the region of Gresik, where he died in 822 H. (A.D. 1419). His tombstone is of particular interest, since it was not made locally but ordered and shipped to Java from Gujarat in northwestern India. The stone, carved from white marble and intricately inscribed with Arabic letters, is one of a very few which have found their way to Indonesia. Other examples are known to exist in Palembang and in the North Sumatran province of Aceh.

Sunan Ampel - (Raden Rachmat)

If Maulana Malik Ibrahim community in Java, then Sunan Ampel of Surabaya is recognized as the figure who cultivated and consolidated the influence of his predecessor. Tradition has it that Sunan Ampel was a kind of 'older brother', to whom the other walls went for guidance. Indeed, two members of the Wali Songo, Sunan Bonang and Sunan Drajat, were his own sons. It is said further that Sunan Ampel was the spiritual force behind the founding of Java's first Islamic kingdom in Demak. As to the origins of Sunan Ampel, it is believed that his father Syekh Maulana Ibrahim Asmorokondi, who came from the Middle East or somewhere in Central Asia, married a princess of Campa, from where the young Raden Rachmad (Sunan Ampel) arrived in Java early in the 15th century. He died in A.D. 1479 and was buried at Ngampeldenta, Surabaya.

Sunan Giri - (Raden Paku)

Among the traditional literature relating to the Wali Songo the name of Sunan Giri is especially prominent. Furthermore, his names are many, among them Raden Paku, Sultan Abdul Fakih, Maulana 'Ainul Yaqin, as well as Joko Samudra. This last name is connected with the semi- legendary account of his early years. The story goes that he was born from the marriage of a Muslim scholar named Maulana Ishak with a princess of the East Javanese kingdom of Blambangan. Forced to abandon the child shortly after his birth, his mother set him adrift on the ocean from where he was rescued by sailors and brought to Gresik. Here a woman named Nyai Gede Pinatih, who was a ship owner and the sailors' employer, adopted him. She subsequently named the young boy Joko Samudra, 'Samudra' meaning ocean. When he was old enough, his mother took Joko Samudra to Surabaya, where he began receiving religious instructions from Sunan Ampel. It was not long before the teacher discovered the boy's true identity and thus, when he considered that the student had learned enough, sent him, together with his own son Makhdum Ibrahim (later to be known as Sunan Bonang), to broaden his education further afield. It is said that the two traveled to Aceh, or possibly Malacca, where they were received by Maulana lshak. Here, Joko Samudra, or Raden Paku as he was known by now, learned of his real parents and the story of his abandonment. After three years of study with his father, Raden Paku returned to Gresik, where he founded a religious institution on the hill at Giri. 

Sunan Drajat - (Raden Qosim)

Sunan Drajat, also known as Syarifuddin, or Raden Qosim, was the second son of Sunan Ampel and younger brother of Sunan Bonang. He received religious training from his father in Surabaya, following which he moved to the region of Paciran, settling in the village of Jelag. After about two years he had attracted quite a large following and in A.D. 1502 built a mosque. The other members of the Wali Songo attended the official opening. The village of Jelag, later to be known as Drajat, was eventually granted to the Sunan and his descendants as a token of respect by the Sultan of Demak. Sunan Drajat is best known for his social activity and charitable works, which he carried out in the Paciran area for almost forty years. He is said to have created the Gending Pangkur, a special melody for the traditional Javanese gamelan orchestra, with which he converted the local populace. Some fragments of these ancient instruments have been preserved and are now on display in a small museum next to the Sunan's tomb.

Sunan Bonang - (Raden Makhdum Ibrahim)

Raden Makhdum Ibrahim, or Sunan Bonang, was the eldest son of Sunan Ampel of Surabaya. As a young man he traveled together with Raden Paku (Sunan Giri) to North Sumatra, where he received religious education from Syekh Maulana Ishak. Following his return to Java he settled at Bonang on the north coast. It is said that Sunan Bonang did not marry and left no descendants, preferring instead to devote his life to spreading the religious message. He is also believed to have been the first Imam of the Great Mosque in Demak, which he assisted in constructing. According to one story, Sunan Bonang was responsible for the conversion to Islam of another member of the Wali Songo, Sunan Kalijaga. Not surprising then that he, like his famous student, is highly venerated. An account of the death of Sunan Bonang, apparently in A.D. 1525, records that it had been planned for his remains to be shipped from Bonang to Surabaya, where he was to be buried alongside his father. Due to the rough conditions at sea, however, it was impossible to sail further than Tuban for which reason his grave is found there today.

Sunan Kudus - (Ja'far Shodiq)

As an historical figure, Sunan Kudus is difficult to pin down. An inscription discovered above the mihrab in the Al Aqsa Mosque in Kudus reveals that the building was founded in 956 H (A.D. 1549) by Ja'far Shodiq, who is generally identified with Sunan Kudus. The names 'Ja'far Shodiq' and even 'Kudus' itself, however, have puzzled historians, since the former was the name of an 8th century Persian Imam (Muslim spiritual leader), and Kudus (Arabic Al Quds = Holy City) was the ancient name for the city of Jerusalem. What, if any, are the connections? Local Javanese sources state that Sunan Kudus was a man of great learning, as well as a poet and philosopher. The son of Sunan Ngudung of Jipang, he was a great religious teacher and is said further to have commanded the forces of the kingdom of Demak, before founding the city of Kudus sometime in the mid 16th century. Sunan Kudus is believed to have died around the year A.D. 1550.

Sunan Muria - (Raden Umar Said)

Raden Umar Said, later to become known as Sunan Muria, is usually considered to have been the son of Sunan Kalijaga. His field of operation lay chiefly in the area surrounding Mt Muria, including towns likes Pati, Juwana, Kudus and Jepara. He is said to have been a loyal supporter of the kingdom of Demak and assisted in the construction of the Great Mosque. As to his character and teaching methods, Sunan Muria is reputed to have preferred moving among the lower stratum of society, often traveling far away from major towns to preach in isolated areas. His sympathy towards many elements of traditional Javanese culture, some of which, like the gamelan orchestra, he adapted and used in the course of teaching, won him both popularity and respect.

Sunan Kalijaga - (Raden Mas Said)

Among the Wali Songo Sunan Kalijaga occupies a special position. At once hero, mystic, artist, diplomat and magician, he is recognized above all as the great peacemaker and wise leader. Born Raden Mas Said, son of a Regent of Tuban, Sunan Kalijaga is said to have converted to Islam after an encounter with Sunan Bonang. Although he founded a religious center at Kadilangu, Demak, where he was eventually buried, his activities were not limited to that district, or even to Central Java. Sunan Kalijaga traveled widely, spending years in Cirebon and even visiting Sumatra. In the field of culture, Sunan Kalijaga played the role of transformer. By preserving yet altering traditional elements to suit the new religious climate, he thus ensured the continuity of Java's rich cultural heritage. His contributions to the development of classical music and to the wayang theatre are especially well known. The famous orchestra Gamelan Sekaten, originally created by Sunan Kalijaga for use in the Mosque of Demak, is preserved today in the Central Javanese courts of Solo and Yogyakarta. Sunan Kalijaga's role as peacemaker is perhaps best symbolized by the semi-legendary story of the founding of the Great Mosque in Demak, said to have been built by the Wali Songo in a single night. Arriving late, with no time to fell and prepare a tree trunk, Sunan Kalijaga created a pillar made up from planks left over by the other walls. To this day the pillar created by Sunan Kalijaga, larger than the rest, is pointed out to visitors to the Mosque.

Sunan Gunungjati - (Syarif Hidayatullah)

Syarif Hidayatullah, Muhammad Nuruddin, Sayyid Kamil, Syekh Nurullah and Faletehan are just some of the names, which have been given to Sunan Gunung Jati, the wall who is said to have converted the western third of Java to Islam virtually single-handed and to have founded the independent State of Cirebon. Concerning the birth, life and death of this member of the Wali Songo there are several conflicting stories, yet the main thread runs as follows: Syarif Hidayatullah, or Syekh Nurullah, was born in Pasei, North Sumatra. According to some, he was the son of Syekh Maulana Ishak and half-brother of Sunan Giri. Following the Portuguese invasion of his homeland in 1521 he traveled to Mecca, where he stayed for three years. On his return he entered the service of Sultan Trenggana of Demak, whose younger sister he married. During the next few years, as a brilliant military commander, he succeeded in subjugating the north west coast of Java as well as the State of Banten. After successfully blocking an attempt by the Portuguese to land at Sunda Kelapa (Jakarta) in 1527, he settled in the region of Cirebon, where he continued to live and teach until his death in A.D. 1570.

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