Islamic New Year: Taman Mini Indonesia, Jakarta, West Java

A combination of the thick scents of sandalwood, jasmine and incense filled the air of Sasono Utomo at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah on late Wednesday, an inkling of the unusual ceremony that was about to take place. Chants of dzikir (prayer) were heard amid the subtle sound of a gamelan orchestra while guests entered. Seated around the room were men in royal gowns with loyal aides on their sides and women in traditional garb and glittering jewelry, an extraordinary backdrop to the packed hall.

The kings, queens, sultans and royal families from 104 kingdoms across the archipelago sat together, bowed their heads, and prayed for the country’s prosperity as Emmy Fitri explains.

“It’s the first time 104 kingdoms and sultanates could make it to the gathering to mark Islamic New Year’s Eve,” KRT Soebagyo Marto Bodropuro from Surakarta Palace said.

“Last year we had this at Surakarta without so much publicity. We meditated and said prayers for this country while outside the palace, the people enjoyed a royal parade,” he said.

A predominantly Muslim country, Indonesians have a trove of traditions to mark the day.
Islamic New Year (Muharram) is also the New Year in the Javanese calendar, or 1 Suro. People living in Central Java and Yogyakarta mark the day with various rituals, including praying at the Royal Palace’s mosques, cleansing charms such as sacred daggers and spears, or taking a silent evening stroll.

Wednesday’s ceremony at Taman Mini however, saw a combination of rituals, ranging from a performance by Surakarta’s royal dancers, a parade of tumpeng (coned-shaped rice dishes) and royal weaponry, and midnight prayers.

Soebagyo said the tumpeng parade, just like the prayers, was a must because it symbolized people’s submission to God.

“Our ancestors communicated with their creator through symbols. Modern-day people think this kind of ceremony is unworthy so they have let go of its legacy.”

Chairman of Indonesia Royal Palace Forum King of Badung Ida Tjokorda Ngurah Jambe Pemecutan said, “People from overseas often see Indonesia from one side. We have so much unexplored cultural heritage. We sit together to make the world see how colorful we are, yet we share the same concern; better lives for our leaders and our people.”

“The recent spree of natural disasters is the result of our collective wrongdoings. This very moment is the right time to look back and make promises not to repeat what we have done,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, the Cultural and Tourism Ministry’s director general of cultural values, art and film, Mukhlis Paeni stressed the importance of reviving traditional cultural events, not only as part of the newly launched Indonesia Visit Year 2008 program to lure tourists but also to safeguard the country’s cultural heritage.

“These kings and sultanates are guardians of our roots. We must encourage them to take active roles otherwise we will see more of our heritage claimed by other countries,” he said.