Sat, 26 Feb 2000

Rite gives spiritual strenght to babies

By Tarko Sudiarno

YOGYAKARTA (JP): The Javanese strongly believe in rites of passage, purification rituals which will give them spiritual strength in entering every phase of their lives.

Thedak siten, one of the most important of the early rites of passages, is performed when a baby reaches seven months old according to the Javanese calendar, in which a month is equivalent to 35 days.

The word tedhak literarily means stepping, while siten or siti means soil. Thus, the ceremony denotes the occasion when a baby treads on the ground for the first time.

The Javanese people live in the cosmos -- Earth, or ibu pertiwi, and the sky or bapak angkasa. The rite symbolically means the baby's first physical contact with the Earth.

Today, only a few people are able to perform the ritual because of time and financial constraints. But the Yogyakarta Palace still holds regular performances as a tourist attraction.

Prince Joyokusumo, a brother of the Yogyakarta Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, puts on the ceremony in a tourist package including lunch or dinner.

The ceremony is usually held on the morning of the baby's weton, or date of birth on the Javanese calendar, or his father's.

At Yogyakarta Palace, the ceremony is performed on the sultan's weton and takes place in the Kaputren, one of the palace's compounds for princesses and royal women.

The women and courtiers prepare a stack of offerings which consist of yellow rice, traditional cakes, colorful rice porridge, nasi gudangan (rice with mixed vegetables), cassava and sweet potatoes, and yellow coconut leaves. They also set out a number of ritual instruments like a cage for a rooster, a ladder made of sugarcane stalks, bronze coins and gold jewelry.

All the offerings and ceremonial instruments have symbolic meanings.

The cage symbolizes the cosmic world where people live. It also personifies a spiritual barrier that shields the baby from bad omens. The ladder, made of black sugarcane or tebu wulung represents the steps of life and strength.

Coins and jewelry symbolize wealth. Cotton and rice symbolize clothes and food. The colorful cakes portrays the life of people who will undergo various encounters.

The first part of the ceremony starts when the mother holding her baby enters the ritual site.

The baby is then led to walk on top of the seven colorful cakes placed on the mat. The baby is then guided to step on the ladder in the hope that the baby can achieve all of his dreams.

The baby is put inside the cage and then guided to pick one of the toys, pencils, pens, jewelry, coins and other items.

If the baby takes a pencil or a pen, he will become clever. If the coins and jewelry are taken, he is destined to become rich.

The last procession occurs when water and flowers are poured on the baby to symbolically purify the physical and spiritual being. The parents, family members and guests end the ceremony with prayer and the presentation of the cone-shaped yellow rice tumpeng robyong and traditional cakes.