Historian Says Nusantara Is a Fitting Name for the New Capital

Diana Mariska
The design of Indonesia's new capital in East Kalimantan. (Photo: Special Doc.)
The design of Indonesia's new capital in East Kalimantan. (Photo: Special Doc.) - The Indonesian government announced on Monday that the name of the new capital is Nusantara. Minister of National Development Planning Suharso Monoarfa said the name was selected by President Joko Widodo because it’s a widely recognizable name, both nationally and globally, and has been associated with Indonesia for a long time. The word, which means archipelago, is also considered to be the perfect representation of the archipelagic Indonesia with its rich diversity.

Then what’s the history behind the name? How does the meaning change over time? And is it the best choice to name the new capital with?

In an article published by Antara, lecturer in Javanese Literature at Gadjah Mada University Rudy Wiratama Partohardono said the word has been long used, dating back to the period of Singhasari kingdom, but in a different form: “Dwipantara”.

Around 1275, Kertanegara of Singhasari introduced the “Cakrawala Mandala Dwipantara” concept. In Sanskrit, Dwipantara has a similar meaning to Nusantara. Dwipa and nusa both mean “islands”, and antara means “outer”. In short, Dwipantara means “islands in between”.

Kertanegara used the Cakrawala Mandala Dwipantara concept to unify kingdoms in Southeast Asia under Singhasari as a defense against Mongol expansion that aimed to establish Yuan dynasty in mainland China.

Initially, it was seen as a military conquest, but later on, the Cakrawala Mandala Dwipantara expedition was able to display diplomatic efforts through strength and authority to establish friendship and alliance between Singhasari and other kingdoms.

Kertanegara even gifted the Malay people and rulers with Amoghapasa statue as a diplomatic gesture. In return, Malay king offered princesses Dara Jingga and Dara Petak to be married to Java rulers.

Nusantara Concept by Gajah Mada

In his book Gajah Mada: Political Biography, archeologist Agus Aris Munandar explained that Majapahit’s mahapatih Gajah Mada continued the concept of Dwipantara by taking the Palapa oath in 1336. The oath mentioned the term Nusantara, which specifically referred to all islands that Majapahit aimed to rule, including those that were beyond their territory.

And Muhammad Yamin’s book Gajah Mada: Nusantara Unification Hero defines the Nusantara that was ruled by Majapahit to include Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Malay Peninsula, Nusa Tenggara, Bali, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Papua.

However, upon the downfall of Majapahit, the word Nusantara was forgotten.

It was only until the start of the twentieth century that Nusantara was reintroduced by educational figure Ki Hadjar Dewantara. At the time, however, Nusantara didn’t refer to the concept of ruling kingdoms, but rather as an alternative to the term Dutch East Indies, which was often used during the Dutch colonialism to refer to Indonesia.

Nusantara in Modern Times

Currently, the term Nusantara, once again, became the center of attention after it was chosen to be the name of Indonesia’s new capital in East Kalimantan.

Indonesians are divided as some of them think the word Nusantara represents certain ethnical group.

While it’s true that Nusantara was birthed as a Javanese view during the ruling of Majapahit empire, Rudy Wiratama Partohardono said it doesn’t refer to any ethnicity in particular, according to its origin.

The word originated from Sanskrit and Kawi which were widely used in the past, and the latter was used in Malay, Java, Bali, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

Nusa originated from Kawi, and antara from Sanskrit. The two languages were closely related. And Kawi was used in Malay, Java, Bali – even in Vietnam and Malaysia where it was used differently from the vernacular language. Similar to formal Bahasa Indonesia and the vernacular language that we use today,” Partohardono explained.

He said the public should not narrowly perceive the word Nusantara as referring to certain ethnicity because its long history shows that it isn’t.

The academic is also optimistic that the aspired concept, vision, and mission must have been taken into serious consideration by the President and his cabinet prior to choosing the final name for the future capital.

Tag # new capital of indonesia # east kalimantan # history # nusantara # capital city of indonesia

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