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The Mausoleum of Sunan Muria, Colo (Central Java) Neelakantan, Vivek


Sunan Muria (d. ~ 1551 AD)—also known as Raden Umar Said—belongs to the younger generation of Wali Songo that include Sunan Kudus. The Wali Songo refers to the nine main saints who introduced Islam on the island of Java between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. Historians lack definitive details of Sunan Muria’s life as legends blot out what is factually knowable of him. There are two divergent accounts of Sunan Muria’s genealogy. In the first account, the saint is portrayed as the son of Sunan Kalijaga who married Dewi Sujinah, the daughter of Sunan Ngudung (the imam of the Grand Mosque at Demak) and the sister of Sunan Kudus. In the second account, entitled Pustoko Darah Agung, Sunan Muria is the son of Sunan Ngudung and the nephew of Sunan Kalijaga (R. Darmowasito). Nevertheless, it is plausible that Sunan Muria was the son of Sunan Kalijaga as one of his sons earned the appellation of Sunan Adilangu, a title traditionally bestowed by the Sultan of Demak on the descendants of Sunan Kalijaga. Sunan Muria’s dakwah (act of inviting people to embrace Islam) strategy was firmly situated in the everyday lives of the Javanese. In his dakwah, the saint used wayang kulit (a Javanese puppet shadow play) and enacted themes from the Hindu epic Mahabharata but the characters conveyed Islamic themes. Sunan Muria invested the Hindu ritual of shraddha (ceremonies performed in honor of deceased ancestors) with a new Islamic meaning. The pre-Islamic Javanese tradition of offering rice cones to one’s ancestors was replaced with slametan (feast) and Islamic prayers. Apart from incorporating pre-Islamic elements in his dakwah, Sunan Muria also deployed the Javanese practice of tapa ngeli (drifting in the river by self-isolation) such that the radiance of divine light could enter the conscience. Tapa ngeli was a kind of ascetic self-control. Sunan Muria has bequeathed Javanese Islam its distinct cultural form. The mausoleum complex of Sunan Muria—located in Colo village on Mount Muria, a dormant volcano—reflects distinctive elements of Javanese architecture including a wooden cupola of the Sunan Muria mosque. The cupola consists of two overlapping roofs capped by a mustoko or memolo roof finial. The mustoko—although associated with Brahmamula containers of the essence of divine unity in Hindu cosmogyny—makes its appearance in most Javanese mosques during the sixteenth century.

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