jogjamag nov 2013


“Hindrances will be resolved, Obstacles will be wiped out”

The Menoreh rang of hills west of Yogyakarta separate the Province of the DIY and the district of Purworejo which is the easternmost region of what is known as the ‘Bagelen’. These hills have been the silent witnesses of many historical events since at least the 6th century when a Kingdom of Galuh had its capital there. Galuh gave rise to the later Saivite Sanjaya and Mahayana Cailendra dynasties of the old Mataram Empire known for its legacy of Prambanan and Borobudur monuments and dozens of other temples in the area. The Menoreh hills thus contain many ancient mysterious and sacred sites which up to the present provide spiritual inclined Javanese with places to practice the indigenous kebatinan teachings related to a unique Tantric connection with venerated ancestors and the Universe.

Kalibiru Hill in the southern Kokap sub-regency is one of these old sacred spots, beautifully covered by a large community-managed forest and overlooking the scenic Sermo reservoir. Visitors here will surely enjoy the peaceful refreshing surroundings and the multitude of hiking trails lacing around hilltops and into lush green forests, whilst dining on grilled free-ranging Nila fish. Small traditional villages are perched all around and the Javanese farmers unassumingly work their agro-forestry plots of land, mainly producing the main spices and herbs used in traditional Javanese cooking and herbal remedies (jamu). From the Kalibiru highest peak one can enjoy a wide panorama including the south coast of the Java Sea, with other famous sacred sites lined up all around such as Glagah beach, Gunung Lanang ritual sanctuary and to the west the dark pyramid-shape of Gunung Kelir.

The haunted Kelir Mountain and surrounding hilly region gained fame amongst the Dutch Colonial troops during their war against the rebel forces led by Prince Diponegara in the 1820’s. Impenetrable forests and dotted with large underground caves, the Menoreh hills provided the rebels with strategic bases to prepare stealth attacks and ambush the Dutch during this famous ‘Java Uprising War’. Two elements I want to highlight here concerning life and struggle in the Menoreh Hills are the prodigious amounts of water sources and the other more invisible sources known to kejawen and kebatinan followers, those related to ‘kasekten energy’. It is clear to the people living and surviving here that without the continuously flowing underground streams, spring-fed pools (sendang) and other natural freshwater sources which are seemingly impervious to dry-season droughts, life on the slopes here could not be sustained. As a crucial part of a complex natural chain, along with animals, plants, humans and spirits, water sustains the harmonious cycle of life. It is therefore not surprising to find an indigenous belief of a sacred relationship between all parts of the cycle, and consequent practices by humans to manage a proper caretaker function within this cycle. An example is the sacred nature of large old trees and their direct symbiosis with water-springs nearby. Experience has proven that cutting down these trees will provoke a drying up or disappearance of the spring. This can also happen if the tree is felled by strong winds. In Kalibiru one can ask about such an occurrence which recently happened in 2011, whereby a banyan tree crashed across a village path due to a storm and remained there for 6 months before the community was forced to saw it and evacuate as the government planned on paving the road with asphalt. As the roots were cut first before the actual trunk, the banyan unexpectedly raised itself and came back to its original position near the sendang below. It survived upright for another 6 months before it died out naturally. The local people say that while the tree was down and after its death the spring-fed sendang receded to a mere pool. They made sure to replant a young shoot of the old banyan tree near the spring, which flows again today and where villagers take their bath and use the water for consumption.

Another aspect of this anecdote is the kebatinan approach of the people. Although officially Muslim of religion, the locals know that a spiritual dimension needs to be managed well in order for the crucial life-cycle to be sustained here. Old trees and water-springs are also residences of several types of spirit beings (lelembut), and in traditional Java humans should cooperate with these spirits to care for their natural life-giving environment. Certain mystical criteria and agreements are always necessary for this, and thus the above-mentioned spring received annual offerings and the performance of a Tayub dance every second year. In return the gendruwo families residing in the trees and also using the spring-water helped maintain an acceptable level of harmony for the villagers and their cattle. This belief in spirits is not the exclusivity of isolated villagers in the hills; it is shared by the nobility of the Yogyakarta Kraton families and a vast number of spiritual mystics across Java. The Menoreh hills have attracted many of these because through practices of spiritual connection with the spirit dimensions, one is believed to find solutions to one’s life struggles and problems. Higher categories of spirits are represented by illustrious ancestors and divine beings, and these are more trustworthy than the lelembut spirits described above. These higher beings are sought for enlightening advice (petunjuk), guidance (wisikan) or supernatural powers (kasekten).

A famous freedom fighter named Nyi Ageng Serang who joined Prince Diponegara in his anti-colonial uprising against the Dutch and who is buried not far from Kalibiru, exemplifies perfectly this type of kebatinan relationship with the Universe. She became therefore a highly respected ancestor, leading an army from North Central Java crouched on a portable bed at 73 years of age. Her perseverance and spiritual wisdom got her the name of Djayeng Sekar, an honorific nickname for women who inherit the properties of warriors. Her popularized kebatinan motto was “Rawe Rawe Rantas, Malang Malang Putung”, meaning “Hindrances will be resolved, Obstacles will be wiped out”. This type of saying obviously gives Javanese the spirit to fight towards an important target. Spiritually interpreted it relates to the value known as “Suro Diro Joyo Jayaningrat, Lebur Dening Pangastuti” translated as “Evil will always be crushed by Truth”.

Struggle leaders such as Nyi Ageng Serang not only fought on the physical side so that this country could become independent, but also maintained the great values of Java, encapsulated in the saying “Jiwo kang Kajawi lan Jawi ingkang Kajiwo” or “A conscious mind grows from outer experience and the Outer attends to the deep Self”. This essential Javanese value guarantees a consciousness directed at finding harmony in four core aspects of life:

1 . Memayu Hayuning Pribadi (maintaining and upholding a ‘realized’ self-identity)

2 . Memayu Hayuning Jalmi (improving human dignity)

3 . Memayu Hayuning Negari (maintaining the security and prosperity of the country and Nations)

4 . Memayu Hayuning Bawono (caring for the welfare of others and preservation of the Universe)

For the Javanese people a person’s development passes through the acquisition of Consciousness and Wisdom in order to reach Jumeneng Sepuh or the State of the Elders, which is said to give someone the ability to answer all dynamics of life by striving for harmonization, expressed in Indonesian language by “Serasi, Selaras dan Seimbang” (Suitable, Compatible and Balanced).

By Patrick Vanhoebrouck & Moko Pramusanto


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