HBD To Me
13 Aug 2017
Reading time ~8 minutes
You guessed it, folks. Just yesterday, I completed 22 years of living in style. I’ve mostly been faking it till I make it, but nevertheless in style. I kicked off this auspicious week with a visit to an auspicious place: Mankunegaran Palace. This compound stretches back to the 18th century, and it used to be closed off to the general public, for obvious reasons. Along with the shift from the rule of royal courts to rule by an elected government, the majority of the Mangkunegaran palace was transformed into a museum of sorts. One may find a number of amazing royal artifacts and artwork, weekly gamelan rehearsals, and tourists galore. Thankfully, I was handheld through the amazing exhibit by Indri, a college student who works part time as an English tour guide at the palace.
Pura Mandira Seta
Having experienced one of Solo’s well-esteemed royal courts, I was intent on visiting its similarly well-esteemed rival court: Keraton Surakarta Hadiningrat. Unfortunately, I arrived at the complex just after its premature 2 pm closing time. A short walk away from the impressive court, I stumbled upon a much more modest place of worship: Pura Mandira Seta. There, I met Dendy, a kejawen Hindu who frequents the humble abode on his off days. He graciously gave me a tour of the temple grounds, which he assured me were of a distincly Javanese character, in contrast to the architecture of the many Hindu temples of Bali.
Sahasra Adi Pura, aka. Sono Sewu
After Dendy finished giving me a grand tour of the Pura Mandir Seta, he invited me to a wayang kulit performance at the Sahasra Adi Pura (aka. Sono Sewu) temple in Sukoharjo. Having already walked a good 5 km to get to Pura Mandir Seta, I decided to brave the remaining 7 km by foot and cross the Bengawan Solo into Sukoharjo Regency, Central Java. I was later mocked for having walked the whole way to Sukoharjo, but I have to say that it was totally worth it. Shrouded in a sea of rice paddies and several shanties, Sahasra Adi Pura temple is very easy to miss. Having located it, I was immediately submerged in a sea of chanting voices in a picturesque village setting that concluded the evening’s communal prayer session. Thereafter, snack boxes were distributed among the congregants, gratis. A totally adorable children’s section of kerawitan followed, showcasing local talent. An hour long break after this allowed for last minute preparations to be made for the highlight of the night, wayang kulit to last between the hours of 8 pm and the break of dawn (yes, it’s totally normal by Indonesian standards to have musical gatherings that ride the entire nocturnal wave).
In my opinion, Kejawen/Kebatinan is one of the most intriguing aspects of Javanese culture. The spiritual beliefs and lifestyle ethic of Kebatinan and Kejawen are emblematic of Indonesia’s historic gravitational pull towards syncretism. The religious/spiritual tradition allows for followers to easily officially convert between its various subdomains (Christianity, Hindusim, and Islam). Off paper and on the ground, it breeds an atmosphere of embracing religious diversity especially among kejawen musicians and attendees at religious/cultural events. To illustrate, having attended Hindu and Islamic events by the Bangladeshi diaspora in Los Angeles for more than a dozen years, I’ve never heard both Hindu and Islamic greetings used by an announcer at any single event. That’s precisely what happened at this wayang kulit event at the Sono Sewu temple. Surprising and amazing to me, but apparently not a big deal for most native Javanese that I’d mentioned this to. Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that Indonesia is a perfect save haven of religious diversity, but it just goes to show how far the syncretic tradition has gone in certain respects.
Andre, Timur, and Some Unknown Old Man Save The Day
The day after my wayang kulit visit, I met with the first gamelan instructor that I’ve ever studied with, Pak Sumarsam, at his lovely home in Solo. Pak Sumarsam is internationally well-renowned as a scholar and educator of Indonesian music. His current research is in a similar ballpark as my own. He’s investigating the changing religious climate in Indonesia vis an vis music and Islam over the past several decades. It’s clear to see how Pak Sumarsam is a gold mine for my Watson project in Indonesia.
After my brief time at Pak Sumarsam’s place, I headed over to a hangout/jam session with Sean, a friend/classical guitarist/experimental musician/PhD candidate that I met at the boarding house adjoining Pak’s home, which he rents out mostly to students of gamelan music. The night comprised tons of original music and good feels. After packing up my stuff, I hopped aboard Sean’s motorbike to get dropped off and retire at my homestay for the night. The next morning, I noticed that I was missing my headphones and camcorder. As it turns out, despite all the odds, both items had fallen out of my backpack during the late transit the night before. Sean got a message almost immediately that morning from Randy (one of the tenants of the place we’d jammed at) who said that an old neighbor of his had found the headphones on the road in front of his house. Later that evening, I received an email from an awesome history buff named Timur, who told me that his friend Andre had swept up my camcorder off a street near my homestay around 4 am in the morning. Thank goodness I label all of my expensive (and not so expensive as my friends can attest) belongings with my name and email address. Also, thank goodness for good human beings in this world. Otherwise, I’d be down two pieces of absoletely essential recording equipment totalling roughly 1500 USD only a couple of weeks into my Watson journey. A highly unfun prospect indeed.
Terbangan Ensemble with Pak Waluyo
The meatiest part of my week in terms of raw Watson film/research output was the result of my attending a terbangan ensemble rehearsal directed by Pak Waluyo with none other than my trusty professor, Pak Sumarsam. Aside from directing the frame drum ensemble, Pak Waluyo is a voice teacher at ISI Solo (Institut Seni Indonesia Solo) and UMS (Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta).
Trek to Candi Ceto With The Fearsome Four
As if the Terbangan rehearsal wasn’t awesome enough for one weekend, my old friend Indri from the Mangkunegaran palace agreed to drive her two friends, Fiya and Emy, and I (aka the Fearsome Four) out to Candi Ceto. The multi-tiered terraces of the complex are surreal to say the least, and the surrounding mountaineous environment make an excellent getaway or permanent hermitage just the same. Our day trip coincided with my birthday, which was duly celebrated with a surprise piece of chocolate cake. As I am routinely wont to say, few things in life are better than a nice chocolatey surprise.
Tasty Treats in Solo, Indonesia Pt. 2
Round 2 in Solo…Fight!
- Ayam Goreng w/ Nasi Putih: Friend chicken w/ white rice. Tack on a simple salad and a dallop of sambal (traditional Javanese chili sauce) and it doesn’t get much more go-to than that.
- Indomie: The infamous Indonesian instant noodle. The one depicted here was cream based with with added beef and egg. Ironically, this poor man’s food outdid more substantial traditional eating options in the price factor.
- Rice cake, fried tofu (tahu), and beef curry: I’m sorry I don’t remember the Javanese names for any of these items…
- Forest tea: None of us knew precisely what was in this consoling concoction. Neither did the waitress. Go figure.
- Chocolate cake: self-explanatory (if not, I daresay you’ve got serious problems).