Thousand of ketupat are blessed during a prayer held at the grave of Sunan Muria. (JP/Suherdjoko)
Each day, hundreds of people climb Mount Muria, not simply to enjoy the scenery and its natural beauty, but to visit the grave of Sunan Muria, located on its slope.
Sunan Muria was one of the Wali Sanga, the nine propagators of Islam in Java, who spread the religion in the 15th century.
At the grave, which is located around 18 kilometers north of the Central Javan town of Kudus, the pilgrims took turns paying their respects.
Near the grave they chanted prayers. They prayed for the soul of Sunan Muria and asked for God's blessings.
Visitors can get close to and pray beside the grave thanks to a caretaker who has arranged a tight prayer schedule, which was put in place to cope with the 5,000 odd people who visit the grave every day.
Even more visitors come on important days, including those considered sacred by the Javanese calendar such as Thursday Wage, Friday Kliwon, Thursday Legi and Friday Pahing.
Thousands of ketupat (rice cakes boiled in plaited young coconut leaves) are served to visitors during a graveside ritual for Sunan Muria on the slope of Mount Muria in Kudus, Central Java. (JP/Suherdjoko)
The busiest days, however, are when ketupat rituals are organized during the week after Idul Fitri. A ketupat is a rice cake boiled in a packet of woven young coconut leaves.
At the ritual, a jodhang -- a two-square meter basket -- is placed, holding hundreds of ketupat and lepet (snacks made of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves) while people pray.
Muhammad Sochib, caretaker of the graveyard, told The Jakarta Post the ritual is a tradition dating back many years.
"Ketupat in the Javanese language is called kupat, meaning to admit a wrongdoing.
"So the tradition is to confess one's sins to other people and in general, its a tradition of mutual forgiveness," he said.
Residents in Kudus, as well as those in other regions on the northern coastal areas of Central Java also observe the ketupat tradition, only there it is mostly done in the comfort of ones home.
But since 2007 the tradition has been turned into a larger event in the hopes of attracting tourists.
"With the ritual, we ask God for blessings, good health and safety. We also pray for Sunan Muria," said resident Affandi, who was accompanied by his wife Nurhayati and their child to the grave.
Those wanting to visit the grave can take a mini bus from Kudus to the Colo tourist attraction. From the parking area they can reach the grave by climbing a 700-step stairways.
Visitors who don't feel up to the climb can use an ojek (motorcycle taxi) to reach the site. However, only ojek riders familiar with the terrain are brave enough to venture to the grave because of the steep road.
During the ketupat celebration last month, two jodhang were taken on a one-kilometer procession from the Colo tourist attraction to Sunan Muria's grave.
The people carrying the ketupat wore customary Javanese dress: black bell-bottom trousers and black shirts.
The procession was preceded by many santri (students of Islamic schools) dressed in white, playing music on tambourines.
They also carried a bedug, a large drum suspended horizontally at mosques, used to summon the faithful to prayer. The drum was hit continuously while the procession moved along the road.
Bringing up the rear of the group were students from junior high schools and elementary schools around Colo, who escorted the ketupat.
After prayers were held beside the grave, the ketupat were returned to the Colo tourist attraction. There the head of the Kudus Regency, Musthofa Wardoyo, waited to lead the ketupat party. He expressed hope that the tradition could continue.
Previously, the event was called the Parade of 1,000 ketupat Sunan Muria, but its now known as the Sewu Kupat Kanjeng Sunan Muria.
"The Kudus Regency head may change, but this tradition has to be preserved. This tradition, at the same time, can become a tourist attraction in Kudus," said Musthofa.
The ketupat janur (coconut leaf) package is full of symbolism and meaning.
The word janur comes from the words "jaan" and "nur" which means the coming of light. While lepet, a sticky rice that is covered by young coconut leaves, means quickly. At the celebration residents also consume lontong (rice cake), derived from the word kothong, meaning empty.
So the overall meaning of the ketupat celebration is to confess wrong in order to quickly become empty so that people can welcome the coming of God's light.
Before the ketupat party starts, a person from Colo village sings Sinom Parijatha, a song from the late Sunan Muria containing religious advice to the residents of the Muria mountain range.
Finsihed with the solom ceremony, the visitors immediatly decendend on the jodhan, trying to get as close as they could to the ketupat. Mere moments later the food had vanished.
Not all of the ketupat was consumed, however, as many residents took their portion home to be used as a charm to bring blessings and to ward off disasters.