“The boy was carrying something in his arms. As he reached down to remove the lid of one jar and place the object inside, Aryani saw a flash of gold.”

The Wonoboyo Hoard is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in Indonesia and is on display in the treasure room of the National Museum in Jakarta. The treasure, which was found buried in a rice field in 1990, probably dates back to the ninth century though when and why it was buried remains a mystery. It’s unlikely that the treasure’s burial happened the way I described it in Tiger Stone but finding 16 kilograms of 1000 year old gold in a rice field is pretty unlikely too so I decided I had licence to be a little creative.

I first read about the Wonoboyo Hoard in a book about Indonesian art. The book contained beautiful photographs of the treasure, including a close-up of the intricately carved scenes from the Ramayana on a golden bowl believed to have been used for holy water in ceremonies.

When I searched online for more information about the circumstances of the hoard’s discovery I found a Wikipedia entry and that led me back to an article in the Indonesian online magazine Tempo written shortly after the treasure was uncovered. I found a few other sources but they all seemed to be based on either the Wikipedia entry or the Tempo article or both. In 2012 I had the opportunity to visit Jakarta but as luck would have it, the Wonoboyo Hoard was on tour in Korea at the time. I was disappointed but there were plenty of other exhibits to see and I hope that next time I visit the treasure will be there. The article I mentioned was published in Majalah Tempo Interaktif on 3 November 1990 and titled ‘Warisan Saragi Diah Bunga’. You can read the article in Indonesian here: http://archive.today/sRJLm or read my English translation below.

The Legacy of Saragi Diah Bunga

Kastoyo Ramelan, Bunga Surawidjaya and Putut Tri Husodo.

It all started with a small project in Miss Cipto Suwarno’s rice field, in Plosokuning Hamlet, Wonoboyo Village, Klaten, Central Java. The field was to be dug, and some of the soil was to be sold as landfill. Apart from needing the money, Miss Cipto wanted to lower her rice field so the irrigation channel could reach it.

The work was carried out by Witomoharjo and his five friends. Day after day they dug. Then, at about sunset on 17 October, Wito’s mattock hit something hard at a depth of 2.5 meters. He thought he had hit rock and he set to work digging away the soil around it but he kept hitting something hard. So, very carefully, he scraped around the obstacle with the blade of his mattock.

Wito was startled to discover that what he thought was a rock was actually a ceramic jar. The jar was lifted out and inspected. Wito’s heart skipped a beat – inside were several objects, and when the dirt was cleaned off them, they gleamed. “Gold, gold, gold…,” Wito and his friends shrieked.

the wonoboyo hoard
The Wonoboyo Hoard ©©Gunkarta Gunawan Kartapranata

The Head of Wonoboyo Village was immediately informed. And so, witnessed by village officials, the digging continued and several ancient objects were uncovered. On that night, 16.9 kg of valuable objects was removed from Miss Cipto’s field – 14.9 kg gold and 2 kg silver. To be specific, the discovery consisted of one wide-rimmed bowl, six lids, three water dippers, one tray, 97 bracelets, 22 bowls, a washbasin, a smoking pipe, a large jar, two small jars, 11 rings, seven plates, eight ear-plugs, one handbag, a kris (dagger) handle, beads, and a number of coins.

Upon hearing of the treasure’s discovery, Uka Tjandrasasmita, Director for the Protection and Restoration of Historic and Ancient Relics at the Department of Education and Culture, immediately flew to Klaten.

“This was a unique historic discovery, the biggest in the 32 years I have worked at the Directorate General for Culture,” says Uka enthusiastically. He immediately ordered that a 50-meter radius around the discovery should be secured in case other items were scattered around.

For Uka, the items are very valuable – not just because they are made from precious metal, but more than that, these ancient items are a ‘window’ to peek at the secrets of the past. These historic items really could tell a tale about the past. Why not?

The golden bowls that were found were carved with scenes from the Ramayana. There was a scene of Rama shooting the golden deer, Shinta being kidnapped by Rahwana, and Rama and the white monkey Hanoman in the forest. “These carvings have the same characteristics as the reliefs on Prambanan Temple,” says Uka.

Indeed the treasure was found three kilometres from that temple complex. So, Dr Koesen, a Gadjah Mada University archaeologist, concludes that the ancient golden items have a close historic connection with Prambanan Temple. “The carvings come from the Hindu Mataram period in the eighth to ninth centuries CE,” he says. He can immediately distinguish them from those of the Shivaist East Java kingdom that emerged in the following century. “Hanoman in East Java is fully clothed, whereas in Central Java he is depicted naked,” he adds.

The items discovered could also provide evidence that the Hindu Mataram period had a trade relationship with China. The small jars that were found, according to Uka, can be traced to the sixth to ninth century Tang Dynasty. Moreover, it appears that currency was known in Hindu Mataram times. Coins were found amongst the items of treasure, on one side of the coin is written ta, short for tahil (a unit of weight).

There are also some outlines of Kawi script on the ancient items. These include the words ‘Saragi Diah Bunga’. Could that be the owner of the treasure? Koesen isn’t prepared to say for sure. However, it is clear that the items were the property of a noble. “Who else would carry a golden hand bag other than a member of the royal family,” says Koesen. From the Kawi style printed script, from the reliefs and style of carving on the ancient items, Uka Tjandrasasmita is certain that the items were used in the period of King Balitung’s reign in the ninth century. “But it isn’t clear why the items were in Plosokuning,” says Uka.

The existence of the Ancient Mataram Kingdom is, itself, the subject of controversy. The kingdom has left behind archaeological sites representing two quite different styles: some sites are consistent with Buddhism, such as the Borobudur and Mendut Temples, and the Sewu Temple complex (near Prambanan), while others have a Shivaist style, such as the Prambanan Temple or Gedong Sanga. This contrast has led to speculation that in the eighth and ninth centuries in Central Java there were two kingdoms, one Buddhist and one Shivaist.

However, that theory was rejected by the late historian Dr. R.M.Ng. Poerbatjaraka. He was certain that there was only one dynasty at that time, being the Ancient Mataram, also known as the Syailendra Dynasty. That dynasty produced a well-known king called Sanjaya. In 732 CE, Sanjaya instructed his son, Rakai Panangkaran, to change his religion from Shivaist to Buddhist. The reason is not clear. However, according to Poerbatjaraka, from the time of Panangkaran’s rule, Ancient Mataram embraced Buddhism.

From King Panangkaran to King Balitung there were six kings. The belief that the items found in Plosokuning were from the Balitung period is supported by the fact that some of the writing on the objects is in Dewanagari script. Yet, amongst the items are some relief carvings that give the impression they come from a Shivaist period, while Balitung was Buddhist.

Published as ‘Warisan Saragi Diah Bunga’ in Majalah Tempo Interaktif on 3 November 1990: http://archive.today/sRJLm English translation by Deryn Mansell.

More images of the Wonoboyo Hoard can be found at the Virtual Collection of Asian Masterpieces.