Sekaten, a Traditional Javanese Celebration for the Birthday of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.

Sekaten, a mixture of Islamic and Javanese tradition

Sekaten, the traditional ceremony of Javanese which started by Sultan Hamengkubuwono I (the king of Yogyakarta) simply has turned into one of many tourist attractions that can be found when you visit Java Island. At the first time, this ceremony was held (only) to invite people of Yogyakarta to know more about Islam. The name of ceremony “Sekaten” itself came from “Syahadatain/Syahadat” (Arabic) which is a sacred ceremony for a person to admit that there is only one god (Allah S.W.T.) and the prophet Muhammad S.A.W. is the last messenger of God (who brought Islam as a guidance of life).

Syahadatain Calligraphic in Arabic

Syahadatain Calligraphic in Arabic

Due to the difficultness for the Javanese to pronounce Syahadatain, then it is simplified to Sekaten. Syahadatain/Syahadat itself is one of five Islam principles (it is the basic one) and once a person committed in Syahadatain plus he/she believes that Islam is their way of life then he/she is officially became a moslem. Before Islam came to Java exactly after the era of Majapahit Kingdom (1478 M) most of Javanese holds their ancient believes and when Demak Kingdom rules in Java (continued with another Islamic Kingdom, The Mataram Kingdom, mother of Yogyakarta and Solo) Islamic culture started to arise across Java Island.

A Preparation of Sekaten at the North City Yard of Yogyakarta

A Preparation of Sekaten at the North City Yard of Yogyakarta

Annually, this traditional ceremony will be held at North City Yard (Alun-Alun Utara) of Yogyakarta and the event started with a long march at night. The Sultan Palace of Yogyakarta will be the starting point (Pendopo Ponconiti) and next the Sultan Palace soldiers will take a march with two sets of Gamelan named Kyai Nogowilogo and Kyai Gunturmadu. This march will end up at the Great Mosque of Yogyakarta (Masjid Agung Yogyakarta). When the march stopped at the Great Mosque of Yogyakarta, Kyai Nogowilogo will be placed at the North area of the mosque while another gamelan set, Kyai Gunturmadu will be placed at the South area of the mosque. Those two gamelan sets will be played for seven days without any break to give a sign that Sekaten ceremony has started. At the end of Sekaten ceremony, Kyai Nogowilogo and Kyai Gunturmadu will be taken back and stored at the Sultan Palace.

Tumplak Wajik and Grebeg Mulud of Sekaten

Generally, Sekaten ceremony divided into three chapter, the first one is the opening chapter (when the two gamelan sets taken out from the Sultan Palace), second is main chapter and third is closing chapter. The second chapter of Sekaten ceremony called Tumplak Wajik and this ceremony held two days before the closing chapter. At the second chapter, people of Yogyakarta celebrate the ceremony with various activities. Tumplak Wajik symbolize a spirit to create harmony in life and as a symbol of prosperity, Javanese people created “Gunungan” a complete dish which contains of rice, vegetables, fruits and many more. Gunungan created in a big shape and this is a symbol of prosperity for a year ahead. While preparing Gunungan, there is also background music which played during the Tumplak Wajik ceremony and usually the song that played are popular Javanese folklore songs such as ; Lempong Keli, Tundhung Setan, Owal Awil and other folklore songs.

Two days after Tumplak Wajik ceremony, the closing chapter of Sekaten will be held and it is called Grebeg Mulud. This ceremony is the most anticipated event for Yogyakarta people and they are gathering from every corner of the city to join the celebration. The gunungan (which has been prepared before) at Tumplak Wajik chapter will be taken to the Great Mosque of Yogyakarta through Kemandungan Palace and Sitihinggil. Grebeg Mulud ceremony usually started at 08:00 AM and 10 companions of Sultan Palace soldiers will be involved in this ceremony. The 10 companions are; Wirobrojo, Daeng, Patangpuluh, Jogokaryo, Prawirotomo, Nyutro, Ketanggung, Mantrijero, Surokarso, and Bugis. They have responsibility to protect the gunungan and take a march to the Great Mosque of Yogyakarta. Grebeg Mulud will be held at Mulud 12th in every year (Javanese calendar) which is exactly match to Rabi’ul Awal 12th (Islamic calendar), the birthday of The Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.

The 10 commanders of Sultan Palace companions are ready to march with their soldiers at Grebeg Mulud ceremony

The 10 commanders of Sultan Palace companions are ready to march with their soldiers at Grebeg Mulud ceremony

After the gunungan arrived at the Great Mosque, it will be blessed with a pray from the Javanese spiritual leaders and at the end of ceremony the gunungan which consists of various foods will be shared to people that attend the ceremony.

Gunungan is being surrounded by people who want to take some parts of it and take it to their home

Gunungan is being surrounded by people who want to take some parts of it and take it to their home

For some of Javanese people they are believe that the gunungan is very sacred and it will give goodness to everyone so they often take it and carry a part of gunungan to their home. If they have a paddy field they will put the part of gunungan at the field and hope goodness from heaven will came to their crops in a year ahead.

The colors of Sekaten today

Besides noble meanings of Sekaten that explained above, Sekaten ceremony also gave various benefits for people of Yogyakarta. After the second chapter of Sekaten ceremony there will be special dish that can’t be missed by anyone who came to see the ceremony. The dish is very popular and it is called Sego Gurih (Javanese), it means Rice that cooked with various ingredients so the dish will be a little bit salty but it is nice to have Sego Gurih while enjoying the ambience of Sekaten.

Sego Gurih is being wrapped at Sekaten Food Stall

Sego Gurih is being wrapped at Sekaten Food Stall

Sego Gurih is made from plain rice which cooked with coconut milk, salt, fried peanut, dried shrimp and some chili. It is served on a plate called “pincuk” which made from the banana leaf that formed into a specific shape so it is strong enough to hold a portion of Sego Gurih. Some local people sold Sego Gurih at IDR 5000/portion at the area of the Great Mosque of Yogyakarta and surely it is an affordable price for most people who came to see Sekaten ceremony.

Another thing that can’t be missed when we came to Sekaten ceremony is Endog Abang (Javanese), it means Red Egg. Although Endog Abang is made from an ordinary (chicken) egg but it is only available at Sekaten ceremony and it has special meanings. This unique snack is an icon of Sekaten and most people feels there is something wrong if they don’t buy Endog Abang at Sekaten ceremony. Furthermore, Endog Abang symbolizes a good spiritualism and optimism for the future. The Red Egg simply told us about prosperity while the Egg itself will give us a reflection about where we are came from (reborn). The bamboo which used as decorative stick is a sign for us to remember that everything in life came from one source, God. Overall, Endog Abang philosophy is about how to keep optimist and always hope for goodness in the future without leaving life-line that has been marked by God.

Endog Abang at Sekaten

Endog Abang at Sekaten

Sekaten today is very colorful and enriched with various attractions. Traditional food stalls, Souvenir stalls and even Mini-theme Park are available (for a month) so you can enjoy various dishes at the food stalls and buy some souvenirs for families or friends at the souvenir stalls easily. The theme-park area surely great for children but if you want to play Javanese traditional games there, go ahead why not, just try some of the games and you will understand why the children are enjoying the games so much.

The crowd of Sekaten at night

The crowd of Sekaten at night

As I see, there are many young couples enjoying the night at Sekaten and it is very fun to see children playing around with their parents. Well, I hope the true spirit of Sekaten can be absorbed by anyone who came to the celebration and their spiritualism level will be better than before. So, if you have plans to visit Indonesia (especially Yogyakarta) you can consider this annual event as your point of interest during your vacation and hope to see you soon in Yogyakarta.

By Amar Pujo Wicaksono

(Contributor at visitingjava.com)

 

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