‘Syawalan’ and more blessings
“The tradition is said to have been introduced by Sunan Kalijaga [an early Islamic proselytizer]. Bakda kupat festivals constitute an expression of gratitude for the victory after a month-long fast,” said Kanjeng Pangeran Winarno Kusumo, an official of the Kasunanan Court of Surakarta, also known as Solo, Central Java.
In the Kasunanan Court, the tradition is known as Grebeg Syawal, in which gunungan or ritual food offerings in the form of large cones are distributed to local residents. The jaler (male) cone comprises vegetables, fruits and crops to represent prosperity, while the estri (female) cone contains various snacks made of glutinous rice to symbolize peace.
The Grebeg ceremony in the Kasunanan Court began with a procession of the gunungan pair, which was preceded by prayers. Court soldiers marched ahead of the cones, escorted by royal nobles and servants, through the court audience hall to the yard of the Grand Mosque, some 500 meters away.
The parade, marching to the accompaniment of soldiers’ drums and trumpets, was awaited by hundreds of residents along the road leading to the mosque who were eager to take part in ngalap berkah (seeking blessings) from the Kasunanan Court of Surakarta.
Legend: The figure of Joko Tingkir in the Larung Joko Tingkir ritual is on a crocodile-modeled raft in the lake at Taru Jurug tourist park, Surakarta.At the mosque, both gunungan offerings were placed on the porch, with the court personnel performing prayers inside. Thereafter, the estri cone was returned to the court, followed by the jaler cone, which was taken out of the mosque. But hardly had the cone left the porch, when hundreds of people scrambled to grab its contents.
They believed that whatever they could seize would be a blessing. Unsurprisingly, they were prepared to struggle, some were even trampled on, only to get bits of vegetables and crushed fruits. Yet they were satisfied as long as they could take home fragments of the gunungan.
The philosophy behind this practice of ngrayah (literally, looting), according to Winarno, is that one has to struggle hard in order to achieve one’s goal. “Actually, they were scuffling for blessings through the offerings rather than for the objects taken,” added Winarno.
In Klaten, on the hill of Sidoghuro, Krakitan village, Bayat district — around 30 kilometers southwest of Surakarta, a unique syawalan ritual was held. Twelve cones of ketupat and traditional snacks were paraded before they were up for grabs.
“This tradition was initiated by Syahid Habib, an Islamic preacher in Bayat over 200 years ago. To celebrate Idul Fitri, Syahid Habib distributed ketupat to his followers. The ritual was later carried on by local people,” said Krakitan Village Head Sunardi.
The gunungan procession started from the Klaten Square and finished in Sidhoguro, with thousands of villagers crowding the road and enjoying a reog mask dance show. On the hill, Klaten Regent Sunarna gave a message and a Surakarta court imam conducted prayers. What happened next was a mass struggle for the rice cones believed to bring peace and fortune.
Old loyalists: Three royal servants follow the Grebeg Syawal procession on the grounds of the Kasunanan Court of Surakarta.Syawalan celebrations can also be a magnet for tourists. The Surakarta city administration took the opportunity by organizing a Larung Joko Tingkir, the throwing of ketupat and coins on the bank of Solo River and the enactment a legendary sail, this time at Taru Jurug Park, on Sept. 4.
“Larung Joko Tingkir is a reconstruction of the historic journey of Joko Tingkir [founder of the Pajang Sultanate] from Pajang to Demak along Solo River. Formerly, he went on a bamboo raft to carry out his feat. As Solo River was drying up for this event, the sail procession this year moved to the lake at Taru Jurug.
The ritual began from the gate of the tourist park, where the figure of Joko Tingkir went by the Kasunanan Court’s royal coach named Kyai Siswondo. Followed by court soldiers, Joko Tingkir headed for Sanggar Gesang on the bank of Solo River.
Paraded behind them were cones made up of 5,000 ketupat rice cakes. Delegates from the Kasunanan Court in another coach, Kyai Roro Kemenyan, were tossing coins with a nominal value of Rp 1 million (US$116), thus inciting local people to tussle for the money.
Money talks: Thousands are struggling for coins in the Larung Joko Tingkir ritual. The syawalan post-fasting tradition took place at Taru Jurug tourist park, Surakarta, recently.The clinking coins continued as far as the hall of Taman Gesang at the rear of the tourist park, where prayers were offered for the ketupat cones. But again, hardly had the prayers were finished when crowds of people of all ages struggled to snatch the wrapped rice lumps for blessings.
“For me it’s not just coins and ketupat that count. It’s the court blessings in which my whole family and me will hopefully be basking,” said Walidi, a resident joining the mass scramble.
The peak of the ritual was the handing over of Joko Tingkir’s sailing equipment by the court’s delegates. However, unlike in previous years, the sail procession this year took place in the lake of the park due to Solo River’s receding water.
“This ritual represents the disposal of all evil things, as a way of returning to everything pure and clean after fasting for a month. It’s also the essence of syawalan,” said Surakarta Deputy Mayor F.X. Hadi Rudyatmo