Kingdom of Pajang (c.1568-c.1586)

Today we are gonna make a quick trip to 16th century Indonesia, and explore the brief and not particularly well-documented (at least in English) history of Pajang. Pajang was a Muslim short-lived state (from 1568 to 1586 aprox) located in Java. 

It was formed by Hadiwijava, also known as Jaka (or Joko) Tingkir after a civil war against the Sultanate of Demak. The first assertion of power on behalf of the new ruler was to move the capital from Demak to Pajang. From this area then Hadiwijava started the expansion of his kingdom towards the countryside, becoming one of the most influential rulers of Eastern Java. It also seems that during this period literature and art in this region experienced a peak moment in their development. Moreover, it has been suggested that Islamic influence moved from the coast inwards, finally reaching the heart of the kingdom. However, this period of stability was futile and only lasted while Jaka Tingkir was in power. He died in 1587 and was buried in Need, in the grounds of the gardens of the royal palace. Nonetheless, he had stopped governing the kingdom before his death.

The crown had been passed to his son, Prince Benawa around 1582. But the heir to the Pajang kingdom turned to be a weakling, and his father’s vassals did not take long to notice and take advantage. Soon, rebellion arose against the new ruler. The head of the revolt was Arya Pangiri, who was the son of Sunan Prawoto, fourth king of Denak, and thus the act of treason swiftly changed into an armed conflict. Here the sources become unclear and it is a bit difficult to decipher what actually happens in the seizure of power and how.

It seems likely that Arya Pangiri actually took control of the kingdom and dethroned the prince. In fact he is refered to sometimes as Sultan Ngawantipura. Nevertheless, Benawa did not stand still and show no resistance what so ever. Hence a new player becomes part of the equation: Sutawijava, who was an old childhood friend and the son of Jaka Tingkir’s greatest vassal. By the looks of it, Prince Benawa turns to his old friend who is now in control of the region of Mataram, and asks for help in is quarrel against Ayra Pangiri. Sutawijava replies to this call by gathering an army and launching an attack over Pajang. He ends up defeating Pangiri’s forces and seizing power from the usurper. But once again it is a bit confusing what happens next.

It has been argued that then Sutawijava restores Prince Benawa who rules for a little while before giving his friend control of Pajang. On the other hand it has been suggested that as soon as Sutawijava defeats Pangiri, he takes over and merges Pajang with his already existing area of influence, therefore creating the Mataram Sultanate. A third option has been explored that could be plausible, which is that Benawa ruled for some years in Pajang, but as a Sutawijava’s puppet, who later on gets rid off him to unify his lands.

Whatever the case, the history of this Indonesian kingdom is rather quick, reigned by  instability, power politics and warfare. These are some characteristics that are shared with some of the other states that we have explored this month and that explain why these places did not last long on their own.

So with Pajang we end this month of Short-Lived States!

We hope you enjoyed it.


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