Sun, 02 Feb 2003

`Imlek' brings rain, fortune for beggars

Evi Mariani and Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Heavy rains poured down on most parts of the city late Friday evening, the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year, heralding good blessings and fortune in the coming year for both the Chinese community and beggars alike.

Hundreds of Indonesians of Chinese descent packed Dharma Bhakti Temple in Glodok, West Jakarta, lifting up prayers and casting wishes as the big bell chimed midnight, Feb. 1, marking the beginning of the Year of the Ram. The air was still with solemn silence.

This is the first year that Chinese New Year, known locally as Imlek, was celebrated as a national holiday.

In contrast to the celebrations of Idul Fitri, Christmas and New Year, no heightened security was seen at Dharma Bhakti Temple or Mahavira Graha Pusat Temple on Jl. Lodan Raya, Ancol, in North Jakarta, two of the biggest temples in the city.

In the front courtyard of Dharma Bhakti Temple, more than 1,000 beggars were seated in rows, murmuring a New Year's blessing to those who put Rp 1,000 (12 US cents) bundles in a tin bowl guarded by several people.

"We were instructed to drag the beggars out of the temple. But look, there are so many of them, we would have caused a commotion if we had dragged them out," said Slamet, coordinator of the city police.

Slamet and 15 other officers guarded the Imlek ceremony until Saturday morning.

Sobirin, one of the temple attendants entrusted with distributing alms to the beggars, said the money was distributed every hour to the beggars, most of whom came from out of town and as far away as Cirebon, West Java.

"By 3 a.m., we had distributed the money 20 times since the afternoon. We gave more than Rp 1 million each time," he said.

Sri, 56, who usually begs in Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, arrived at the temple around 9 p.m. "But I had overslept and had just woken up at 2 p.m., so I only got Rp 1,000. I have to stay awake until morning to get more," she said with a big grin.

Services at Mahavira Temple finished at 2 a.m., while Dharma Bhakti Temple and nearby Toasebio Temple were open around the clock, with prayers echoing into the dawn.

On Monday night, Kwik Kian Gie and Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, known for their efforts to encourage interreligious harmony throughout Indonesia, will attend the Imlek celebration at Mahavira Temple.