Business in Tangerang, Banten, almost came to a halt on Saturday, as thousands thronged the city’s main roads for a parade to honor Kwan Im, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and one of the four great bodhisattvas in China.
From early in the morning, people from all walks of life and many religions flocked to witness the spectacle, which is held once every 12 years.
Performances of traditional Chinese liong (dragon) and barongsai (tiger) dances were followed by the presentation of local dances, such as the reog ponorogo from East Java; the tanjidor and marawis of the Betawi, the indigenous inhabitants of Jakarta; and Balinese dance.
“I stayed awake since last night. I’m so excited to see the arak-arakan emak. This is a rare event and we should not miss it,” Erli, a resident of Kedaung Barat subdistrict in Neglasari, said.
The mother of four said that her neighbors called the procession arak-arakan emak, or the mother’s parade, as Kwan Im is regarded as the mother of Chinese-Indonesians in Tangerang.
Budi Mulya, a resident of Cimone subdistrict, said that he was also on hand for the last parade, in 2000, with his wife and daughter.
“This is a ritual of Confucianism that is only held here in Tangerang,” Budi said.
Yanto Winata, the chairman of the parade’s organizing committee, said that this year’s iteration was the 14th held by the Boen Tek Bio temple at Pasar Lama, which was built in the mid-17th century.
The first parade was held in 1856, when local residents renovated Boen Tek Bio temple, bringing forth statues of Kwan Im and other gods in a red wooden carriage called a kajoli while the temple’s altar was cleaned.
“Now we see far more people attending the procession than before. It’s certainly more open and it involves non-Chinese, including traders,” Yanto said.
Dozens of youths were seen carrying the kajoli on their shoulders on Saturday. During the procession, devotees honored Kwan Im by joining their palms and chanting her name. Some reached to touch the passing carriage, hoping it would bring them good luck and prosperity
The parade was enlivened by the presence of dozens of Chinese-Indonesian children wearing traditional clothing from Indonesia’s 33 provinces and students carrying the national flag.
Members of the local branch of Nahdlatul Ulama, the nation’s largest Muslim social organization, and the police were on hand for security for the parade, which ended around 11 a.m.
Shinta Nuriah, the widow of the late president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, and Metro TV journalist Andi F. Noya were on hand at the temple as the kajoli returned to the temple and the statues were returned to the altar.
The presence of Shinta was a nod to Gus Dur, who is known as a prominent Muslim cleric and proponent of pluralism. He made Confucianism the sixth state-recognized religion in 1999. Gus Dur’s successor, Megawati Soekarnoputri, followed by making Chinese New Year a national holiday.
The Tangerang municipal administration gave its full support for the event. “I hope the procession can make more people respect diversity and promote the co-existence of people of different faiths,” Tangerang Mayor Wahidin Halim said.
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