Kala Sunda: West Java

The heartland of the Sudanese people is located on the interior plateau of West Java called Priangan. They have a distinct culture and one that is non-Javanese. Their language derives from the Hindu kingdoms of the 8th to the 16th centuries and the peoples are rich in tradition.

The Sudanese calendar is complex and the celebration of their new year according to the Kala Sunda is spectacular to witness as Yuli Tri Suwarni explains from Bandung:

Kala Sunda, five centuries later

The sounds of Sundanese kecapi (zithers) and flutes reverberated across the hall of West Java Regional Council on Jl. Diponegoro, Bandung, West Java, in late December. Six Sundanese women belted out traditional Sundanese songs.

There was no dress code for the occasion, with around 200 guests arriving in traditional dress and modern attire, many of them even in t-shirts and jeans. All of the guests were celebrating their new year, but it was not the Christian calendar’s New Year, which was still three days away.

“We’re observing the new year of Kala Sunda (the Sundanese calendar),” said Roza R. Mintaredja, chairperson of the commemoration committee.

The Sundanese new year, according to Roza, has been celebrated since 2005. The turn of the year this time enters 1943, based on the calculation of Kala Sunda. Ali Sastramidjaja, a Sundanese culture enthusiast born in Bandung on Oct. 27, 1935, originally initiated the discourse on Kala Sunda.

Nearly all the Sundanese in West Java believe in lucky and evil days for certain festivals or jobs but they still use the Javanese calendar as the basis of calculation. For the government system the universal Christian calendar is applied, while Sundanese Muslims also follow the Islamic Hijriah calendar for their fasting rituals and post-fasting celebrations.

Delving into Sundanese culture since his youth, Ali first attempted to be break the community’s dependence on established systems. His concern over the reluctance of most Sundanese to explore their own history motivated the grandfather of many grandchildren — and who has always been unwilling to name their number — to dig deeper into the long hidden calendar.

As a starting point for the search for Kala Sunda, he used the 20th century AD Sundanese calendar notes of his grandfather from Sukabumi, West Java, written around the 1950s. “The Sundanese calendar notes I inherited from my grandfather were the initial material for my inquiry into Kala Sunda,” Ali said.

Kala Sunda, Ali says, has not been used by the Sundanese ethnic group for five centuries. He believes the Sundanese calendar is the most accurate system in the world, better than the Christian calendar validated by the United Nations in 1956, the Hijriah calendar offered by the Arabs and the Pranata Mangsa (season-based astrology) that is the esteemed heritage of the Javanese.

Ali’s self-funded search began in 1983 with the aid of computers. In the history of Sunda, only one inscription uses the Sundanese calendar, which is the Citatah Inscription in Cibadak, Sukabumi, better known as Sanghyang Tapak of the 11th century AD.

He strived to find the formulas for reestablishing the Sundanese system with its two calculation standards: the Surya (solar) year and the Candra (lunar) year. It was a complicated procedure, with his computers regularly failing.

“Nine computers have broken down after being operated for days at a stretch,” said Ali, the technical school graduate who completed a computer course in Japan in the 1970s.

In his search, Ali surfed web sites and perused books on Christian, Islamic, Javanese and also Indian calendars for comparison. Only in 1991 did Ali discover the formulas needed to decipher Kala Sunda, which contains solar and lunar systems. In this calendar, there is the short year with 365 days for Surya and 354 days for Candra, besides the long year comprising 366 days (Surya) and 355 days (Candra).

The solar year has three short years, with a long one in the fourth. But the number of days each year is always divisible by 128. The end of the Surya year is marked by the sun’s position in the southernmost point of the hemisphere. Its calendar days start from 1 to 15 and another 1 to 15. The first 15 days is marked by the change from a half moon to full moon, and the second from a full moon to half moon.

Unlike the Christian calendar, with one leap year in every four years, Kala Sunda’s Candra year has one leap year in every 4,200 years and Surya year one in every 460,000 years. With such complexity, the Sundanese calendar printed for public use carries an instruction on the practical applications of Ali’s findings. There are for instance good days for fishing or crop planting, as well as best moments for meetings, parties, trips or moves.

Once Ali had his Kala Sunda work examined by an astronomer from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

“After scrutinizing the calendar, Pak Moedji Raharto, the astronomer, said Kala Sunda was 138 times as accurate as the Christian system,” revealed Roza. With his discovery considered complete, Ali secured a patent for the new calendar formulas in 1991.

Sadly, it took a long time for him to get public support for the newly unraveled calendar. Even regional authorities only saw it as an ordinary cultural treasure to be preserved. It was a group of Sundanese cultural observers affiliated with Candra Sengkala Foundation that promoted Kala Sunda. As head of the foundation, Roza managed to convince Bandung Mayor Dada Rosada to publish the calendar.

“We launched the first edition at the official residence of the mayor only on January 18, 2005,” said Roza. In order to boost the Sundanese ethic group’s confidence in their own calendar, Ali smartly included a map of Sunda’s jurisdiction as illustrated by a Greek philosopher and mathematician Ptolemy in 150 AD. “The map only names the region Greater Sunda Islands and Lesser Sunda Islands, vastly extending as far as Madagascar,” Ali indicated.

He also included a wonderful picture to enhance the “prestige” of the Sundanese: the largest megalithic site of archeology in Cianjur, West Java, estimated to date back to 60,000 BC or as early as the period of Atlantis, the lost continent. The appealing illustrations were meant to arouse ethnic pride among Sundanese people and thus make it easier for them to accept Kala Sunda.

After two celebrations in Bandung’s municipal facilities, support for Kala Sunda was gained from the provincial administration, which this time accommodated the observance of Sundanese new year in the West Java government’s building. Despite the three events, however, Kala Sunda has remained limited in its spread. With small donations from the provincial culture and tourism office and individuals, only 1,000 copies have been published.

Ali is obsessed by a desire to change the dates of various Sundanese historical relics and records into those based on Kala Sunda. However, the path to this end may be as difficult as his quest for Kala Sunda itself. A lot of Sundanese people have forgotten the calculations for lucky and ominous days.

Dodi Romadhani, 32, an indigenous Sundanese, said he didn’t any of the superstitions. When he chose March 7, 2004, for wedding with a Sundanese girl from Bandung, he did not use Kala Sunda.

“All days are good for me. If I pick a certain day for my business or travel, my consideration is pragmatic rather than magic,” remarked Dodi, laughing.

Millions of other Sundanese people in West Java may also ignore their own calendar. It means another tough job for Ali to convince them that Kala Sunda is not merely a part of history. It will take more than nine years, the period in which Ali unveiled the mystery of this ancestral treasure.

Yuli Tri Suwarni, Bandung