Bantengan – Dance of Penanggungan People: East Java

The bantengan (bull dance) is an indigenous art form of the community living at the foot of Mount Penanggungan, East Java. Resembling the Chinese lion dance, it is viewed as a rite that locals use to ward off evil from their villages.

The bantengan tradition is passed down for many generations in Trawas. Although nobody knows when exactly the dance began to be performed, locals believe it was practiced long before the Majapahit kingdom ruled over Trowulan, Mojokerto.

Bantengan is a symbol of Vishnu, the Hindu god that one can frequently find in the temple-shaped tombs of the Majapahit kings. This means that Vishnu was highly respected during the times of the Majapahit kingdom, where the dominant religion was Siva Hinduism.

After the collapse of the Majapahit kingdom, a result of the propagation of Islam in Java, the Majapahit community fled to Bali. It is still believed even today that the Balinese are descended from these Majapahit people.

Before starting the bantengan dance, the performer will confine himself to eating only plain rice for a few weeks. This is regarded as essential. The dance is inseparable from supernatural and magic elements. So, to ensure nothing uncalled for will happen, the performer must pray to the spirits of our ancestors.

After fulfilling this requirement, the bantengan dance can start. This performance involves 30 players. Some play Javanese gamelan instruments, others demonstrate indigenous martial arts skills, while others play with bamboo-plaited horses and carry bull’s heads.

The bull’s head is used in the same way as the lion’s head in a Chinese lion dance. Two or three people will each carry a bull’s head while jumping around and dancing. Then one head will be rammed against another. The winner is the person that can continue to carry the bull’s head.

The Abduljari bantengan troupe is the only one that still survives in Trawas today. Three years ago there were at least three such troupes. Development of this indigenous dance has faced many problems, one of which is opposition from local Muslim leaders, who believe that the performance is an example of polytheist belief, as one must summons the spirits of one’s ancestors before commencing the performance.

Today, despite protests from Muslim leaders, Abduljari continues to perform the bantengan dance in accordance with its tradition, namely by first summoning supernatural spirits. Only in such a way could the art survive.