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The Tomb of Sunan Kalijaga: Kadilangu Village, Demak Regency (Central Java) Neelakantan, Vivek


Sunan Kalijaga (1450-1513)—also known as Raden Said or Lokajaya in his earlier life—is the most celebrated saint among the Wali Songo. Wali Songo collectively refers to nine saints who contributed to the spread of Islam in Java, according to the eighteenth-century Javanese historical tradition that is reflected in various versions of the Babad Tanah Jawi. Born into a Majapahit noble family in Tuban, Raden Said was addicted to gambling and smoking opium. The profligate youth went on to become a notorious highwayman. But when the young man attempted to prey upon the passing Sunan Bonang, his life trajectory changed drastically. Inspired by the magical powers of Sunan Bonang, Raden Said left behind his life of crime. The youth then became Sunan Bonang’s star disciple. After several trials, notably his long watch (Javanese: jaga) over the river Kali, Raden Said earned the appellation of Sunan Kalijaga. There is a general consensus amongst historians and anthropologists that Sunan Kalijaga is remembered for his humanity: his distinctive Javaneseness, a devout Muslim and extensive use of wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) in the dakwah strategy (act of inviting people to embrace Islam). He is also remembered for lending credibility to the newly-established Mataram Sultanate. According to a legend mentioned in the Babad Tanah Jawi, sometime during the 1470s— when the Wali Songo were busy building the Grand Mosque at Demak in a single day—they were unable to agree on the orientation of the building. Muslims are obligated to pray five times a day facing Mecca towards the Ka’aba. Therefore, mosques are oriented towards the Ka’aba. The Babad Jaka Tangkir chronicle tells us that the structure built by the Wali Songo was not easily brought into alignment with Ka’bah, the material-spiritual center of Islam. The deferral of the settlement of the kéblat (Javanese: to face Mecca/obey) of the Grand Mosque of Demak— as recorded by Javanese historical tradition—highlights the complex process of balancing between traditional customs and Islam. Sunan Kalijaga’s miraculous manipulation of both the Meccan Ka’aba and the Grand Mosque at Demak illustrates the alignment of Islam with Javanese tradition. The Sunan Kalijaga Mosque at Kadilangu, Demak—adjacent to the tomb of Sunan Kalijaga [not to be confused with the Grand Mosque at Demak]—adopted local features of mosque construction. For example, the tiered roof instead of the Moorish-style dome and minaret. The latter style was introduced as an element of mosque construction at the turn of the twentieth century.

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