I’m currently blogging from Yogyakarta, cultural city of Indonesia where I’m here for a week-long business trip. And since my business is all about fun and deeply involves culture and heritage related to the Singapore Malay community, I’m here in the land of my adopted country to learn a bit more about it.
Earlier today, I travelled from Yogyakarta to the city of Solo located about an hour away by train or about an hour and half travel by the inter-city bus, referred to as ‘Travel’. My journey began at 0800hrs, Indonesian time, from Yogyakarta as we took the ‘Travel’ to Solo and an hour and half later, we awoke within the heart of ‘Kraton’ (also spelled as ‘Keraton’), the Royal institution (everything and anything referred to the palace).
In what used to be the Royal Palace where the King and his courtiers lived within the walls of the palace, it is now a city which sees the Royal family live alongside members of the public who have since been given access to purchase assets, which used to belong to the Royal family (having been first assessed on their background).
The last of its’ glorious days of this city was during the reign of Pakubuwana 10 or better known as ‘P.B X’ back in the 1930’s. Thereafter, World War II came and the invasion of the Japanese had caused much changes to how the Royal family then conducted its’ daily life and rituals.
Nevertheless, a walk through the Royal museum will bring you back into time to have a better understanding of how grandiose life used to be within the walls of the palace. Royal artefacts on display helps you to understand that Malays (or rather, Javanese) Royal Military didn’t just go to war with the ‘Keris’ as how we would have usually seen on tv or been told to by our history books.
In fact, the Javanese Royal Military were well equipped with cannons, spears, bow and arrows as well as shields, something which has very much been neglected in the illustration and depiction of the Royalties living within the Malay Archipelago. Not that I can blame anyone other than historians of yesteryears or powers controlling propaganda since most history books only make reference to the Malacca Royal family and the stories which surrounds around Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat and Puteri Gunung Ledang. (Let’s leave this part for a separate entry)
Anyway, I was very lucky to have been there today as it so happens that the Royal dancers were performing a dance ceremony or ritual called ‘Bedaya Ketawang’ which has been practised for more than 250 years and is performed once every 35 days. This dance ritual has a specific time which it has to be performed and each dance lasts for about 2 hours (and this is a monthly rehearsal)! This dance has a significant meaning because it is the love story (as told by the Royal dancer)/commemoration of two powers (as told by Suryakenchana Omar). You can read more on the academic piece by Suryakenchana Omar here.
Besides the dance ritual which was performed within palace grounds, within view of the public, I was also informed by one of the retired Royal palace dancers whom I met that the dance requires a minimum of 7 dancers (this was enacted by Pakubuwana 12 or ‘P.B XII’ in the 90’s) but by right, requires 9 dancers. Should there be lesser than 7 dancers available, the dance is not able to take place but the music accompaniment on the gamelan and songs must continue to be performed/ritualised.
Walking around the compounds of the Royal palace decked in cyan blue and white, you’d be able to visualize how gradiose and powerful this Royal family used to be back in their golden era. It is indeed such a pity that the Royal family and its rituals has been reduced to nothing more than something purely ceremonial in the eyes of the Indonesian government.