The elongated building is on the verge of collapse, with leaning pillars, damaged roofs and peeling walls revealing cracked bricks. The terrace has two bamboo poles about 3 meters high supporting the bulging roof.
“It’s called Panti Rukmi. It used to be my favorite place to indulge in my fancies. Now it looks like a cowshed,” said Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Koes Murtiyah, usually called Gusti Moeng. The building is within the Keputren, part of the Surakarta Palace in Central Java reserved for the wives, concubines and daughters of the king as well as female servants.
Almost no activity can be observed within the building, except a royal servant laying flowers in the corner of a room as an offering and then departing.
Panti Rukmi, which decades ago was the abode of princesses, now stores dance costumes. After getting married, royal daughters must promptly leave the Keputren.
Several other buildings in the palace are also in a similar condition. Langen Kathong, formerly a royal family polyclinic set up in 1912, is now squalid and severely damaged, almost covered by weeds. Not far away, a building for the adipati keputren or chief of the keputren is crumbling due to a fire in 1990.
“We need a huge amount of money for rebuilding. The palace lacks resources even for the maintenance of structures that still stand, let alone the rebuilding of damaged ones,” said Gusti Moeng, a daughter of the late Surakarta Sultan Pakubuwono XII.
The keputren occupies the largest area — 3.5 hectares of the entire 8.5–hectare palace complex. There are many buildings on the grounds but nearly all are uninhabitable due to serious damage. Worse still, not all the structures left have lighting because of damaged wiring. Some with wiring still intact are not illuminated for fear of a short circuit due to rainwater from leaky roofs.
“It’s not surprising to see the mostly dark interior of the palace at night. It looks scary, not to mention the tall grass and weeds growing around the buildings,” said Gusti Moeng. The high-ranking official of the Surakarta Sultanate added that the situation was a result of the absence of government allocations.
Today, about 80 percent of the main parts of the palace are damaged.
According to Gusti Moeng, also dubbed the putri mbalela (rebellious princess), the palace actually should receive annual aid worth Rp 1.1 billion (US$115,000) from the Central Java provincial government and Rp 350 million from the Surakarta city administration for maintenance, ceremonies and 600 servants’ salaries. But since 2011, both funds have been suspended because of an internal conflict within the royal family.
“Three years ago [in 2009], the central government promised to provide a Rp 74 billion revitalization fund to be disbursed in phases. But so far the money hasn’t been made available yet. With the delay, how can the palace revitalize the buildings?” asked the member of the House of Representatives.
In fact, the palace cannot afford to renovate its buildings. “The aid has so far been spent on operational costs, with the palace covering any shortages. Servants’ salaries alone annually total Rp 900 million and electricity bills Rp 130 million, leaving little money for over a dozen traditional rituals,” she said.
Speaking in the same tone, the palace official in charge of the palace’s museum and tourism, Gusti Pangeran Haryo Puger, said the revitalization of palace buildings was meant to preserve a historic monument and part of the cultural heritage of the country, rather than being merely for the royal family.
“This is in the interest of the nation instead of the royal family. We appeal to the government to promptly disburse the allocation as it has been approved by the House. Revitalization is a solution to the preservation of palace assets,” he said.
The palace earns some income from tourism, such as from ticket sales for museum entrances and sekaten (a celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday) ritual admission. However, the amount grossed is insignificant and allocated monthly to the family expenditure of Pakubuwono XIII.
The Surakarta city administration is aware of the palace situation. Mayor FX Hadi Rudyatmo said his government provides Rp 350 million in annual aid for ceremonial and ritual purposes. “We can’t afford to help revitalize the palace, but we have proposed a Rp 10 billion central government allocation. It has been approved but its disbursement is pending the solution of the palace’s internal conflict,” said the mayor, referring to the battle of succession within the sultanate for more than five years.
But the recent reconciliation in the royal family, which was expected to resolve the conflict, has not produced a change for the better as the reconciliation only involved Hangabehi as Pakubowono XIII and Tedjowulan as supreme advisor, rather than the entire royal family.
“As mayor, I can only suggest that the whole palace family should live in harmony before the central government renovation fund is supplied. The delayed disbursement has been due to the unresolved internal quandary of the palace. So far, the royal family members haven’t been unanimous in their views,” he said.
The position of the palace seems to be further cornered. Unlike in previous years, since 2011 the
Rp 350 million in city aid has had to be requested through a proposal from the palace before being included in the regional budget. The change followed Pakubuwono XIII’s letter to the city administration inquiring about the annual aid, with the fund earlier directly supplied to the palace.
So, despite the signing of a peace accord, a handshake and a hug, as long as the feud between royal family members continues over who should be the sultan, the heyday of the Surakarta palace will likely be only part of history and the heritage buildings will continue to be buried under weeds and shrubs.