The proximate cause was the Dutch decision to build a road across a piece of Diponegoro's property that contained his parents' tomb. Amongst other causes was a sense of resentment felt by members of the Javanese aristocratic families at Dutch measures intended to restrict the renting out of land at high prices. Finally the succession of the throne in Yogyakarta was disputed: Diponegoro was the oldest son of Hamengkubuwono III, but as his mother was not the queen he was not considered to have the right to succeed his father. Diponegoro's rival to the throne, his younger half brother, Hamengkubuwono IV, and then his infant nephew Hamengkubuwono V, was supported by the Dutch.
Being a devout Muslim, Diponegoro was alarmed by the relaxing of religious observance at Yogyakarta court, the rising influences of the infidel Dutch in the court, as well as by the court's pro-Dutch policy. Among Diponegoro's followers, the war has been described as a jihad "both against the Dutch and the murtad or apostate Javanese."