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Tomb of Sunan Bonang, Tuban, East Java/Bonang Village Lasem Subdistrict, Central Java (disputed), also known as “Makam Raden Makhdum Ibrahim” Neelakantan, Vivek


Sunan Bonang, also known as Raden Makhdum Ibrahim (1465-1525), the younger son of Sunan Ampel and Nyi Ageng Manila, was a member of the legendary Wali Songo, the nine founders of Islam on Java (Fox 2004). The life of Sunan Bonang is obscure. There is a lack of agreement among primary sources related to events associated with the saint’s life as he was celibate according to most sources and did not have descendants to recount his biography. There is general agreement among primary historical sources that Sunan Ampel mentored his son Raden Makhdum Ibrahim and Raden Paku (the future Sunan Giri) on Islam for a decade. Soon after both students completed their education under Sunan Ampel, they undertook a peregrination to Mecca. On their way to Mecca, they encountered Maulana Ishak at the port city of Malacca (Raden Paku’s father) who dissuaded both students from traveling further. Soon after, as Raden Makhdum Ibrahim and Raden Paku returned to Java, Sunan Ampel commanded the former to travel across Java. For years Raden Makhdum Ibrahim wandered and was eventually guided by the prophet Khidr who showed him the way to the orange jasmine (Javanese: kemuning) grove at a place in Bonang (Quinn 2019). Raden Makhdum Ibrahim settled here and acquired fame as Sunan Bonang. There are several Javanese legends that attest to Sunan Bonang’s contribution to the furtherance of dakwah (the act of inviting people to embrace Islam) across interior Java. His challenge was to reconcile Javanese monism with the dualistic doctrines of Islamic orthodoxy (Quinn 2019). In his dakwah, he deployed Gamelan (the traditional ensemble music of the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese), consisting chiefly of percussive instruments. There is a lack of consensus, apparent in Indonesian and Dutch primary sources, related to the location of the mausoleum of Sunan Bonang. But it is plausible that Sunan Bonang was buried at Tuban, given Schrieke’s research of Javanese legends (1916). Upon Sunan Bonang’s death at Bonang village, the saint’s followers wanted to conduct the saint’s last rites at Ngampel (in today’s Surabaya). As the saint’s mortal remains were shipped by prahu to Ngampel, strong winds blew the vessel towards Tuban. The sixteenth century Pangeran Bonang Javanese manuscript identifies Tuban as the location of Sunan Bonang’s grave. The tomb of Sunan Bonang at Tuban—reflecting similarities between the Javanese and Chinese architectural styles—is one of the busiest pilgrimage sites in Indonesia, annually hosting more than one million visitors.

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