Sun, 04 Jun 1995

Lir-ilir: Javanese song and its meaning

By DWR Mastuti

JAKARTA (JP): Traditional Javanese songs are more than just lyrics and rhythm, their words contain the philosophy of life.

When I was young, my parents always sang Lir-ilir. I understood it only after studying Javanese. I came to love this song deeply because of its deep meaning.

The song Lir-ilir runs as follows:

"Lir-ilir tandure wis sumilir,

tak ijo royo-royo, tak sengguh temanten anyar,

cah angon-cah angon, penekna blimbing kuwi,

lunyu-lunyu peneken kanggo masuh dodotiro,

dodotiro kumitir bedhah ing pinggire,

domana, jlumatana, kanggo seba mengko sore,

mumpung gedhe rembulane, mumpung jambar kalangane,

yo suraka...surak...hore...


Lir-ilir the tree is mature,

all green, beautiful and shining like a bridegroom,

herdsman, please climb that blimbing tree,

although the tree is slippery, please climb to

collect the fruit to wash your cloth with,

your dodot is torn at the side,

please sew it in order to call on the king this afternoon,

come on, there's a full moon, and we can make a big circle,

please cheer...cheer...hurry...

You can feel the beauty of this song when you sing it. Most tembang dolanan (songs sung when children play), like Nini Thowok and Cublak-cublak Suweng, have philosophical meaning. This meaning comes from the type of the game itself, which may be related to the cosmos, super natural events or the environment.

Naturally different interpretations may emerge from differing points of view. However, the Javanese attach symbolic meaning to everything. For instance they use symbolism in speech, in the names of their children and the days of a birth, and give meaning to each part and function of a coconut tree.

The Javanese answered one of life's mysteries with Lir-ilir.

The phrase Lir-ilir tandure was sumilir means that a man's soul is awaken to become conscious of God. To be conscious of God one has to exercise daily and remember food.

By the phrase tak ijo royo-royo tak sengguh temanten anyar, it is understood that the man follows God with the deep love of a bridegroom.

Cah angon-cah angon, penekna blimbing kuwi, lunyu-lunyu penekna, kanggo masuh dodortiro is laden with meaning. Blimbing (star fruit) may symbolize the cloth as well as the tree itself. Dodot is also a type of ceremony cloth worn in palace when a prince visits the king. This part therefore suggests that once a man has become conscious of God by praying, he has to cleanse his heart by developing the five qualities of good conduct and character: non-attachment, acceptance, truthfulness, patience and high virtue. Lunyu-lunyu peneken means that a man has to obey God; this may be guided by these five qualities, however difficult. Just as this cloth (dodot) must be clean, a dying man should possess a clean heart before presenting himself to God when he dies.

Dodotira kumitir bedhah penggire, domana jlumatana kanggo seba mengko sore, explains the dodot as a symbol of the heart and also as a symbol of faith in God. As the dodot is torn on one side and has to be sewn, symbolizing an unconscious heart without an awareness of God, a man without consciousness is not truly complete. As a man grows older, it becomes more difficult for him to wear clean clothing, and similarly to develop true consciousness.

Mangko sore implies that although a man does not know when death will come, he must be ready to accept God's will.

Mumpung gedhe rembulane, mumpung jembar kalangane is a warning to man not to waste time in order to be prepared for death. While young, strong and healthy one should not be impatient to perform great tasks because such great opportunities are rare and a man is more often presented with small ones. Therefore one should not despise these small tasks, for if a man cannot execute easy tasks, how will it possible for him to accomplish difficult ones?

Suraka...surak...hore... shows that happiness is achieved by following God's commands.

Today, when Indonesians are overly concerned with industrial and technological development, and materialism has become king, there can be no harm in you singing Lir-ilir.

This song reminds us that there is God, the Creator of the universe. We must take care of our universe; its forests, rivers, sky, sea and everything in this world which enables us to live.