Imitate the nature of Water

Much like the ancient Candi Hindu and Buddhist temples, Javanese Royal architecture gives an insight into very indigenous ideas on cosmology. The spiritual interpretation of such constructions explains the layout and shapes that were adopted for buildings such as the Kraton and peripheral structures like the Tamansari water palace. To start, it is by all means necessary to remind the visitor of the role that the chosen Raja (King) plays when he is installed as the uppermost leader of the Javanese citizens. In Javanese traditional worldview it is an accepted concept that the right candidate to the throne is the one who possesses the divine wahyu to rule. As such the selected king could be considered as a ‘God King’ or a leader backed by a Divine blessing to rule. In this role he has not only to profile himself as a courageous and wise secular ruler yet should manifest himself also as a container of spiritual sakti or power. Since ancient times, generations of Javanese rulers and heirs to the throne have popularly demonstrated their skill to publicly display this sakti and henceforth be seen as the container of the divine wahyu or God’s legitimacy to rule on earth. Historical characters in the genealogy of the present Yogyakarta Sultan mention for example the ascetic Brahman King Prabu Airlangga (11th century) or the clairvoyant King Joyoboyo (12th C.). Closer to us are the powerful figures of Senopati and his grandson the Great Sultan Agung, the beloved founders of the present Mataram Dynasty in the 16th century. Their unquestionable authority over friends and foe owed arguably more to this type of spiritual perfection (laku) than any other talent they could display as chosen top-leaders.

Another concept to bear in mind is the Javanese belief in the lahir batin interaction, whereby all microcosmic features are manifestations of macrocosmic or universal truths…or should be ideally. In this sense through spiritual practice and consequent perception, a human mind can fathom the grander truths of godly creation dynamics and reproduce them in a material manifestation on earth. A sense of higher wisdoms and powerful energy manipulation combine to act in the image of enlightened ancestors which have already unified with the upper Creator Being himself (famous Manunggaling Kawulo Gusti concept). In this view the King would arguably be placed as the main universal contender to rule wisely and with divine boons to guarantee prosperity and safety.

As a consequence of this worldview, it is not surprising that kings legitimated their rule by building palaces and other constructions that reminded the population of divine worlds in a symbolic manner. From geographical orientation to shapes and ornaments, many building in the Mataram Empire of Yogyakarta have followed such cosmological concepts in Javanese architecture including the present day Kraton, Tugu tower and the Tamansari Waterpalace. These places were built to represent the worldly center of the Universe (pusat bumi), the center point axis binding energetically lines of a supernatural realm. A suitable palace for such a divine ruler can only be conceived in terms of ideas of Javanese culture and philosophy which form the foundation of shapes and disposition of the kraton building. The choice of the right location is of importance, since a kraton borrows its mystical power through its orientation in function of specific mountains, oceans and forests. In Yogya the South-North axis is always determining, following an imaginary line form the Merapi crater to the Parangkusumo sacred beach by the south coast.

In similar fashion, the Tamansari cannot thus merely be seen as a pleasure garden for the Sultans and their families as the complex of gardens, pavilions, baths and walls symbolizes just as many oceans, continents and mountains and reproduces a mirror image of the macrocosmos on earth.  The major pools (which have disappeared now) were reproducing the southern ocean, and the curious underwater galleries gave an impression of the inside of the Queen of the South Seas’ Palace under the waves. High rise ornamented gates and the huge Kenanga multi storied building (now a ruin) on top of an artificial hill-island reminded the onlooker of the Mahameru Mountain of sacred texts, where Bathara Guru the Upper God and his court of Dewa’s live and from where they rule the Universe. The Sultan had private baths built to suit himself and his harem of beautiful girls to reproduce an image of the Suroloyo Highest Deity surrounded by his Widadaris of royal nymphs of extreme beauty and kindness. The Sumur Gumuling or underwater Mosque contained a sacred spring beneath the fantastic work of staircases, forming a floating platform where the Sultan would meditate and replicate himself inside the Ratu Kidul undersea palace off the southern coast. Private apartments for the Sultan and his concubines are built above small canals of pure spring-water where according to spiritualist the King would meet and consume his relationship with the Spirit Queen (Pasarean Ledoksari is still considered highly haunted at night). Other high altars placed in top rooms of storied buildings provided just as many meditation places for the King to practice his ascetic efforts to reach wisdom and inter-realm excursions.

Why was the Tamansari conceived of as a water palace, or in other words what was then the importance of water circulating throughout the whole complex of buildings, galleries and apartments? Again a Javanese philosophical concept explains the importance of a human being’s capacity to unite spiritually with the four basic elements of life: water, fire, earth and wind. The symbolic meaning of the volcano mountain is to be found in its image as a union of all four elements. Oceans and rivers exist in bonded mutuality since the aspects of fire and wind make possible the life-giving flow of water over the land and earth. The water element is the perfect binding media between all four elements, and it is seen to link all continents on the globe without interruption. As such a spiritual mastery of this element is primordial in Javanese mysticism since it allows for supernatural travel and communication over arbitrary distances. It is said in philosophical terms that “Water is soothing; it fulfills the needs of all living things in the Universe. It always flows from high to lower areas and adjusts itself to that law in order to contribute to fertility that can give strength in life. Therefore the water will bring beauty to and from the King’s park like his daughter who visits the baths, and will soulfully emanate her beauty around.” A royal poem from the 17th century further reads:

“Water also has tremendous power. With continuous drops of water, one will be able to destroy a stone. Of that philosophy, we can learn to live in this world by putting forward the gentle nature of water in a pool; with tenderness we’ll find a way to achieve wisdom (Jumeneng Sepuh) in answer to all the problems following wave dynamics. Solve all problems by mimicking the softness of the water.”

By Moko Pramusanto and Patrick Vanhoebrouck


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