Sabokingking Royal Tomb: Palembang, South Sumatra

Cool air and an atmosphere of bygone times greets one upon entering the tomb of Sabokingking in the subdistrict of 3 Ilir, Ilir Timur district, in Palembang, South Sumatra.

Located on Jl. Sabokingking, the monument is easy to reach by public transportation, just after Jl. Ratu Sianum in the subdistrict.

The historic site is familiar to everyone in Palembang and its surrounding areas. The tomb of Palembang’s kings is frequented by pilgrims of various backgrounds — and for different purposes. They come not only from this South Sumatran capital, but also from other regions like Jambi and Lampung, even Java.

The holy site is usually teeming with visitors on important days such as Islamic New Year, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (Maulid), the days approaching the fasting month of Ramadhan and the haj pilgrimage season.

However, Sabokingking has lately become the talk of the city following the recent discovery of ancient stones by construction workers renovating the site.

Some pilgrims visit the royal cemetery to seek good fortune and career promotions while others want to secure lucky numbers to win lotteries.

“I’ve come here for the first time. My friends say the numbers they get here frequently win,” Irwan, 28, who lives in Kertapati, Palembang, told said.

Believe it or not, those with wishes like Irwan’s are required to bring along some offerings like sugar, coffee and cigarettes.
According to Zainuri, a younger brother of tomb caretaker Madinah Yahya, such wishes are not allowed, but he has no way of preventing them. He once had a strange experience when accompanying someone who sought lottery numbers.

“I got ill for a week after guiding a visitor who asked for numbers for an illegal lottery,” Zainuri said.

Ernawati from Kayu Agung of Ogan Komering Ilir regency, South Sumatra, visits the tomb in order to keep her husband’s pledge to pay tribute for the success of his business — and also to ask that his absence be excused.

“It’s quite a long way and an exhausting trip, but we are afraid of facing balak (misfortune) and kualat (divine retribution) if the vow is not kept,” said the mother of two.

The Sabokingking complex has 41 graves belonging to the royal family, community leaders and ulemas of Palembang, who contributed greatly to the development of Islam in South Sumatra and Indonesia.

Entering the compound, visitors will first find a grave covered with red and green fabric, where royal commander Ki Bagus Abdurrahman rests, followed by the burial place of court dignitary Kiagus Bodrowongso.

Situated at the highest position are three neatly arranged graves sharing the same curtain and green carpet. On the left is revered king Raden Sinuhun, with prince Sido Ing Kenayan in the middle and ulema Tuan Syech Guru on the right. Pilgrims generally pay homage in front of the three besides Bagus Abdurrahman.

Madinah Yahya, 74, the custodian of Sabokingking, said the tomb had existed since 1622. It used to be called Istana Sobo, meaning a gathering place for kings and religious figures. Apart from those buried in the tomb, other leaders who met often at the location were Ki Gede Ing Suro, Kimas Adipati and Prince Sido Ing Lautan.

“Sabokingking was the place where ulemas and royal dignitaries conferred to deal with various issues, particularly religious affairs,” said Yahya, a ninth-generation tomb caretaker with 36 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He explained that a custodian had to be related by blood to their predecessor and well versed in the biographies of local figures.,

“It’s important to guarantee the truth of those accounts narrated to the public. Without such knowledge, it is impossible to perform the job,” said Yahya, who has taken care of the tomb since 1998.

In addition to pilgrimages, Sabokingking is also a place for historical studies by undergraduate students preparing their theses.

In general, this historical site is in poor condition. The relics in the tomb are no longer in proper order, and most of the graves are not well maintained.

To preserve this invaluable heritage of culture and history, Palembang Mayor Edy Santana Putra has planned to channel funds for the tomb’s repair.

Khairul Saleh