Javanese New Year

by AFP, Feb 6, 2007 | Destinations: Indonesia

Jakarta, Jan 20, 2007 - No different than many other cultures, new year's day in Javanese culture is marked with the cleansing of the spirit and starting of the coming year with fresh attitude and hope.

In the past 12 months, Indonesia had been hit by many disasters, natural and man-made, including a mud volcano that caused thousands of people to leave their homes in East Java in May.

A tsunami that hit Java in July claimed 628 lives, while many problems remain unsolved from the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 168,000 people in Aceh in December 2004, such as the prolonged rebuilding of destroyed houses.

The long list of disasters goes on, including recent transportation incidents, with an airliner with 102 people on board missing on January 1, and a ferry carrying about 600 people sinking in the Java sea in December.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his speech for the Islamic new year in Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta called on people to "be patient, strong and keep working. I am sure with Allah's will, however hard the problems we face, we will be able to go through it."

The Javanese calendar coincides with the Islamic year.

The ethnic Javanese make up roughly about 40 percent of the Indonesian population of 220 million people.

Yudhoyono, himself a Javanese, reminded people to remain united while facing difficult problems.

"Keep praying so this country can be safe from disasters and other dangers even though some of them are beyond (our power)," he said.

In Javanese culture, a streak of bad luck calls for a ceremony called "ruwatan", or the cleansing of bad luck.

"Ruwatan is a kind of exorcism rites, anyone or place that is unlucky should perform it to rid them from 'the curse of time'," Javanese ritual master Kasidi Hadiprayitno told AFP, while getting ready for the ceremony.

According to the Javanese tradition, Bathara Kala, a giant god of time, feed on unlucky people or "sukerta".

In the main ritual of the ruwatan ceremony, a wayang puppet performance plays the story of Murwakala, telling the story of the giant god's return to purity and goodness.

The ceremony was often performed during the presidency of Suharto, who is believed to be a loyal follower of Javanese traditions.

"Now the country's condition is like this, does the leader wants to take that route?" said Hadiprayitno, indicating that the time is prime for Indonesia to undergo the cleansing ceremony.

Dini, 11, and Luthfi, 9, dressed in white, kissed their parent's hands as part of the procession before the parents hand them over to the ceremony master or "dalang" to be cleansed.

"They are Kendini-Kendono, or two siblings, the eldest a girl and a boy," Haniyah Supardi, 40, the children's mother told AFP.

"This means they need to be cleansed, so they are free from any bad luck," she said.

"In the initiation ceremony, after the dalang cuts their hair, they will be bathed with water from seven springs," explained Hadiprayitno, whose father, a prominent dalang, lead the ruwatan ceremony.

In the ceremony, a smorgasbord of offerings will be blessed and then thrown into the sea along with the sukerta's clothing worn in the ceremony and locks of their hair, symbolising the riddance of bad influence.

A range of poultry, pairs of male and female chickens, ducks, and birds and various shapes of rice, are among the offering.

"We hope the 'unseen' accept our offer, it will be a problem if they don't," said Hadiprayitno.


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