The Jakarta Post
Held to commemorate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, or Maulid Nabi Muhammad, the Sekaten ceremony began with performances from two sets of gamelan, the Kyai Guntur Madu and Kyai Guntur Sari from the Kasunanan Palace in Surakarta, Central Java. The ceremony took place at Bangsal Pagongan Lor and Bangsal Pagongan Kidul at the Grand Mosque on Friday.
Around 9 a.m. before the ceremony began, both sacred gamelan were brought from the palace to the mosque. Covered in white mori fabrics, the gamelan were carried by royal servants from the palace’s Kori Kamandungan hall.
Both gamelan were played at 1.30 p.m. The Kyai Guntur Madu gamelan was the first to be played. It was then followed by the Kyai Guntur Sari sets. Then hundreds of visitors quickly grabbed janur (young coconut leaves) that were used to decorate the hall in the belief that they would receive the palace’s blessing.
“I always come every year to get janur,” said Sutini, 65, from Colomadu, Karanganyar, in Central Java. “I usually place them over my kitchen door so [my] prosperity will continue.”
Each of the two sets of gamelan will be played by 22 people for the next seven days stopping only when it is time to pray and both gamelan will be played after Friday prayers.
“Sekaten traditionally opens when the gamelan are played,” said Kraton head of administration Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Haryo (KGPH) Dipokusumo. “It’s a series of commemorations of Maulid Nabi Muhammad and the highlight will be Gerebeg Maulud next week.”
The tradition of kinang takes place during the Sekaten gamelan performance. Kinang means chewing betel leaf that is filled with tobacco, lime betel, kantil flowers or areca. When the gamelan performance begins, dozens of visitors, mainly the elderly, immediately chew the betel leaf.
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“Chewing kinang during Sekaten will make you stay young, that’s what our ancestor said,” said Parminah, 67. “But many younger people don’t know about this tradition.”
During the ceremony, kinang is sold by many sellers around the mosque. Dipokusumo explained that kinang contains many meanings that describe the relationship between humans and God.
The betel leaf, for instance, is said to symbolize human curiosity in recognizing God. Chewing the betel leaf hopefully will be the way of understanding tauhid (monotheistic) lessons. If it is combined with the kantil flower, it means that a person will always remember and remain close to God.
“Chewing kinang is similar to consuming different flavors,” Dipokusumo explained. “[They can be] bitter, tangy, sweet, spicy or salty. That’s how human life is.”
Unlike previous ceremonies, this year’s Sekaten will include a rice-cooking ceremony by the sultan of Surakarta, Pakubuwono XIII, at Pawon Gendorosan, on Sunday. The 500-year-old rice cooker that will be used in the ceremony is inherited from the Demak kingdom.
“This rice-cooking tradition is done once every eight years. The sultan of Surakarta will cook 70 kilograms of rice and then it will be shared to royal servants as well as other royal family members, including the caretakers of the cemetery for the Mataram kings,” said Dipokusumo.
Aside from the rice-cooking ceremony, there will be night market at the Alun-alun Kidul of Kesunanan Palace with various local attractions, including a carousel and the “devil’s barrel’ ride. Hundreds of vendors will sell toys, including old-style toys like spinning tops and steamships, ceramics and traditional foods. (wir/asw)