Imagine a place high up the hills, numerous rolling peaks covered in green lush vegetation traversed by misty clouds…a bit reminiscent of an ancient Chinese lithography. With its quiet atmosphere, dramatic panoramas over the Borobudur plain of Kedu, its tropical cover and traditional Javanese kampung, Suroloyo Peak has touristic attributes all of its own. Access by road to the peak is in itself an adventurous journey. Once there, visitors can leisurely walk about the numerous trails between coffee and spice tree plantations, take in the faraway views from several peaks, meditate at nearly 12 sacred spots including a hilltop freshwater spring, and when the misty clouds drown the whole place in a mysterious fog, recede at last to cheap comfortable bungalows (Pondok Wisata Suroloyo) or homestays with villagers for a meal and the hot cup of local Arabica. The silence permeating the peak will relax one after the hustle and bustle of Yogyakarta’s heat. A sense of detachment from earthly worries is almost a guarantee.

The place was known and mentioned since early Javanese kingdoms of the 7th century, when the Sanjaya Hindu and the Cailendra Buddhist monument-building dynasties were ruling over vast areas of the Southeast Asian region from their Central Javanese capitals. At that time already, known commonly as the Djawadwipa or Early Mataram era, the Suroloyo Peak was considered a highly sacred spot due to the Tantric belief that it housed the residence of the Hindu Gods mentioned in the Veda’s. According to ancient accounts left by Chinese pilgrims visiting the fabled capital of the dynasty located somewhere in the triangle between present-day Bagelen (Purworejo), Dieng plateau and the Unggaran Volcano, the peak was a feared place because of its haunted characteristics. It was seen as definitely not suitable for human settlements. It might be assumed that only kings and yogis were qualified to reach these heights to recite prayers and leave auspicious offerings to Bathara Guru (Shiva) and His divine pantheon.


In later history, the Suroloyo peak kept its legendary title of ‘Place of the Gods’ even through the rise of Mojopahit Empire and the subsequent Muslim dynasties in the later Mataram era of which the Yogyakarta Sultans and Solo Sunans became the heirs. It remained a favorite ritual place for spiritual seekers following the Kejawen mysticism also known as Javanism. Important figures of Javanese history chose to meditate there to find solutions to their respective problems, be it Pangeran Benowo from the 16th century Padjang Sultanate, the Saint Sunan Kalijaga or the famous 17th century Sultan Agung of Yogyakarta. The latter made Suroloyo one of his favorite hermitages, dealing as he was with the expansion and ruling of his vast Mataram Empire. Sunan Kalijaga was known to have created the modern-day Wayang shadow-puppet shows based on the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics. He designed the ‘Semar bangun Kahyangan’ sub-story, which describes the sacred Javanese ancestor Semar and his own dwelling on the Suroloyo amidst the higher Gods of the Hindu Pantheon. Semar is known by Javanese to be an intermediate between humans and the Divine, always available to offer wise counseling to the earnest spiritual seekers to overcome life’s challenges. You will find statues of Semar and his three clownish sons Petruk, Gareng and Bagong welcoming you near the peak as they characterize the liminal gateway between humans and the Divine Beings.

In a more Javanese spiritual sense, the ‘Place of the Gods’ is approached by mystics with the belief that Shiva or God is the perfection of reality. In a process of self-reflection, that divine perfection is to be found within one’s own heart (Gusti = Bagus ing Ati) and as such the deeper self can be allegorically compared to a residence of a multitude of gods with different qualities. To find God within oneself means to apprehend untainted reality. For Javanese spiritualists, life itself should be regarded as a continuous communication with God or perfect Reality as it is held within the control of God at all times. That means that if this communication is somehow obstructed, life will be running against the law of Reality, in essence thoughts, speech and actions will be wrongly applied. This may be regarded as ignorance which will in turn inevitably lead to suffering. A place like Suroloyo ̶ allegedly a place charged with vital power ̶ can bring freshness, peace and calmness to a seeker’s mind which is open to connect to it, helping one in training the subtle feeling (olah rasa). In kejawen philosophy this inherent capacity in turn stimulates the growth of Pranowo or clear-lighted spiritual thinking, or the awakened Buddha within in more Buddhist terms. No wonder that a place such as the Suroloyo Peak is so sought after when Javanese find themselves desperate for spiritual problem-solving ammunition.

By Moko Pramusanto and Patrick Vanhoebrouck


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