Beyond The Palace

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I guessed 'unique' was the best word to describe Yogyakarta. Having visited the place for several times, I found it like a small ancient kingdom within a modern republic. On my last visit to the city, I had a chance to talk with an "Abdi Dalem," a royal servant dressed in traditional uniform that was commonly found at the palace. The short convertation we had took place on the street. It was a bit strange for me to find an "Abdi Dalem" outside the palace complex.

The rain fell on that Saturday afternoon. My friend and I decided to shelter in front of a shop at the corner of Jalan H.O.S. Cokroaminoto and Jalan Godean, and wait for the rain to stop. There we found a man wearing a traditional dress, standing next to his old motorcycle. Apparently, he was an "Abdi Dalem." I couldn't help but wondering what he was doing there.

Despite the inability to speak Javanese, I approached the guy and smiled. And yes, smiling was the best way to break the ice. Somehow he could have figured me out as a tourist.

"I just performed in a puppet show in Sri Manganti (one of the seven complexes in the royal palace). I'm a puppeteer" said the man proudly about his job. "I play once a week, on every Saturday." He added.
Like most Indonesian in common, we didn't try to get to know each other's name at first. After everything got warm, we tell our names to each other.

His name was Sukur Rahmad Hadipranoto. As a royal servant, he got a special name given by The Sultan; Cermo Briawan. Being a royal servant was not his full time job. He ran a welding workshop at his house in Godean. Looking at him in that traditional Javanese dress, I found it was hard to convince my self that he was a welder. He told me that he became a royal servant because he felt obliged to serve The Sultan.

As the rain didn’t seem to stop, he started talking about the royal stuffs. He told me that the royal palaces of Mataram (Yogyakarta and Surakarta) actually practiced the Islamic rules. He also convinced me that there was a strong Islamic value applied in every ritual held by the palaces. I guessed he was trying to counter the public opinion which said that the palaces of Mataram had practiced sort of polytheism such as worshiping mythical figures, giving offerings to the sea, the mountains, and also praising the Sultan in a way that people nowadays might consider it as too much.

He gave me an instance how the Islamic value applied in the ritual. Commonly, they served “Kue Apem” (a traditional cake made of sugar and flour) and “Kolak” (kind of banana compote) in every ritual. Those traditional delicacies were meant to be a symbol of purifying. “Apem” derived from Arabic word of “Afwan,” meant to apologize. In this case, they asked for God’s mercy. As for “Kolak,” it derived from “Khalik,” Arabic for The Creator (God).

“When we praise The Sultan, it is not the same as we praise Allah. We do take a bow in front of him, but it’s just a matter of high respect” said Sukur.
“As for the rituals, those are just a matter of cultural traditions. We have to preserve them. Deep in our hearts, we are good Muslims, devoted only to Allah.”

To emphasize his explanation, he told me that it took a deep thoughts and wisdom to understand the custom and tradition. 

The rain turned to be drizzling and it was time for us to say good bye. Like what I always did to people I met during my traveling, I beg for his permission to take his picture. With the bright color of the folding door as the background, I kindly asked him to pose. Soon after that, Sukur got on his old motorcycle. With no helmet and jacket on, he sped straight to Godean. “Wasn’t it against the law?” I asked myself. “Ah… don’t worry. It’s a tradition.” My inner voice replied.

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  1. Someday when you come again to jogja.. Tell me.. I will bring you to another unique place hehehe