Gunung Nglanggeran is an interesting destination for nature lovers and amateurs of lightweight trekking, located only 1 hour ride straight east outside of Yogyakarta. It forms the northwestern edge of the Gunungkidul plateau, towering over the surrounding plains of Yogya, Klaten and Solo with nice panoramic views in all four directions when one stands on its rocky hilltop (puncak).
This massive red-colored mountain, considered to be a very ancient prehistoric volcano, stands out of the rest of the Gunungkidul landscape which is primarily formed of dry chalky limestone (bright white of color yet turning grey after long sun-exposure). With a bit of imagination, on the approach to the Gunung, one may be reminded of those reddish Mesa’s of the Western USA or even the Australian Ayer’s Rock. The giant rocks have a different hue, formed of a molten and then dried conglomerate of volcanic material and stones. According to legend, it once formed part of the old Merapi volcano peak (seen northwards from the top) which was propelled to its present location during a massive explosion about 60million years ago. Ecologically and geologically speaking of a great interest to scientists, its vast network of walking trails peppered with viewpoints and resting spots will please the nature walker looking for a break from the city and motorized traffic. For more adventurous types, the eastern portion of the Gunung Nglanggeran range also offers caves and underground springs. The views of the many terraced rice-fields and strangely shaped hillocks at the base of the mountain guarantee the visitor for a calming detachment of busy civilization. Guides are available, but not necessary if one just wants to trek around.
A legend surrounds the origin of the mountain. It all started when Hanoman, the sacred white monkey of the Ramayana epos, amused himself with his powers and climbed the old Merapi volcano in order to reach and grab a bright shining star in the sky. As he leaped and jumped in typical monkey pace, the old crater peak crumbled and was thrown off through the Javanese sky. The huge boulder was then caught in mid-air by the clownish ancestor of Javanese people, Semar, and his three funny-shaped sons Petruk, Gareng and Bagong. Those four clowns are popularly known as the ‘Punokawan’, they are loved by Javanese for their slapstick humor but also for the fact that their main task is to protect the humans from divine or natural caused disasters. In this case, the Merapi boulder was caught by them and thrown back to earth at the present location, immediately causing a spring to burst off and provide the otherwise dry area with an abundant supply of water. To this day, the rocky range contains several unlikely springs of fresh clear water which never dry up, even during the harshest dry season (May – November). It is this source of water which drains the surrounding rice-terraces and allows for relative comfortable human settlements around. The miraculously green and water-rich mountain has obviously become a subject of early veneration and respect which is still present culturally amongst the residents in this area.
The mountain henceforth is dedicated to the clowns of the Wayang story, as well as to Hanoman and a few other characters such as Raden Ongkowijoyo. Its hilltops are named after places mentioned in the epic Wayang stories. Specific rituals and ceremonies still highlight this peculiar link to the Wayang. The epistemology of the name Nglanggeran would come from ‘langgaran’ which means ‘offense’. This relates to the fact the local people believe there are certain actions and attitudes that are forbidden here, as these would cause accidents or disasters affecting either the perpetrator himself or comprising the surrounding population as well. One can say certain taboos exist here which are idiosyncratically linked to the local beliefs concerning the mountain. For example, no stories of Raden Ongkowijoyo may be performed during Wayang shadow puppet shows here. Another one is the presence of the medicinal wonder-plant called Termas, which supposedly only grows on this mountain. The sap of this vine is said to have miraculous healing properties. Yet a taboo exists which prohibits anyone to take a sapling or seed of this plant to grow it outside of the Nglanggeran region. Disaster would surely strike on either sides, the agent and the local people. As a general cultural rule, it is advised to behave respectfully in action, speech and mind once on the slopes of the mountain (meaning also don’t litter!).
In a more mystical manner, the people speak of the likes and dislikes of the resident spirit-ancestor (pepundhen) of the mountain named Eyang Soyono. Annual offerings comprising ritual foods and a Tayub dance are to this day still enacted to keep this spirit pleased. In relation to local beliefs in the sacred powers of the site, we can also mention the presence of seven original families living on the high slopes of the eastern part. These seven households are related through bloodline to an ancestral character who was appointed as caretaker of the mountains sacred spots (caves, springs, peaks) by the pepundhen. No more or less than these 7 families and their descendants may inhabit the slopes, and up to the present day they act as caretaker of the mountain.
Philosophically speaking and apart from merely this particular Nglanggeran mountain whose name indeed derives from the word ‘offense’, ancient Javanese places like these offer reminders to the mystical seeker on the high path of spiritual liberation from suffering. In the celebrated Javanese teaching of Hasta Brata, karmic values and virtues of life lead one to the right path to an ultimate higher end. Prominently there is a ban for anyone to commit a disgraceful act that would end up harming fellow beings. Becik Ketitik ala Ketara is a karma concept meaning that good actions will be silently noticed and recorded in others’ hearts whereas bad actions will be made immediately visible and exposed for all to see.
By Moko Pramusanto and Patrick Vanhoebrouck