Kasepuhan Palace

The Legacy of Cirebon’s Oldest Sultanate

The Kraton Kasepuhan is the oldest kraton (sultan’s palace) in the Indonesian city of Cirebon. It is the residence of the Sultan of Kasepuhan. It was built in 1527 and its architecture and interior are a blend of Sundanese, Javanese, Islamic, Chinese and Dutch styles.

While the sultan still lives in the palace, several main sections are open to the public. Inside is a pavilion with white-washed walls dotted with blue-and-white Delft tiles, a marble floor and ceiling hung with French chandeliers. The legacy of Majapahit is preserved in its small pendopo on soft carved brick bases. The carvings on the pendopo columns are 1940s copy of the ancient originals. An innovation is the use of brackets branching out from the columns. The main building features unusually tall pyramidal column bases. The ornaments on the double braces of this building’s pendopo tumpang sari ceiling are picked out by gilt. Another unusual feature in the eclectic complex is plaster and masonry columns feature a decoration that resembles reeding. Like other old sites around Cirebon, ceramics in walls are common here, although their use in the Kraton is more restrained.

The palace also has a somewhat neglected small museum with a restricted display of wayang, kris, cannon, furniture, Portuguese armor, and ancient royal clothes. In a separate nearby building the very elaborate Kereta Singabarong, a 17th century gilded coach, may be seen along with a modern duplicate carriage used on official occasions.

The Palace of Kasepuhan in Cirebon has an architecture rich with influences of Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian (Western), and Confucius (Chinese). The building is evidence that reformers respect what have been around before them.

When Sunan Gunung Jati established the Palace of kasepuhan in 1529, he kept the Hindu-Buddhist elements from Padjadjaran kingdom. One sign is a pair of white tiger statues in the kamandungan open hall. The Sundanese inland residents believe that the tiger is the reincarnation of Prabu Siliwangi, the last king of Padjadjaran.

The building compound of sitihinggil (in Javanese, siti is land, while hinggil is high) with designs of the temple of Bentar—typical architecture of Majapahit era—on its two gates, the gapura adi at the North and gapura banteng at the South.

Under the gate of banteng, we would find candra sengkala with inscription of kuta bata tinata banteng which when read backward referred to the year 1451 Javanese Saka or 1529 AD. It is most probably sitihinggil was the first building built before the others developed.

We would see various Chinese ceramics from the Ming Dynasty (1364-1644 AD) and Delft tiles from the Netherlands on the red brick walls of the building. While in front of the sitihinggil stood a granite table—a gift from Sir Stamford Raffles, official of British Empire who was once the Governor General of Java (1811-1816).

The palace guide, Elang Mungal (51), explained that the sitihinggil building functions as the place for the Sultan to watch war simulation of the palace troops on the on the square located at the North. They performed the war simulation on Saturdays hence it was called Sabtonan (Sabtu is Saturday).

The sitihinggil compound consists of five buildings made of teak wood. They are similar to gazebos and they each have their own name and function. The main building positioned crosswise with 20 pillars is called malang semirang. It represents 20 traits of God. It also has six main pillars, which represent the pillars of faith in Islam. From this area, the Sultan watched the war simulation or even to see a convicted man receiving his sentence.

On its left, stood a building titled Pandawa Lima, the Five Pandavas, with the five pillars symbolizing the five pillars of Islam. It is where the warlords were. The building on the right side is the Semar Tinandu with two pillars symbolizing the two sentences proclaiming submission to Islamic faith. This building is where the the penghulu—Sultan’s advisor—sat. When we get to the back of the main building, there is a hall where the Sultan’s escorts gathered. They were the Mande Pengiring. Next building is the Mande Karasemen, where the nayaga (the gamelan musicians) stayed. For years, this building has been used to play the gamelan sekaten during Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha.

Furthermore, there is also the lingga-yoni pair of phallus and womb. In Hindu cultural legacy, the lingga-yoni is a symbol of fertility. Then there is the Candi Laras, on top of the wall around the compound of sitihinggil.

The historic Palace of Sultan Kasepuhan or Keraton Kasepuhan is an imposing royal complex containing many important artifacts and treasures. Just to the west of the Palace of Sultan Kasepuhan is Masjid Agung, a great mosque built in 1498by Raden Sepet. Not far away is Kanornan Palace, which dates back to 1527 when Panembahan Girilaya commissioned its construction. Today, the Kasepuhan and Kanornan palaces are excellent museums that are open to the public both complexes are well worth a visit.