Parangtritis: Yogyakarta, Central Java

When my long time Javanese friend and driver, Surya, suggested we visit the beach, my first reaction was to wonder why. Considering all the cultural beauty that Yogyakarta possesses, I could not understand why a trip to the beach would be culturally enlightening – it was.

In the Bantul Regency, twenty-eight kilometres to the South of Yogyakarta, lies the peaceful idyllic village of Parangtritis. Rugged limestone cliffs overlook huge waves pounding the shoreline; the wide expanse of sand dunes merging into the black sandy beach. During the rainy season the beach is windswept at times; and during the dry season – very hot. Immensely popular, tourists and locals alike travel to Parangtritis not only for the sunbathing and swimming; but also for the fishing, and the tranquil setting ideal for meditation.

Delman – two wheeled horse drawn buggies – transport people to and fro along the vast expanse of sand; the horses aimlessly trudging as they go in the thickness of the black sand. The heat of the day can be refreshingly satiated with milk fresh from the green coconuts sold at the numerous palm-thatched pagodas.

Ageing Javanese women chatter amongst themselves in Bahasa Jawa not caring (or even looking!) as they slice the head off a coconut with one swish of a machete. Food stalls abound with tempting delights. Hotels and losmens catering for those wishing a longer stay are scattered throughout the village.

Parangtritis is steeped in Javanese mysticism and culture. It is believed there is a south axis connecting Gunung Merapi, the Kraton and Parangtritis Beach. According to legend, the Queen of the South Seas – Kanjeng Ratu Kidul together with her confident Nyai Loro Kidul reign over the Southern seas and all within it. It is said, that, any person wearing clothing coloured green will be lured into the sea by the Queen and to their fate – a superstition firmly entrenched in the minds of all Javanese; even as far North as Jakarta.

It is the legend of Parangtritis that entrances all who listen – according to the legend, Kanjeng Ratu Kidul was at one time wed to Panembahan Senopati a ruler of the mighty Mataram kingdom and enjoyed his company on occasions. The Western section of Parangtritis beach – Parangkusumo beach – is believed to have been the meeting place between the two mighty rulers; that of the sea and of the land. It is also at Parangkusumo beach where the ceremony of ‘Labuhan’ is performed coinciding with the inaugural commemoration of Sri Sultan Haamengku Buwono X. Each year, on the 30th day of the Javanese month of ‘Rejeb’, offerings are given to Kanjeng Ratu Kidul. These offerings, in the ceremony of Labuhan, consist of fingernail cuttings and hair of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, food and clothing – all cast into the sea in the hope that the Sultan and the people of Yogyakarta will have continuous peace and prosperity. The same ceremony is held on top of Gunung Merapi and Lawu.

It is also at Parangkusumo beach, according to legend, volcanic activity occurred. This resulted in a formation of rocks supposedly where the Sultan of Yogyakarta and Kajeng Ratu Kidul met to discuss the well-being of the people of Yogyakarta – and of their love for each other. Upon this formation of rock was built a small rest house. On two special nights – Friday and Tuesday Kliwon according to the Javanese calendar – people come from all over to meditate in the spiritual ambience. Most nights, people can be found meditating at this small rest place – a place of peace and harmony with the sea and land.

A mineral hot spring, named Parang Wedang, with continuous flowing water attracts visitors who bathe there because it is believed to have healing properties for skin ailments – although not in need of it, I found the water to be soothing and pleasant. Small change rooms or lidos are available for those wishing to bathe in private.The pool, as I was told, was found by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono VII. He found it his duty to care for the pool. Many locals believe the place to be a sacred site – many meditate there and congregate to discuss matters of importance affecting their village.

Further down the beach to the east there is Langse Cave; another place of meditation. Although not for the feint-hearted, the cave itself is only accessible by bamboo ladders and rattan ropes making the sojourn to spiritual serenity almost like a rite of passage. Once down at the opening, the mouth of the cave lies bare to the Indian Ocean. It is understandable that the cave is a place of spiritual perfection; a connection of oneself with the Queen of the South Seas.

Surya, my driver suggested a better view. “ Of what ? “ I asked, knowing that nothing could be more beautiful; or even delightful. After haphazard scrambling upwards from the cave, I was soon in the safety of the car. It wasn’t until we arrived a short while later, the light fading as the day came to an end, did I realise just how beautiful Parangtritis really is. The lookout – called Gambirowati Plateau – is a limestone hill, pancake flat on top with a few dried palm covered pagodas high above Parangtritis, and easily accessible by a narrow dirt track; however during the rainy season; quite hazardous. From the lookout, it is an endless horizon of beauty.

I gazed at the sun disappearing into the Indian Ocean, the lights of the village flickering below. I thought of Nyai Loro Kidul. Perhaps because of the green coconuts I had drunk from earlier, the green shirt I was wearing, or the green car that was my transport to Yogyakarta.