Fri, 11 Feb 2000

Yogya's Masjid Gede has colorful history

By Tarko Sudiarno

YOGYAKARTA (JP): The Yogyakarta Grand Mosque was in the spotlight lately following the foiled attempt to burn it down late last month. Although the arson attack caused only minor damage, the incident damaged the ancient city's peaceful image.

The attack, which took place in the wake of a rally by Muslims to protest the bloody sectarian conflict in Maluku, is believed by many to be the work of provocateurs seeking to cause a conflict between Muslims and Christians in Yogyakarta.

The mosque, the pride of Yogyakartans, who refer to it as Masjid Gede (Big Mosque), is the sultan's property and is nearly as old as the sultan's palace. The mosque is not only a place of worship for Muslims living in and around the palace, but also where the palace holds many of its traditional rituals.

Located in the center of the city, the mosque represents the axis in the Javanese philosophy of the universe. The Grand Mosque is surrounded by four smaller mosques located around the city: Mlangi Mosque in the north, Plasakuning Mosque in the east, Wonokromo Mosque in the south and Tawangsari Mosque in the west.

These five mosques represent the court's religious philosophy, called kiblat papat limo pancer (four directions and the axis). The mosques are believed to have formed religious castles in the past that protected the palace from danger.

The construction of the Grand Mosque, located on the west side of the palace's North Square, began in 1760, or 1,000 days after the palace was constructed in 1757. The project was completed in 1773. It was built on the order of sultan Hamengku Buwono I, and the architect was Wiryokusumo.

The architecture was based on the Grand Mosque of Demak in Central Java. It is a blend of Arabic, Javanese and Hindu architectural styles. The roof is three-tiered, and a pool is located in the yard surrounding the front verandah. In the past, clear water flowed in the pool.

As with the Demak Grand Mosque, outside of the complex proper two bangsal, or small public halls, were built, across from the south and north yards. The halls occasionally house the palace's gamelan instruments, which are played every Sekaten and Garebeg Maulud, two of the most important traditional ceremonies for the palace.

The Grand Mosque has been renovated several times since its construction, but it retains its basic architecture.

According to Suryanto Sastroatmodjo, a Javanese cultural observer, the mosque has undergone extensive improvements over the years. For example, in 1850, during the reign of sultan Hamengku Buwono V, the mosque had its main pillars and beams, and ceiling -- which are adorned with metaphysical carvings -- renovated and repainted.

In 1910, during the reign of sultan Hamengku Buwono VII, the mosque was renovated again and white became the mosque's dominant color. More Arabic calligraphy was also added -- all written in green.

"The mosque was renovated seven times from the time it was constructed to Hamengku Buwono VII's reign," Suryanto said. The renovations were undertaken either to accommodate the sultans different tastes in art or because of natural disasters, like the earthquake which struck in 1867.

The Garebeg ceremonies, the three major Muslim religious festivals, take place within the mosque complex. These ceremonies are Garebeg Syawal, which coincides with Idul Fitri, Garebeg Besar, which coincides with Idul Adha (the Muslim Day of Sacrifice), and Garebeg Maulud, in celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Garebeg processions of traditional food and offerings end in the mosque's yard, where crowds of people gather to receive the food. They believe the food, arranged in the shape of a cone called gunungan (mountain), will bring them good luck because it has been blessed in the ritual.

Of the three traditional ceremonies, Garebeg Maulud is the most elaborate. It is a month-long celebration, with the North Square of the mosque each night becoming a bustling fair called Sekaten.

In the last week of the Sekaten, two sets of sacred gamelan inherited from the Majapahit and Demak kingdoms are moved at midnight from the palace into the Grand Mosque's public halls. There the gamelans, named Kyai Gunturmadu and Kyai Nogowilogo, are played alternately.

The peak of Sekaten is on the eve of the Maulud Nabi (the birth of the Prophet) celebration, in which the sultan appears at the public halls and the mosque and throws coins to the crowd in a ceremony called Nyebar Udik-udik.

The ceremony continues with the sultan and the common people mingling in the mosque and listening to the history of Maulud Nabi and the spread of Islam in Java.

At night, after the sultan has returned to the palace, the gamelans are also returned to the palace. In the morning, the Garebeg Maulud ceremony takes place in the North Square.

In the past, when Yogyakarta was still an autonomous sultanate, the Grand Mosque was also used as a court to hear criminal cases, marriage disputes and conflicts over inheritance.

The fasting month of Ramadhan is the busiest time at the mosque. People from all walks of life come to the mosque for religious activities, brushing shoulders with tourists who come from around the world to marvel at the beauty and history of the Yogyakarta Grand Mosque.