Ken Arok (or Ken Angrok) (died c. 1227) was the founder and first ruler of the Singosari (also Singasari) Kingdom, an ancient Hindu–Buddhist kingdom in the East Java area of Indonesia. He was considered as the founder of Rajasa dynasty of both the Singosari (Singasari) and Majapahit line of monarchs. He came from humble origins but subsequently rose to be the most powerful ruler in Java. His life was coloured with adventures, treacheries, and tragedies.
According the Pararaton (The Book of Kings), a folklore tale re-telling about Kings of Java but starts only from and mostly emphasis on Ken Arok with the myths combined, Ken Arok was the son of a peasant Ken Endok ("Endok" literally means Egg, which is also means "0" or "Unknown"), wife of a Brahmin Gajahpura in the kingdom of Kediri. His family was just a poor peasant family on the bank of the Brantas River in East Java.
Baby Ken Arok was placed in the Brantas by his parents who hoped he would be found by a wealthier family and get a better life. However, Ken Arok was found by a thief called Lembong. His foster father later taught him all his criminal skills and young Ken Arok grew to be the most cunning thief in Kediri. Doing much mischief and crimes, he was known all the way to the capital. Many people were sent to catch him, but none were successful.
One day Ken Arok met with Mpu Lohgawe, an Indian rshi who patiently taught Ken Arok to abandon his sinful life and start a new life. Lohgawe considered Arok as the avatar of Vishnu. His effort was successful and later he managed to get Ken Arok to become an attendant of Tunggul Ametung, a powerful regional leader of the Tumapel area.
One day, Ken Arok accidentally saw Ken Dedes, a beautiful wife of Tunggul Ametung, when she was taking a bath. Legend says when the wind blew over her dress and revealed her legs, Ken Arok said that he saw a beautiful light shining. He later told this to his teacher, who stated that it was a sign that Ken Dedes would bear a royal dynasty and any man that took her as wife would be a King. Ken Arok, already infatuated by her beauty, became even more eager to take her, by any means—including killing Tunggul Ametung, if necessary. By this time, Ken Arok had actually had a wife, a woman named Ken Umang from his village, and left her pregnant..
Kris of Mpu Gandring
Tunggul Ametung however was a very powerful man and held an important position. Thus, Ken Arok needed an exceptionally strong weapon to defeat him, and also had to find a way to do so without himself being punished for the crime. He managed to get by ordering a kris from a famous smith called Mpu Gandring. However the kris casting took a very long time. After several months, an impatient Ken Arok visited Mpu Gandring to check on the kris's progress. He saw that the kris had already taken shape and was strong enough to be called an exceptional weapon. However, Mpu Gandring stated that he still needed several months to perform rituals to imbue the kris with more magical power, not only to make it strong but also to prevent it from becoming an evil weapon.
Ken Arok became furious on hearing this. Knowing that Ken Dedes was pregnant, and determined to murder Tunggul Ametung before his wife gave birth to a possible son and heir, Ken Arok took the kris from its maker and stabbed Mpu Gandring. With his last breath, Mpu Gandring famously cursed Ken Arok, foretelling that he himself and seven generations of his descendants would be killed by that cursed kris.
Now owning an exceptional weapon, Ken Arok got ready for the next step of his plan. He gave the kris to Kebo Ijo, another attendant of Tunggul Ametung, a greedy man known to be fond of collecting krises. As Ken Arok expected, Kebo Ijo showed his new kris to every man he met. The kris was not only strong but also had a unique pattern that made it easily recognized. It wasn't long when almost everyone in Tumapel knew about the kris.
One night, Ken Arok stole the kris back from Kebo Ijo while he was asleep. He then secretly went to Tunggul Ametung's room and stabbed him to death, and left the kris at the scene. In the morning, everyone in Tumapel was shocked to hear of Tunggul Ametung's death. When they found the kris, they accused Kebo Ijo of being the assassin, just as Ken Arok had planned. Before Kebo Ijo was able to defend himself, Ken Arok stabbed him to death, on the pretext of revenging Tunggul Ametung.
And so Ken Arok was able to kill Tunggul Ametung, take Ken Dedes to be his wife, and proclaim himself the new ruler of Tumapel.
The ambition of Ken Arok did not stop in Tumapel. In 1222, at the battle of Ganter, he defeated king Kertajaya of Kediri and founded the new kingdom of Singasari. Kediri became a fief under the kingdom of Singasari.
Rule and his death
Ken Arok thus founded a new kingdom and started a new dynasty. He took the title Sri Ranggah Rajasa Bhatara Amurwabhumi, and his dynasty was called the Rajasa Dynasty. His new kingdom was centered in Singasari (now in Malang municipality), about 50 kilometres east of Kediri. To legitimate his ascension, he claimed to be a son of Siwa.
Ken Arok's rule however was short. Anusapati, son of Ken Dedes and Tunggul Ametung and thus Ken Arok's stepson, had suspected for a long time that Ken Arok was responsible for his father's death. One day, after finding out the truth, he went after and killed Ken Arok. Legend says that Anusapati used the kris of Mpu Gandring to kill Ken Arok; the same kris that Ken Arok used to kill Tunggul Ametung and thus fulfilling the beginning of Mpu Gandring's curse. In the end, Anusapati was also killed by his stepbrother, Panji Tohjaya with the same kris. Thus, the end of Ken Arok's life and the bloody chapter that ensued are roughly comparable to the end of Julius Caesar's rule in the history of the Roman Empire.
The kings of Majapahit were believed to be the descendant of Ken Arok, and also were the Mataram rulers. Ki Ageng Pemanahan, the founder of Mataram, claimed himself to inherit the royal blood of Majapahit. It makes all remaining Mataram kings are descendants of Ken Arok and is also believed to be the ancestor if the new Mataram Empire founded in the 17th Century which split into two in1755 and became the Kingdoms of precentday Surakarta and Ngayogyakarto hadidiningrat (The Sultanate of Jogjakarta or Jogja) thus making Ken Arok & Ken dedes the ancestors of all Javanese monarchs' kings
Ken Arok in popular culture
Today, the story of Ken Arok is very popular as a legend in Central and East Java. He is the subject of several books, movies, and traditional Javanese theater (Ketoprak). He is remembered both as a cunning and treacherous man but also as a man with a strong will to pursue his dream. It is believed that all the kings and queens who ruled on Java Island (Ancient Mataram, Majapahit and IKesusuhunan Surakarta) are the descendants of Ken Arok and Ken Dedes
- "Southeast Asia: a historical encyclopedia". Books Google. Retrieved 2010-07-25.