10 Yogyakarta Palace Traditional Ceremonies and Traditions: Caring for Javanese Cultural Heritage

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Without talking about Jogja’s culture, a discussion about the city would be lacking. Rich in customs and traditions, this region is not only a wonderful tourist attraction but also a location steeped in diversity.

Jogja features a number of customary rituals that are very symbolic since the Sultanate of Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, an area of Indonesia, is governed by a monarchy. One unique feature that makes its people’s life better is the variety of ceremonies it practices.

What then are the customary rites in Jogja? The list of ceremonies and their objectives are explained here.

1. Tingalan Jumenengan Dalem

The Tingalan Jumenengan Dalem is a sequence of rituals performed in conjunction with the throne ascension or coronation of the Sultan.

The Sugengan ceremony, which is organized to pray for the Sultan’s long life, the glory of his reign, and the wellbeing of the Yogyakarta people, is the main attraction of this commemorative event.

Following the Sugengan, a ceremony known as the labuhan is performed at a number of holy locations that are significant to the Yogyakarta Palace.

In addition to offering prayers for protection, the labuhan ceremony—whether held by the sea or on mountains—fulfills the Sultan’s obligation to preserve natural harmony, or “Hamemayu Hayuning Bawono.”

2. Hajad Dalem Labuhan

The word “labuhan” is derived from the verb “labuh,” which meaning to toss, set down, or drift away. This ritual serves as a prayer and an attempt to get rid of all negative traits.

During the labuhan ceremony, specific items known as “ubarampe labuhan” are actually cast by the Yogyakarta Palace.

These ubarampe labuhan are thrown at designated locations known as sacred sites, some of which include artifacts owned by the current Sultan.

Under the reign of Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, the Labuhan Dalem ritual was celebrated to celebrate the Sultan’s birthday (Wiyosan Dalem) according to the Javanese calendar, rather than to honor the coronation day (Jumenengan Dalem).

The Labuhan Dalem ceremony was brought back to honor Jumenengan Dalem under the reign of Sri Sultan Hamengku Bawono X.

The Labuhan ritual is celebrated annually on the 30th of Rejeb, one day after the Jumenengan Dalem event peaks on 29 Rejeb.

Read more: Yogyakarta Night Tourism Destination: From Traditional Performances to Photo Spots

3. Garebeg Ceremony

One of the major events held in the Yogyakarta Palace that is open to the public to see and take part in is Garebeg.

The palace hosts three Garebeg celebrations in a Javanese year: Garebeg Mulud on Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, on the 12th of Mulud; Garebeg Sawal on the 1st of Sawal (Eid al-Fitr); and Garebeg Besar on the 10th of Besar (Eid al-Adha).

The palace releases gunungan during these three Garebeg ceremonies as a representation of the Sultan’s altruism toward the populace. The attending community is then given the gunungan.

The Yogyakarta Sultanate was a kingdom with its own political structure prior to joining the Republic of Indonesia. Garebeg played a crucial role in that system of government.

Regents and officials from every region of the Yogyakarta Sultanate, including the outer regions and the core area (the kingdom’s central territory), travel to the capital during Garebeg to honor the Sultan and present tribute.

Accommodations for officials from different regions are offered by the Yogyakarta Palace at Bangsal Pekapalan. It is a row of pendapa-shaped buildings that encircles the North Square. The number of Kakung Gunungan distributed matches the number of participating regions.

The Yogyakarta Sultanate obeyed and adjusted to the new laws and governance structure following its integration with the Republic of Indonesia.

The system of tribute paid at every Garebeg was eliminated. Garebeg, though, was kept on. Gunungan is still released from the palace as a representation of the king’s altruism. However, Garebeg’s importance faded owing to several political and economic issues.

3. Numplak Wajik

A ritual known as Numplak Wajik initiates the process of setting up gunungan, a representation of the king’s almsgiving to the populace. These gunungan would later be distributed to the populace and paraded during the Garebeg event.

Three times a year, the Yogyakarta Palace hosts the Garebeg ceremony: Garebeg Mulud honors the Prophet Muhammad’s birth, Garebeg Sawal signifies the conclusion of the fasting month, and Garebeg Besar honors the Eid al-Adha holiday.

The Yogyakarta Palace also organizes the Numplak Wajik ceremony three times a year since gunungan is always issued by the palace for distribution during each Garebeg.

4. Bethak Ceremony and Pisowanan Garebeg Mulud Dal

Pisowanan and Bethak. The two rites of Garebeg Mulud Dal are interrelated. Only once every eight years, specifically in the year Dal, are both held.

In the Javanese calendar system, a year is called dala in the eight-year cycle (windu). Bethak, which means “cooking rice,” is Javanese.

Pisowanan, which comes from the word sowan, which meaning “audience,” refers to a gathering with the king.

The Islamic Mataram agrarian culture is intrinsically linked to the palace event symbolized by the rice-cooking parade. Cooking rice is a sign of abundance and health.

After cooking, the rice is formed into a circle. This is an example of the idea of “golong gilig,” which stands for the shared determination to work toward the prosperity and well-being of the community.

The rice that the Sultan gave to the family members and palace staff, referred to as “sega golong” or molded rice, represents the equitable distribution of wealth and the hope that the palace staff will be able to carry out their responsibilities and service with unwavering determination for the prosperity and well-being of the community.

Read more: Immersing in Javanese Traditions: Exploration Culture in Yogyakarta

5. Rendhem Ari-ari and Brokohan

Within the Yogyakarta Palace, the customs of “mendhem ari-ari” and “brokohan” are performed shortly after a birth. The day of the birth is often when these two customs are observed.

They might, however, be done the next day if unfavorable conditions exist, such as the baby being born too late at night.

  • Rendhem Ari-ari

The placenta, also known as ari-ari in Javanese, is a vital organ that provides nourishment and protection to the developing child inside the mother.

The placenta is still regarded as unique by Javanese society even after childbirth. They feel compelled to nurture and take good care of the placenta, even if it is only used once, and they accomplish this by holding a burial ceremony known as “mendhem ari-ari.”

The father of the child is in charge of leading the mendhem ari-ari procession. He has to dress nicely in traditional clothing for the parade, including a “blangkon gagrak” in the Yogyakarta style and a headband made of “nyamping” cloth.

The blood-free, cleaned placenta is put in a little clay pot known as a “kendil.”

In addition to the placenta, other items found inside include cotton cloth, salt, needles, thread, paper with letters written in Javanese, Latin, and Arabic, and jasmine flowers.

In an alternative form, additional ingredients include taro leaves, rice, ember pethek (a species of grass), fragrance oil, turmeric, candlenut, coins, and boreh flowers.

The several objects buried with the placenta represent and offer hope for the child’s future capacity to meet their basic needs.

  • Brokohan Ceremony

A child’s birth is celebrated and announced with the brokohan ceremony, which happens on the same day as the mendhem ari-ari parade.

The Arabic word “barokah,” which means benediction, is where the word “brokohan” itself comes from. Therefore, brokohan signifies more than just the advent of a new family member; it also conveys thankfulness for the newcomer’s arrival and the hope that the child will always be blessed.

6. Mitoni Ceremony

The word “pitu,” which means seven in Javanese, is the root of the Mitoni ceremonial, also called tingkeban. When the fetus is seven months gestation, prospective mothers observe this custom throughout their first pregnancy.

According to the Javanese calendar, Mitoni is usually conducted on Wednesdays or Saturdays on odd dates, just before the full moon. On Tuesdays or Saturdays, however, the Yogyakarta Palace hosts the Mitoni ceremony.

Certain cultures simplify the Mitoni rite, while others rigorously follow customs.

For the Royal Princesses—the daughters of the Sultan and Queen—the Mitoni custom is upheld within the palace under strict guidelines. This is how Mitoni processions were traditionally organized under Sri Sultan Hamengku Bawono X.

The Mitoni ritual begins with Abdi Dalem, which denotes the Sultan and Queen’s (Garwa Dalem) arrival in the ceremonial hall.

The location was the Yogyakarta Palace’s Ndalem Kilen pendopo, which was chosen under the reign of Sri Sultan Hamengku Bawono X. The Abdi Dalem Kanca Kaji then offers a prayer after this. The Royal Princess and the Royal Son-in-law then perform the Ngabekten, a polite homage to the Sultan, Queen, and Royal In-laws.

Read more: The Lineage of the Yogyakarta Palace, From the Beginning to the Present

7. Supitan, Ceremony of Passage to Adulthood for Males

One part of the life cycle ceremony in Javanese society is the “supitan” ceremony, which is the circumcision ceremony for boys.

Circumcision involves cutting the skin of the foreskin to expose the head of the penis, with the aim of removing impurities or dirt that may be present. For followers of Islam, this process is considered obligatory.

8. Commemorating Isra’ Mi’raj with the Yasa Peksi Burak

The Yogyakarta Palace hosts the Hajad Dalem Yasa Peksi Burak to honor the Isra’ Mi’raj event, which falls on the 27th of Rejeb in the Javanese calendar.

“Peksi” denotes birds; “Yasa” means to make or hold; and “Burak” is Buraq, the animal thought to have been the Prophet’s conveyance during the Isra’ Mi’raj. Fruit trees, four floral trees, and Peksi Burak are created at the start of this event.

Peel from Balinese oranges and fruit are used to make Peksi Burak. The body, neck, head, and wings of a bird are all represented by the shape and carving of the peel.

The addition of a comb, or crest, allows birds to distinguish between male and female. Every Peksi Burak has a “susuh,” or nest, constructed from kemuning leaves, which serves as a perching place. These Peksi Burak and nests are held up by bamboo joints at the summit of fruit trees.

The palace uses this Isra’ Mi’raj celebration as a vehicle for religious outreach. It is envisaged that the community will learn from the Isra’ Mi’raj voyage and the five daily prayers commandment, which were transmitted to the Muslim world by Prophet Muhammad, through the Yasa Peksi Burak.

9. Islamic Propagation Through Sekaten

From the 5th to the 12th of Mulud (Rabi’ al-Awwal), Yogyakarta Palace usually hosts Sekaten, a Hajad Dalem. The purpose of Sekaten is to honor Prophet Muhammad’s birth.

Some people think that the name “sekaten” comes from the word “sekati,” which refers to a gamelan (bronze instrument) that was played at Sekaten and is thought to have originated in Majapahit.

Later, the Demak Kingdom possessed the gamelan. According to a different theory, the word “syahadatain,” which denotes a statement of accepting Islam, is where Sekaten originates.

Since the first Islamic monarchy on the island of Java, Demak, the Sekaten event has been held. It is believed that sekaten is a means of promoting Islam. The Wali Sanga, or Nine Saints, were instrumental in this process of Islamization by using cultural tools to spread their message.

The Wali Sanga realized that force was an ineffective way to propagate Islam. In order to draw people to the mosque and hear the saints preach, the Sekaten Gangsa set was performed.

10. Commemorating Lailatul Qadr with Malem Selikuran

Malem Selikur is an annual ceremony held by the Yogyakarta Palace during the month of Pasa or Ramadan. To welcome the night of Lailatul Qadr, Malem Selikur is held.

This event is a part of the Yogyakarta Sultanate’s ongoing efforts as an Islamic state to disseminate Islamic teachings among the Javanese population.

Islam says that during the third to final night of Ramadan, there would be a spectacular night. It is said that the night known as Lailatul Qadr is more virtue-filled than other nights, being compared to a thousand months.

Prophet Muhammad received the Quran from Allah on this very night. Muslims enhance their devotion and good activities to welcome this night because they think that the blessings will be magnified a thousand times more than usual.

It is thought that Malem Selikur, also referred to as Selikuran, has existed from the early days of Islam’s expansion throughout Java.

The Wali Sanga developed this custom as an Islamic da’wah technique tailored to Javanese culture. Sing linuwih ing tafakur, which translates to “striving for closeness to Allah,” is one way to read selikur.

It can also be seen as an exhortation to work even more to become closer to Allah. As a result, it is anticipated that the Malem Selikur tradition will work as a reminder to uphold other acts of worship throughout the final 10 days of Ramadan, as well as to enhance charity and engage in introspection.

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Author: Pramitha Chandra
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