'Ruwatan' rite wishes disaster-free country
By Tarko Sudiarno
YOGYAKARTA (JP): Burning incense sent fragrant rings of thick white smoke wafting high, filling the entire space of the Pendapa Ndalem Yudhanegaran hall at Yogyakarta palace.
As the smoke got thinner, fresh incense was sprinkled onto the fireplace to ensure that the smoke would continue to be a feature in the all-night leather puppet shadow play performed that night by the noted puppet master Ki Timbul Cermomanggolo.
Meanwhile, interrupting the shadow play performance was the bellowing sound of a camel, the soft cooing of a turtle dove and the neighing of a horse. The night's atmosphere was deep and solemn especially when the puppet master chanted the Mantram of Caraka Balik, a mystical prayer.
On either side of the puppet master, there was a set of offerings in assorted colors: a buffalo head, seven kinds of rice in a conical shape, fruits and flowers, a set of household utensils, a variety of clothes and a set of agricultural implements such as a plow and a hoe.
On the right-hand side of the kelir (a white-cloth screen) where the leather puppets were neatly arranged, there were small wooden boxes each containing a pair of small and minute creatures like cockroaches, dandruff, small house lizards, caterpillars, bees, bugs and grasshoppers.
Outside the pendapa (audience hall), there were noisy sounds emanating from large animals -- all of which were in pairs -- such as elephants, camels, bulls, tigers, deers, white buffaloes, goats, snakes, boars and orangutans.
"This is indeed a rare event. It last took place during the era of Sultan Agung," said Gusti Bendoro Pangeran Haryo (GBPH) Yudhaningrat, the host and chairperson of the organizing committee of Ruwat Bumi Nusantara -- a rite in which a requested vow is made in favor of Indonesia.
The event, which was held in mid-November, was organized by Yogyakarta's special regional branch of the All-Indonesia Advisory Council of Tradition Holders (BM-PASI) and the Panca Moral Foundation in Jakarta.
Ruwat Bumi Nusantara is a rare traditional rite, which is much less popular than Ruwatan Manusia or Ruwat Sukerto -- a similar rite intended for human beings. In essence, this ruwatan rite requests for the protection and forgiveness from God the Almighty so that Indonesia may be free from all calamities.
The situation in Indonesia has worsened lately as the political elite and national leaders have been vying with one another for top positions, leaving behind a heated political situation and the threat of national disintegration. This ruwatan rite is one of the traditional ways of helping the country get out of this messy situation. Political maneuvers are not resorted to as they are believed to give rise to more problems.
Yudhaningrat said that although this ruwatan rite was intended for the well-being of the nation and the country, it had nothing to do with any political maneuvering.
"This rite is purely a traditional event. It is not a political activity or related to anybody's order."
The idea to organize this rite came about when some people were concerned about the country's uncertain and increasingly heated situation. They thought that there was nothing wrong for those still believing in the ancestral tradition to request that God the Almighty keep the Indonesian nation safe.
Considering the significance of the intended objectives, the organizing committee was genuinely very serious when preparing for this event. Despite some difficulties, almost all that was required for the offerings could be prepared.
"I have never before taken out most of the animals in Gembira Loka Zoo in Yogyakarta. I had great trouble in bringing bulls from Banyuwangi and finding deer," said the director of the zoo, KMT Tirtodiprojo.
Apart from the difficulties of bringing large animals to the rite, which is some five kilometers from the zoo, Tirtodiprojo also had trouble looking for small things such as dandruff and mites.
Large animals, which usually occupy large spaces in the zoo, had to stay in small and noisy pens all night long next to the site for the shadow play performance.
"I can easily imagine the amount of stress that these animals had to undergo. They could have died of this stress. Luckily, in the course of the rite only a turtle dove died," said Tirtodiprojo.
Meanwhile, Ki Dipo Alam, who was in charge of the rite's offerings, said that quite a lot of offerings had to be made ready because the idea was to involve all elements in nature like animals and plants or Kutu-kutu Walang Atogo (Javanese term meaning all kinds of animals small and large), as well as the paraphernalia needed for the dishes, the dress and the ritual procedure.
"All this will be the symbol of our togetherness in the world. We must maintain good relationships between man and nature. We all belong to one world," he noted.
This ruwatan rite, he went on, will remind all people to respect one another regardless of racial, ethnic or religious background. This reminder will be of particular significance to the political elite to ensure they work in harmony and respect one another.
The main item in this ruwatan was the performance of a leather puppet shadow play under the title of Makukuhan, a story about how Java is hit by calamities brought about by evil beings.
Prior to this performance, Abdi Dalem Putihan, the high- ranking court servants of the Yogyakarta palace, made a joint prayer. Afterward, the shadow play performance, Labuhan Saji, in which the offerings are thrown into the sea, was conducted at Parang Kusumo Beach, Yogyakarta.
In the course of the shadow play performance, the puppet master chanted Mantram Caraka Balik, a prayer of sorts to dispel disasters. While the puppet master was chanting, nobody was allowed to sleep and menstruating women were forbidden to get close to the performance.
The ruwatan rite was concluded with the throwing away of the offerings into the sea at Parang Kusumo Beach at daybreak. Various kinds of offerings like buffalo heads, flowers and conical-shaped rice were dumped into the south sea. At the same time, some people also threw into the sea their private items like clothes, fruits, household utensils, tufts of hair, fingernails and even some gold jewelry.