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With the arrival of Idul Fitri, the nation will once again be preoccupied with the tremendous seasonal exodus of people, dispersing from cities to smaller cities and rural areas in Indonesia.
Rich and poor, men and women, young and old, politicians and thieves, bureaucrats and commoners; they will flood the streets, airports, train stations and seaports usually a week before the post-Ramadhan celebration begins so that they can be reunited with their families during the festivity.
During this exodus, or mudik, which literally means “going home”, or “returning to one’s place of origin”, Muslims return to their kin, their family, their past and their kampung. This year, the number is expected to hit at least 22 million people, according to the Transportation Ministry, creating traffic jams on the road.
Very Indonesian in nature, mudik compactly explains the characteristics of Indonesian Islam: its tolerance, communality, ritual texture, joy and struggle against consumerism. You cannot find anything similar in any other place.
The annual exodus, which normally peaks three days before Idul Fitri, is also considered a state event, given the degree of government spending on repair work and reconstruction of roads and bridges to ease the holiday revelers’ journeys; not to mention the thousands of police officers and soldiers deployed to protect them.
Many holiday makers will not mind traveling hundreds of kilometers, squeezed on motorbikes along with their wives and children to reach their kampung, regardless of the dangers they face.
There is a powerful magnet within the mudik tradition, which explains the spirit, the enormity, the joy and also the recklessness with which people travel so far away, despite all the hardships they experience.
Mudik is a symbolically laden ritual. It is so packed with symbols and meanings: religious, sociological and economic.
At its essence, mudik cannot be separated from Idul Fitri, which also means “returning to the original being”. During this festival, there is an unwritten tradition, that kin should gather, visit one another, share food and forgive one another for the mistakes they have made.
For Indonesian Muslims, be they a president, minister or Army general, they visit their parents and kneel at their feet during Idul Fitri to show their respect. They also visit the graves of their ancestors to pray for the mercy of God. Relationships with those who live and those who are dead are renewed during this holiday.
Durkheim’s description of ritual in his book, Elementary Forms of Religious Life, is relevant to describe what is contained within these mudik rituals.
“Once the individuals are gathered together, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and quickly launches them into an extraordinary height of exaltation.”
From a sociological point of view, this event is very meaningful because people find their humanity in their roots, in their “original place”.
After struggling and being pre-occupied in the details of the big city and the vortex of modernity, which treat them like machines, mudik offers them a break as well as meaning as human beings. They cease their daily rituals to recharge and drink from the freshness of the Idul Fitri festival.
For the extended family, mudik is a ritual of “symbolic education” in which young generations learn about their relatives, uncles, cousins and other extended family members.
But, mudik is also a ritual of social hierarchy. It gives special momentum to renew the social status of holidaymakers and their families in the social system of their villages. They may show off their cars, houses and gadgets that only indicate a new degree or social status.
That is why the cost of mudik is certainly expensive, as people will try to display anything and everything they can boast about. This also explains why Bank Indonesia (BI) always increases the circulation of banknotes during Idul Fitri celebrations. The central bank has prepared approximately Rp 89.4 trillion (US$9.39 billion) for the ritual this year.
Because of its nature, mudik is easily commoditized by consumptive tendencies; everything is measured by money.
The temptation to spend far too much will remain a challenge for Indonesian Muslims, given the very essence of both mudik and Idul Fitri as a return to the original being as a divine soul.
Therefore, to calibrate this spirit within our soul, it is worth remembering a quote by Rumi:
“For ages you have come and gone courting this delusion. Although you appear in earthly form Your essence is pure Consciousness. You are the fearless guardian of Divine Light. So come, return to the root of the root of your Self.
“Once you get hold of selflessness, You’ll be dragged from your ego and freed from many traps. Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.
“Why are you so enchanted by this world when a mine of gold lies within you? Open your eyes and come — return to the root of the root of your Self.
“You were born from the rays of God’s Majesty, when the stars were in their perfect place. How long will you suffer from the blows of a nonexistent hand? So come, return to the root of the root of your Self.
“You are a ruby encased in granite. How long will you deceive Us with this outer show? O friend, We can see the truth in your eyes! So come, return to the root of the root of your Self.”
Happy Idul Fitri!
The writer is director of the Center for Multiculturalism, Democracy and Character Building, Semarang State University (UNNES).