“Far from the King yet close to the stone” say the Javanese people when referring to a mountain. It refers to the fact that mountain or hilly chains are usually isolated rocky areas far from cities or palaces. On the frontier of Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces lies one of the most active volcanoes in the world, called Gunung Merapi or “Fiery Mountain”. The dangerous mountain has a cycle of eruption every two to five years around, yet its slopes are quite densely populated. Since 1548 it has erupted more than 68 times. The most deadly eruption recorded happened in 1930, when 13 villages were destroyed and 1400 people perished by hot clouds or “nuées ardentes”. In late 2010 the largest eruption occurred since 1872, making 280 fatalities over 1 week of tremendous explosions, also taking the life of Mbah Marijan, the juru kunci or spiritual guardian assigned by the Yogyakarta Kraton.
The Merapi volcano is often linked to things that might sound mysterious to foreign visitors, amongst others the belief that the entire mountain is inhabited and ruled by invisible beings. This aspect is not exaggerated in the eyes of many Javanese villagers living on its slopes, who are sure that these beings are real. They are often known as the Merapi Elders, and they are thought to reside in the Merapi Kraton (palace). Gunung Wutah for example, a hill visible on the base of the peak, is in reality a gate leading to the Palace of the Elders. The most haunted place on the Merapi is its crater believed to be the actual Kraton itself and central residence of all Merapi spirits. Eastwards below the crater one can find a plateau of stones and volcanic sand known as Pasar Bubrah which is believed to be the traditional market of the Kraton. The huge rocks spread around are in fact food-stalls and chairs/tables for the spirits. Further places around its slopes such as the forests, springs, sacred sites, rivers, canyons and other geological formations are equally considered very haunted and mystically charged. One of the forests for instance named Alas Patuk Alap-alap is a place where invisible cattle owned by the court graze around peacefully.
It is told that Panembahan Senopati (Mataram’s first King) once performed a kembul dahar or breaking the fast as he finished a long hermitage near the South Coast. The Queen of the South Seas (Ratu Kidul) was very pleased with Senopati’s mystical show of strength and decided to give him a specially prepared egg to help open his fast. She laid the egg before him and then left back to the undersea Kraton (Bale Sokodhomas) to wait until he had eaten the egg. It is said she was so in awe and love for the young King that she desired him to accompany her in the spirit realm of the underwater Palace forever. As Senopati woke from his meditation on the beach and readied himself to break the fast with the particular egg in front of him, his counselor and uncle Juru Mertani suddenly appeared and warned him that to break his ascese he had to consume red and white rice porridge. This in order to remember one’s own companion spirits (pamomong pribadhi), and to remind oneself that we were brought to the world because of the union between father and mother (the two porridges representing the sperm and ovum). He continued: “My grandson, do not eat the egg since by doing that you will forever dwell in the spirit world just like Ratu Kidul, yet as it is a gift from her Majesty the Queen, rather give it to the Juru Taman (Minister of the Land of Mataram).” Senopati then acted accordingly and gave the egg to his subordinate Juru Taman. This latter was very pleased indeed to receive and eat the Queen’s gift. Upon eating the egg though, a thunderous noise suddenly boomed and a dark smoky cloud covered the surrounding atmosphere. As the situation slowly returned to normal Senopati and his counselor were now facing a frightening giant as huge as a mountain. Upon advice of Juru Mertani, Senopati then ordered the creature to go and reside forever in the Merapi volcano and gave him the name of Sapu Jagad (Broom of the Universe).
A noteworthy famous spiritual spot on the Merapi indirectly linked to the invisible Kraton is a hermitage named Makam (tomb) Syeh Djumadil Qubro and situated on top of the Turgo hill, a highly sacred site for the nearby villagers. The hilltop tomb is also said to be the place where a 15th century mystic named Kebo Kanigoro reached Moksha (or spiritual liberation in Hinduism) as he reached the science of perfection. As such the place still serves as a model for contemporary Javanese mystics of the Kejawen tradition. In Kejawen philosophy, Turgo itself is a shortening of “Lumunturing Rogo”, which means the readiness to abandon one’s physical body in order to unite directly with God or Gusti (bagus ing ati or the one good of heart). In a state of impure awareness, Merapi itself is shortening of Moro Api (the way of fire) which symbolizes the way of desires ultimately leading to destruction. Yet in a state of clear consciousness Merapi has the meaning of Moro Ati (the way of compassionate heart), whereby Life is like a verse or the word of God, which in itself represents all things righteous. By extension, Javanese believe that if life is lead through greedy and lustful manners, this will be in opposition to the compassionate word of God and as a consequence such a person’s unrighteous passions would be swept clean by none other than the mighty Sapu Jagad guardian of the Merapi. In other words, it is believed that human actions which stray from the righteous path will lead Sapu Jagad to implement his cleansing task by sending down clouds of material from the Merapi. In order to avoid this cleansing activity of the mountain to become deadly, it is thus wisely recommended by the Javanese practitioners to follow the teaching of Hamemayu Hayuning Buwono which provides a karmic path to reach welfare, security for all by respecting our natural Universe and its creatures.
By Moko Pramusanto dan Patrick Vanhoebrouck