Wed, 31 Aug 1994

Honoring Java's royal heritage through Kraton Festival

Text and photos by Mulkan Salmona

YOGYAKARTA (JP): For an entire week visitors to the ancient royal city of Yogyakarta witnessed a series of spectacles that many of Yogya's older citizens had seldom, if ever, seen before.

The occasion was this year's Kraton Festival, an annual event which aims at popularizing Java's ancient court traditions. This year's festival, held from Aug.13 to 20 in Yogyakarta, was a huge success judging by the reaction of the locals as well as the Indonesian and foreign tourists.

Seven heads of Java's once powerful royal houses attended the festivities. Their courts displayed some of their most hallowed ritual heirlooms and court paraphernalia while court dancers performed some sacred dances which in earlier days commoners were not permitted to see.

The hosts of this year's festival, the kraton of Yogyakarta and the second ruling house of the Paku Alaman principality, naturally dominated the displays, but the public did not ignore the other sultanates. The Kraton of Surakarta, its related Mangkunegaran principality, and the three royal courts of Kasepuhan, Kanoman and Kacirebonan in Java's northern coastal city of Cirebon also proudly displayed their heritage.

Even the Garebeg Maulud parade, an annual religious pageant staged by the kraton to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, was held on a grander scale than usual. Huge mounds of rice embellished with cooked vegetables were carried by the royal guards from the palace to the nearby Grand Mosque for distribution to the thousands of people crowding the mosque's inner yards.

Of the seven royal houses of Java represented at the festival, those in Surakarta and Yogyakarta have survived the tides of history the longest. Born in the 18th century as a result of a split in the court of Mataram, the two, together with the lesser principalities of Mangkunegaran and Paku Alaman, retained some of their authority under the Dutch East Indies colonial administration until the outbreak of World War II.

The current heads of the three royal courts of Cirebon are all descended from the founder of the Cirebon Sultanate, one of the first Islamic kingdoms to flourish in the western part of Java.