Seven days ahead of the commemoration of the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, or Maulid Nabi, royal palaces in Surakarta in Central Java and Yogyakarta in Central Java hold a long-standing religious ceremony called Sekaten.
Etymologically, Sekaten comes from “Syahadatain” -- two sentences of the confession of Islamic faith.
The celebration of Sekaten usually comes in the form of either a people’s market or a night market, during which visitors can enjoy various games and buy food and clothes at affordable prices.
Celebrated every fifth day of Mulud in the Javanese calendar or Rabiul Awal in the Islamic Hijriyah calendar, the Prophet Muhammad’s birth commemoration usually takes place at the Alun Alun Utara [North square] of both Surakarta and Yogyakarta palaces.
The tradition has been conducted since the era of the Demak Kingdom, the first Islamic kingdom established following the fall of the Majapahit Kingdom, a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom, in 1478.
It was Raden Patah, the first king of the Demak Kingdom, who first held Sekaten, together with members of Wali Songo [nine Islamic saints], notably Sunan Kalijaga. Raden Patah used Sekaten to spread Islamic teachings.
In Surakarta, Sekaten opens with the displaying of heirlooms, comprising of a pair of gamelan called Kyai Sekati, which belong to the Surakarta Palace, to the public. The two gamelans, namely Kyai Guntur Madu and Kyai Guntur Sari, will be played at a stage set up at the Surakarta Grand Mosque during the celebration.
Before the gamelan music is performed, mosque visitors will find many vendors bringing a quid usually consisting of betel leaf, areca nut, and lime – often with other ingredients such as gambier and tobacco – to sell.
One of the unique traditions of Sekaten is to chew betel while listening to the gamelan music. It is believed that this habit will help people stay young. It is also believed that if someone chews betel but his or her lips and teeth do not turn red, he or she has often lied.
“We should chew betel during Sekaten so we will stay young and get a blessing from Kyai Guntur Sari and Kyai Guntur Madu. It’s a belief passed across generations,” said Surakarta resident Darmini, who routinely attends the ritual called Miyos Gongso.
In the event, some vendors offer red-colored salted eggs to visitors. Salted eggs symbolize the rebirth of a human into someone who has a pure spirit and is brave and blessed.
In the night markets held during Sekaten, visitors can enjoy various traditional games in the yard of Vastenburg Fortress. They include “Tong Setan”, an adrenalin-boosting attraction, during which a daredevil rides his motorcycle at high speed on the inside of a barrel.
Held on 12 Rabiul Awal, or Dec.12, Gerebeg Maulud was the culmination of this year’s Sekaten. In the event, people struggle to obtain a piece of the gunungan, or cone shaped offerings , which contains vegetables, fruits, harvest yields and rengginang [sticky rice-made traditional snacks].
“This gunungan is a symbol of gratitude from Surakarta King Paku Buwono XIII to God for abundant blessings He has given to his people. The gunungan was first brought from the palace to the Grand Mosque for a prayer before it was offered to the people,” the palace’s Sasana Wilapa official Kanjeng Pangeran Winarno Kusumo. [ebf]