In the midst of the Gunungkidul (or Wonosari) plateau southeast of Yogyakarta city, a small natural wonder occurs in the form of an attractive waterfall. The place is called Sri Gethuk and is situated in the Bleberan sub-district near Playen town. One approaching this waterfall will certainly notice the dramatic change in landscape in terms of the ecological biotope this abundant source of water causes. What’s more if the visit happens during the dry season, where the typical brownish Gunungkidul environment of parched limestone, dry teak-trees and brush vegetation turns into a sparkling green valley slope rich with copious rice fields and coconut trees. One might feel closer to a lush Balinese Subak atmosphere rather than the actual Javanese plateau. The key for this wonder is the waterfall which is fed by 4 main underground springs. The crystalline water-supply never knows drought, as it flows out of the earth with a regular debit throughout the year.
The underground springs which feed the waterfall are the subject of many legends that to this day are important reminders for the local population in terms of their relationship with the surrounding nature and the Universe in general. That relationship in typical Javanese manner includes the physical and the metaphysical realms of Universe. With Sri Gethuk waterfall, the belief is centered on the fact that the water springs are inhabited by colonies of supernatural beings present from time immemorial before the arrival of the first human inhabitant. As in all such stories the particular spirit colony of Sri Gethuk is ruled by a King named Jin Anggo Menduro. It is said that these Jin (spirits) are fond of music and beautiful sound harmonies, and this would explain why visitors to the place can occasionally hear faint sounds of a Gamelan orchestra playing a ladran or gending tune. More than that, some reputed ancestors of the past in Bleberan village who were skilled in the mystical knowledge of Kebatinan and were familiar with the Topo Broto practice were able to borrow the gamelan form the spirits for the human communities’ events. It is told that this gamelan was then used at nighttime for weddings, village ceremonies and such initiation rituals, and returned before sunrise to the metaphysical storehouse near the waterfall. The phenomena of hearing metaphysical orchestra sounds played by spirits here in Central Java, a common feature to be honest, is called Bahasa Jawa Pandulon, or Javanese supernatural Language. The sounds and noises from the other realms can be acknowledged by humans depending on their consciousness level which is often acquired through Kebatinan methods of practice. A further story (dongeng) told locally is that an incident once occurred whereby the gamelan was returned to the spirits yet some striking tools had been kept by unruly spectators. It became thereupon impossible to borrow the gamelan. The deprived community was burdened for a long time as they couldn’t play music at their traditional events thereafter, and it took a while to get the funds together to acquire a new physical gamelan.
The local population of the Bleberan area is very aware of the miraculous nature of their water rich environment which has been consistently supplying them with fresh drinking and irrigation water for generations since the first inhabitants settled here. These pioneers from the 17th century discovered the spot as they were freedom fighters and rebels on the run from Dutch Colonial repression. Here the laskar Mataram, led by amongst other a famous knight named Ky Kromo Wongso, survived in the forbidding forests and caves to rest and supply themselves between ambush and warfare activities directed at Dutch Battalions dominating the Royal Yogyakarta and Surakarta Kraton regions. The physical and metaphysical bounty of the place, especially clean water, was the key for their long-standing role in trying to defeating the Dutch. Supernatural protection and invulnerability powers were acquired through Topo Broto practices in collusion with the Spirits of Java and especially the connection of the local Goa Rancang Kencono cave with the Merapi Elders (see Jogjamag…). To this day the cave and the waterfall are subject of nighttime mystical rituals, and placing of offerings, both by locals during annual ceremonies and outsiders in search of spiritual wisdom and powers following Kejawen precepts.
The name Sri Gethuk comes from the instrument g Kethuk in the Javanese gamelan orchestra, more specifically the one used interchangeably with the Kenong xylophone instrument. The musical and rythmic relationship between Kethuk and Kenong form a starting and ending process in the tembang song structure of the gamelan music. More specifically the Kethuk always initiates the Kenong which follows. Kenong is a divider, in Javanese called tibaning Guru lagu (final syllable in the song or gending). Kethuk – Kenong in the gamelan are crucial in shaping a harmonious sound of a piece due to their unique rhythmic interrelationship. Symbolically applied to the human experience itself, the interpretation suggests that a harmonious rhythm in life will help materialize Beauty. Rhythm or Alignment is the truth, beauty and goodness as long as it contains the values of consciousness as a whole. But if one fails to maintain harmony to Javanese this is like death, devotion and prayer to the supreme Godhead will fail or be fruitless. As described in the sacred text Serat Sastro Gendhing by the 3rd Mataram King Sultan Agung (17th century): “Pramila gendhing yen bubrah, gugur sembahe mring Gusti” which means “When the piece /rhythm is broken, the act of worshipping the Creator fails”.
By Moko Pramusanto and Patrick Vanhoebrouck