Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia and what follows is a legend of how the city got its name.

A very long time ago, in the sea near the Javanese coast called Tanjung Perak, there lived a variety of sea animals. They all lived in peace and harmony with the exception of an octopus, called Cumi who could not get along with the other sea creatures. Cumi was very cruel.

One day Cumi went to one of the sea creaturesí home, a fish named Suro. Cumi tells Suro that one of the crocodiles, named Boyo, will soon attack Suro. Suro and Boyo are best friends and kind to each other, so Suro does not believe Cumi.

Cumi continues to lie to Suro but Suro does not believe him. Later, Cumi goes to the home of Boyo, the crocodile. Boyo also does not believe Cumi, but Cumiís lies become so believable that finally Boyo believes what Cumi has to say. He gets upset and swims in a hurry to the home of Suro. Boyo is angry and very strong. He attacks Suro and wounds him. Suro remains calm and does not fight back. But knowing that Boyo never stop attacking him, Suro begins to fight. The fight becomes so fierce that the sea turns red with their blood.

In the place where they fought, a city called Suroboyo was built. Suroboyo is a Javanese word derived from the name of the two fighting sea creatures. Suro means brave and Boyo means danger. Suroboyo (which is now translated as Surabaya in the Indonesian language) means Brave in Danger.


Bromo is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. The Tengger people who live in the area surrounding Mount Bromo are primarily Hindu and they people have many rituals regarding the volcano. Once a year during a ritual called Kasada, the people climb Mount Bromo to celebrate their ancestors. At dawn the procession of Yadnya Kasada commences, marking the 12th month of the Tengger calendar. At the Pura Luhur Poten temple at the foot of Mount Bromo, the sound of Javanese drums mixed with traditional songs create a mystical atmosphere while the Tengger Hindu elders arrive in colorful costumes. Inside the temple goats, rice, fruit and vegetables are ready to be thrown into the volcano as a sacrifice. The Hindu elders utter prayers as the sacrifices are carried 2 kilometers to the crater. As the sun rises, the elders perform a mass prayer calling for the Creator to bless the offerings as the sacrifices are thrown into the crater. Onlookers then rush to receive their blessings that gush forth from the depths of the crater.

The ancient tale of Mount Bromo according to Tengger legend follows:

Kasada was inherited from their ancestors who were royal descendents of the Majapahit kingdom in the 14th century. The ruling king Brawijaya had his daughter Roro Anteng married to Joko Seger, a descendent of Brahmana. Due to religious persecution, many Hindu followers across Java fled to the mountainous area near Mount Bromo under the royal coupleís leadership.

After unsuccessfully trying to have children, Joko Seger and Roro Anteng retreated to the jungle to ask the Creator for assistance in conceiving children. Their request was granted with the sole condition that their youngest was to be offered as a living sacrifice to Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, a god at the mountainís crater. After having 25 children, the pair hid themselves inside a cave in an attempt to evade sacrificing their youngest child, Raden Kusuma. One day a huge fire inside the cave drove the children out and forced the young Raden Kusuma to the edge of the crater. Before being sacrificed into the volcano, Raden Kusuma sent a message to all the people that they were to live peacefully and dedicate their lives to the Creator.


The Singosari dynasty in East Java lasted through the 13th century. Numerous temples remain from that period (one is shown in the picture above). The dynasty traces its origins to the colorful figures of Ken Arok and his beautiful queen Ken Dedes. The legend is long and rather complicated but here is a shortened version of the story.

Ken Arok was born from the union of his mother and the god Brahma. Ken Arok was a rascal when young, but his fortunes changed when he eavesdropped on the gods as they discussed the future of Java. He learned that it was his destiny to become king.

There was a Buddhist monk, whose daughter was reputed to be the most beautiful girl in the region. One day, while her father was away meditating in the forest, she was visited by the local ruler of Tumapel, who kidnapped her and took her back to his palace. It is said that this ruler, Tunggul Ametung, loved Ken Dedes deeply and made her his principal queen.

When she was about 3 months pregnant, she was taken by her husband on a trip to the garden of Boboji. As she was exiting her carriage, her skirts parted and a brilliant light shone from her womb. The young Ken Arok witnessing this fell immediately under the woman's spell and determined, by fair means or foul, to make her his wife. Ken Dedes had a son named Anusapati from her husband Tunggul Ametung.

Shortly thereafter, upon his fatherís divine recommendation, Ken Arok was formally appointed heir to the throne. From that point on he sought for a way to murder Tunggul Ametung and make Ken Dedes his queen. However Tunggul Ametung was a powerful ruler and killing him would require the forging a special keris (a Javanese sword that was made with special powers). Ken Arok went to see a metal smith named Mpu Gandring who agreed to make the weapon if he was given a year in which to complete it. Ken Arok however insisted that it be finished in five months, and went on his way.

After the five months were up, Ken Arok returned and asked to see the keris. Mpu Gandring showed him the half finished blade which, though formed, was still dull and rough. In anger and impatience, Ken Arok picked up the weapon and stabbed Mpu Gandring to death. As he lay dying, the keris maker cursed Ken Arok and his descendants, swearing that they would all die by the same weapon which the murderer now held in his hand.

As part of his plan, Ken Arok returned to Tumapel, where he gave the keris to one of his best friends, who was delighted with the gift. The friend displayed it wherever he went, until all in the region knew that it belonged to him. Then, as had been planned, Ken Arok secretly stole the keris, crept up to Tunggul Ametung's room as he lay sleeping, and murdered him. The friend was executed for the murder and Ken Arok finally sat on throne of Singosari with Ken Dedes as his wife by his side.

But the curse of the keris eventually caught up with Ken Arok. His wife, Ken Dedes gave the keris to her son by Tunggul Ametung, so that he could exact his revenge for his fatherís murder. Anusapati assumed the throne of Singosari for twenty years. But despite excessive precautions such as having a moat built around his bed, Anusapati too became the victim to the curse of Mpu Gandring and was killed by his eventual successor Vishnuvardhana. Anusapatiís memorial shrine is at Candi Kidal. Vishnuvardhana built Candi Jago in nearby Tumpang, Malang, which displays some of the finest and clearest relief carving in East Java.

Candi Singosari, in the village of the same name on the outskirts of Malang, was built during the reign of the last and most famous king of Singosari, Kertanagara. It was during the time of the Mongol expansion, when a descendant of Genghis Khan ruled in China. Demanding tribute from all the rulers in south east Asia, the Khan sent an envoy to the court of Kertanagara. The bold king sent his reply back to China, carved into the forehead of the unfortunate delegate. As Kublai Khan was preparing a retaliation to punish Singosari, Kertanagara and many of his priests and ministers were ambushed in their own capital by soldiers from a neighboring state and put to death. With the death of Kertanagara, the dynasty of Singosari came to an end.

Back to Beautiful Indonesia