Working to achieve happiness for fellow living beings

  The history and attraction of Kota Gede, the quaint old part of town southeast of Yogyakarta city, cannot be separated from the biographies of two main characters in Yogyakarta’s history namely Panembahan Senopati and his guru and father, Ki Ageng Pamenahan. According to the chronicles of the land of Java (the book Babad Tanah Jawi), it became the chosen spot for the capital and palace of the new Mataram Empire after the fall of the North coast Demak kingdoms and the central Pajang kingdom in the sixteenth century. Ki Ageng Pamenahan was a direct descendant of the mighty Majapahit emperor Brawijaya V, the last of the Hindu-Buddhist rulers in Java. As a spiritual counselor to the king of Pajang, Sultan Hadiwijaya, he inherited a vast area of fertile forested land named Alas Mentaok. The place had beforehand been predicted and blessed by a respected spiritual hermit, the Sufi Saint Sunan Kalijaga to become the seat of the next dynasty of Javanese rulers named Mataram; a dynasty which lasts until today with the contemporary Sultan and Sunan of Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Sunan Kalijaga marked the spot where he had meditated and received this vision by planting a banyan tree in a clearing of the forest, nearby a sacred spring with abundant clear water.

Indeed as Ki Ageng Pamenahan later developed the area it rapidly became a wealthy village which soon attracted traders and spiritually inclined seekers. He was known as one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the modern Javanese era (started in the 16th century). Yet he was personally too humble to succeed as a King figure as he was loyal to the Sultan Hadiwijaya the King of Pajang near Kartosuro (Solo). He preferred to merely rule as an Adipati or regent, and instill moral and spiritual bits of culture into the hearts and minds of his counterpart citizens. As such he is also considered to be one of the great founders of traditional Javanese culture which touched upon almost all aspects of everyday life of a Javanese community. Characteristically the elements of secular activities, foremost agriculture, were intimately intertwined with Kejawen spirituality, as physical and socio-political manifestation of the essential values laid out within the Kejawen worldview. Ki Ageng Pamenahan merely reproduced or revived notions of statehood and leadership which had been developed and adopted way before since the advent of the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms of the ancient past. Kota Gede really started to become important when his son Panembahan Senopati was crowned the new ruler of Java as the King from Mataram.

After succeeding to his adoptive father the Sultan of Pajang, Senopati turned vast areas of Central and East Java into vassal states of the Mataram Kingdom. He consolidated the power of Kota Gede by building a Palace, a major market and large assembly fields (alun alun) as well as developing the economic, military and political backbones of Mataram. His rule lasted only 13 years from 1587 until his death in 1601. The prosperity and power of Kota Gede (meaning Big city) was designed around an idea that positioned the new capital as the center of the Universe, originally in the Javanese world as the source of the divine power that included all representatives from different regions in the domination, from Surabaya East to the kingdoms of West Java and the Northern coastal states of Pasisir. Senopati was ambitious indeed yet his power and divine blessing (wahyu) to rule over this central divine axis was recognized by friends and foe alike. He convinced everyone by the fact that his spiritual level was condoned and supported by the most powerful ancestors and spirits of Java. The mythology of the early Mataram Kingdom is suffused with supernatural victories and alliances with spirit armies, the most notorious one his forced alliance with the Queen of the South Seas, Nyai Ratu Kidul. The Queen, as a chosen representative of Mother Earth (or Kanjeng Ibu) succumbed to the powers and charm of the new human king, and promised her allegiance to him and his descendants ever after on the condition that they respected the Kejawen attitudes and worldview.

Islam thus was chosen as the State religion, yet it was adapted to local beliefs and mostly remnants of Hindu-Buddhist practices. For the first time Kejawen practices were adopted as a common public spiritual culture through the efforts of Ki Ageng Pamenahan and Senopati, two practitioners who had before been confined to their sites in natural spots in the forest. As part of visions and clairvoyance, Ki Ageng Mataram had trained his son to prepare him to be able to take on the task of building this new type of Kingdom which necessarily had to carry on the spiritual heritage of the old Javanese Kingdoms. It was essential as the spirits of Java and the revered ancestors would not grant the Wahyu to rule otherwise. It was thus the fate of Senopati to become a Divine ruler, and to this day his example and life stories represent a tremendous inspiration to modern Javanese especially those citizens living in Kota Gede. We could almost brand him with a title of Messiah, as he and some of his descendants such as his grandchild Sultan Agung who greatly expanded Mataram (buried in Imogiri Royal cemetery) are considered leluhur agung (Grand Ancestors). The worship of such great ancestors is part of the deeply rooted Budi Luhur aspect of Kejawen. The sacred spots in nature around the province of Yogyakarta and Central Java where Senopati and his father practiced the wisdom of Kejawen are still intensively visited by mystical seekers from all corners of Java and Indonesia.

More specifically the royal cemetery of Kotagede and its attributes all around importantly contribute to keep alive an identity and a way of life highlighting traditional indigenous knowledge and attitudes. Even the old trades of gold and silver-smiths are still alive, as these were intentionally also supported during the Dutch colonial period later after subduing Mataram’s rule of Java. Senopati was a huge spiritual practitioner, not a day passed without him perfecting his laku (supernatural powers). Assumedly he did this in order to guarantee the wealth of all people within his empire. In line with his exemplary life deeds, the Serat Wedhotomo text written by the 19th century King Mangkunegara IV from Solo, mentions this about Senopati: “Nuladha laku utama , Tumrape wong Tanah Jawi , Wong agung ing Ngeksiganda ,  Panembahan Senapati , Kepati amarsudi , Sudane hawa lan napsu,  Pinepsu tapa brata, Tanapi ing siang ratri, Amamangun karyenak tyasing sesama “  meaning “Imitate the very good deed, on behalf of the people in the land of Java, by the great man of Mataram, Panembahan Senopati, trying to reach a calmed mind​​, defeating desire and lust, by doing meditation, both day and night, and working to achieve happiness for fellow living beings”.  

By Patrick Vanhoebrouck and Moko Pramusanto


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