Thursday, March 12, 2009


The event held three times a year in Yogyakarta called the Sekaten and Garebeg always blows my mind. It attacks all senses. Sights, smells, sounds and even the soul. It is after all a holy celebration to mark the Maulud, the Haj and the Eid Fitr.
This is my second time. The first time, I didn't really know what I was in for. This time I did. I was there early for the Sekaten on the eve of Maulud.

I knew that after Isyak prayers, the Sultan (HB X) would come with his magnificent entourage to bless the two ancient gamelan sets - Kiai Gunturmadu and Kiai Kaliwacina - and then throw offerings (rice and coins) to the peoples of his land. Later, he and his retinue would retire to the Masjid Ghede to listen to stories and sermons about the Prophet Muhammad.

How big is this event? Just to walk through the alun-alun would be a nightmarish experience for Monk. You would have to pass through a huge funfare and pasar malam, slowly pushing yourselfe through thousands of bodies to get to the masjid ghede that evening.
I believe that at that moment in time, when the Sultan appears from the Kraton to the mosque, there should be more than 250,000 people.
The next morning, at the Kraton, as early as six, people would have made a beeline to the kraton to catch the colorful Garebeg ceremony - a thousands soldiers amrching through the kraton, through the alun-alun and right to the Prabu Pakualaman kraton a few kilometers away, carrying offerings called the Gunungan (made of vegetables and other edible stuff).
For the uninformed, the Sekaten is a ceremony to commemorate the role the Gamelans had in converting the unbelievers to Islam during the rule of the Mataram kings. The gamelan was used to attract and entertain the citizens who would come to listen to the performance. After the performances, sermons were held and people were converted on the spot and told to recite the Kalimah Shahadah or Syahadaten (in javanese). This term is shorten to become Sekaten.
Since then, every year, the Gamelan is taken out of the kraton to be played and performed in public. On Maulud, the gamelan comes out seven days earlier and is palyed every night until the day of the Maulud.
The ceremony is unique, its colorful and its truly unforgettable.

Anyway, if you do go to Yogya and miss these festivals, there's always the short trip to Prambanan or Borobudur. That too would make the journey memorable.

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