JP/Ricky Yudhistira Ki Surakso Hargo, also known as Mbah Maridjan and believed to be the spiritual guardian of Mount Merapi, was found dead in his home, possibly burned by hot ashes, in the mountain village of Umbilharjo, Cangkringan, Sleman, Yogyakarta, on Wednesday. He was 85.
Presidential special staff for disaster mitigation Andi Arief confirmed Mbah Maridjan was one of dozens who died from the volcano’s eruption.
Mbah Maridjan was reportedly found in the sujud position, kneeling with his face on the floor praying, covered with debris from collapsing walls and trees in one of the rooms in his house, which was badly damaged by the hot spew.
He first made the headlines when the mountain erupted four years ago as he and several of his “followers” refused to evacuate the affected area. Many believed the 2006 eruption could not get worse because he had stayed there.
At that time, he had led a procession of about 100 people, circling nearby villages three times, covering a distance of 54 kilometers in silence. Residents also made offerings like apem (rice flour cakes) to appease angry spirits on the mountain.
Mount Merapi is viewed as one of three sacred sites in Javanese cosmology. The other sites are Yogyakarta and Laut Kidul (the South sea of Java) or the Indian ocean.
“Merapi is not just a mountain because there’s another thing that is invisible to the naked eye,” Mbah Maridjan, the father of six, once said.
Mbah Maridjan said the late respected Yogyakarta king Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX had entrusted him with guarding the mountain, one of the most volatile volcanoes in the country.
Whenever the volcano erupts, villagers always wait for Mbah Maridjan’s instructions as to whether they should leave the area.
Mbah Maridjan once reportedly turned down the king’s son Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X’s — now the king and Yogyakarta’s governor — request to evacuate the area. He met the king after the eruption stopped four years ago.
Since then, he gained “celebrity status”, playing in an ad for an energy drink.
Several politicians reportedly met him, asking for his blessing, including former Jakarta governor Sutiyoso.
Journalists and activists who also visited Mbah Maridjan at his home confirmed he was a humble and humorous person.