Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Tarumanagara: What's in a Name?

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Tarumanagara: What's in a Name?

Article excerpt


Probably since the publication of Nicolaas J. Krom's Hindoe-Javaansche Geschiedenis, (1) based on an observation by C.M. Pleyte, the name of the fourth- to seventh-centuries CE West Javanese kingdom of Tarumanagara has often been associated with the word tarum, the Sundanese name of the indigo plant. (2) This plant, which is native among others to both Java and much of Southeast Asia and Southern China, (3) is also thought to have given its name to a major river of West Java, the Citarum. (4)

Krom does not support his assumption with concrete data, but merely states that 'there are numerous names of places and states known that are derived from the plant kingdom [so] that in theory there cannot be any objection to also consider this name to have such an origin' (5)--without, furthermore, giving specific examples of the other states that he had in mind. (6) While it is certainly true that some states have been named after plants or animals, it must be observed that this often had to do with the conditions of their founding rather than with an alleged primary commodity. Majapahit, for instance, gained its name from the prophecy that its founder, Raden Susuruh, would find a maja tree with one bitter (pahit) fruit at the location where he was to found his kingdom. (7) Similarly, Tawang Alun, the founder of the East Javanese kingdom Macan Putih (White Tiger), heard a supernatural voice telling him to ride a white tiger he met on the road to the place where he was to clear the forest for his kingdom of Macan Putih. (8)

Krom's assumption was supported by, among others, Willemine Fruin-Mees, to whom the connection was certain (Dutch: zeker), and Hermanus de Graaf who was less convinced. (9) De Graaf considered the word tarurna only reminiscent of the names of the river and the plant, noting that in the past indigo was often used in batik, but wondering whether this craft was practised as far back as the fifth century. Others have claimed, however, that West Javanese tarum-leaves were a major crop and export product. (10) This last is curious because while Chinese inventories of Javanese produce between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries detail many products, indigo leaf is never mentioned among them. (11) Furthermore, if we may rely on much later reports, the product was in any case of indifferent quality. (12) It does, therefore, not seem likely that the plant or its product would have served as a standard for a glorious kingdom, which is how the inscriptions of its fifth century ruler, Purnavarman, typify this realm.


Attention must also be paid to a discussion concerning toponyms connected with the name Taruma. In view of the Hindu orientation of the kingdom, to be discussed below, early writers, who often assumed an Indian colonisation of Java and Southeast Asia, (13) proposed that the name might have been an Indian place name used by 'colonists' in their new homeland. The basis for this argument lies in the fact that the place name Taruma occurs in several places in South India. Commonly mentioned is an inscription at Cholapuram in which a village called Tarumapuram seemingly forms the boundary of another village. (14) The name also occurs further south 'in the vicinity of Cape Comorin'. (15) J.L. Moens (16) observes that with cultural expansion it is common for sacred toponyms to be transplanted to the new location (assuming Indian colonisation), even though there is no discussion of either the sacrality of these places in South India, or of other reasons why either of them would be significant enough to lend its name to the West Javanese state.

Paul Wheatley and others (17) go on to link the occurrence of these place names with the fact that two waterways mentioned in the West Javanese inscriptions (see below) also have their counterparts in India and Ceylon. Wheatley (18) concludes that 'it would seem likely that the name Taruma was also probably adopted from the subcontinent' although, he continues, there may have been influence from a local toponym, for example, the river Citarum. …

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