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The Mausoleum of Sunan Gunung Jati, Cirebon (West Java) Neelakantan, Vivek


Sunan Gunung Jati (d. 1570)—known variously as Syarif Hidayatullah, Falatehan and Tugril— is credited with the Islamization of western Java and regarded as one of the members of the Wali Songo. The Wali Songo refers to the nine founders of Islam on the island of Java during the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. Sunan Gunung Jati was the ancestor of the Muslim ruling families of Cirebon and Banten respectively. Historians lack definitive details regarding the genealogy of the saint. Nevertheless, it is plausible that Sunan Gunung Jati was a native of Pasai (Aceh) and undertook a pilgrimage to Mecca. At Mecca, the saint is said to have studied under Najmuddin al-Kubra who subsequently initiated him into the Naqshbandiyya tarekat (an order of Sufism). In the West Javanese Babad Tjirebon chronicle, Kubra is represented not only as the ancestor and preceptor of Sunan Gunung Jati but also of the Wali Songo saints namely Sunan Ampel and Sunan Bonang. Both genealogical and teacher-student relationships establish connection among these figures. The saint’s dakwah (act of calling people to embrace Islam) strategy consisted of not only teaching Islam to the local inhabitants of Mount Sembung but strengthening relationships with influential figures in the Cirebon principality through matrimonial alliances. The Cirebon principality was a vassal of the Hindu Pakuan Pajajaran kingdom of western Java, ruled by Prabu Siliwangi. But on becoming Cirebon’s tumenggung (leader), the saint refused to pay tribute to Pajajaran. In the confrontation between Sunan Gunung Jati and Pajajaran, the latter was defeated. Subsequently, Tumenggung Jagabaya, the military general of Pajajaran kingdom and sixty soldiers embraced Islam. Sunan Gunung Jati is considered as the first Sultan of Cirebon and is said to have divided Pajajaran into three parts: entrusting Banten and Cirebon to his sons whilst Pajajaran was entrusted to his uncle. The mausoleum complex of Sunan Gunung Jati is spread across Bukit Sembang and Bukit Gunung Jati hills in northeastern Cirebon, West Java. Bukit Gunung Jati was considered sacred in pre-Islamic times. According to Sundanese folklore, a massive fire was sometimes lit at the peak of Gunung Jati and was considered the embodiment of nature’s navel. The gravesite of Sunan Gunung Jati represents the assimilation of pre-Islamic Hindu, Buddhist and Sunda Wiwitan (an indigenous folk religion of the Baduy, Bantenese, Cirebonese and Sundanese people of western Java) within the framework of Islam.

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