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Myths and Mysticism Surrounding Merapi: Central Java, Indonesia

Myths and Mysticism Surrounding Merapi: Central Java, Indonesia
Sri Wahyuni

Discussion on Mt. Merapi volcano, expected imminently to erupt, would be considered incomplete unless it included the myths and mysticism that surround it. Sri Wahyuni wrote an excellent article on the subject.

Reaching magnificently up to the sky on the border between Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces, the 2,968-meter volcano is believed, by the traditional Javanese communities that live in its vicinity, to be a sacred place.
Some think that the volcano is the kingdom of spirits; while visiting Merapi, people are advised not to do things that could anger the spirits, such as relieving oneself wherever one might wish.

Others believe that the volcano is guarded by spirits, whose names vary from one region to another. On the northern slopes of Merapi, for example, Mbah Petruk is the guardian. In the south, the guardian spirit is Kyai Sapujagad, who was believed to have been sent by Panembahan Senopati to guard Merapi.

Panembahan Senopati was the founder and first king of the Mataram Kingdom, which ruled Yogyakarta from the 16th century.

Other spirits are believed to live in or guard the volcano. These include Nyai Kendit and Dewi Gadung Melati. The rituals for worshiping Merapi or the spirits, therefore, also vary from one place to another. In Selo, Boyolali, Central Java, for example, villagers hold the Sega Gunung ritual to worship Mbah Petruk.

Others do so through ordinary tumpengan rituals, during which ceremonial dishes of tumpeng (cone-shaped yellow rice), are presented and served.

tumpeng_P20.jpg
A huge crowd of people participate in a tumpengan ritual on the slopes of Mt. Merapi at Kaliurang, Sleman regency. During the ritual, participants worship Mbah Petruk, a divine spirit believed to be a guardian of Merapi. (Slamet Susanto)

Merapi is also often personified as a living figure that can interact well with the surrounding communities and environment according to the way human beings behave. If people treat the volcano well it will be friendly to them: The reverse is also true.

“Merapi is kind. Locals treat it well, while visitors often do bad things at Merapi,” said the volcano’s spiritual gatekeeper Mbah Marijan.

When it comes to talk of Merapi, 79-year old Marijan, who has been the gatekeeper for over 40 years, can be considered part of the Merapi mythology.

Believed to be one who knows much about the volcano, Marijan has, for a long time, been an unofficial leader, not just of villagers from Kinahrejo hamlet, Umbulharjo village, where he lives, but also for residents of Cangkringan subdistrict, Sleman.

As such, people follow what he says, including his recent decision not to leave his abode, although local authorities have warned the public to do so due to increased activity at Merapi. When he installed a contraption made of coconut palm leaves at his house to ward off misfortune, villagers in his area followed suit.

A number of taboos also surround Merapi. One includes a prohibition on mentioning the volcano by name. Locals believe that to do so could bring them bad luck. When referring to Mt. Merapi they therefore prefer to use the words
Si Mbah” instead. Si Mbah means “elderly person” or “respected figure”, used for the volcano as an expression of respect.

Villagers in Turgo, which is only a few kilometers away from the summit, similarly, believe that holding a wedding ceremony on the eve of Kliwon (Tuesday) in the Javanese calendar will bring them bad luck.

Many also consider it taboo to use the word “eruption” to describe the volcanic activities of Merapi. Instead, they prefer to say that Si Mbah is having a ceremonial feast if an eruption occurs. They believe that when it expels hot lava, Merapi is really sending golden carriages to the South Sea, the kingdom of Nyai Ratu Kidul (Queen of the South Sea), for the feast.

A myth exists, especially among more traditional Yogyakartans, that an imaginary line runs between Mt. Merapi to the north, Yogyakarta Palace in the center and the South Sea to the south.

“It symbolizes fertility. It’s a bit like yin and yang or lingga and yoni,” cultural commentator Yuwono Sri Wasito of Yogyakarta Cultural Council once said.

In this instance, Yuwono said, Merapi symbolized the male world while the South Sea symbolized the female.
Such opinion matches the local belief that Merapi eruptions symbolize sexual intercourse between Panembahan Senopati and Ratu Kidul, and will in turn bring wealth to the people.

“Many of us here still believe that,” Mimin Dwi Hartono, who hails from Kaliurang Barat, only a few kilometers away from the peak of Merapi, told The Post.

Other taboos include pointing directly at Mt. Merapi with one’s fingers and wearing light green clothes while climbing the volcano. To do so is believed to bring bad luck to perpetrators.

According to Javanese culture expert Suryanto Sastroatmodjo, in Javanese culture a volcano occupies an important position. It is also referred to as the Sang Hyang Dahana Giri, a representation of the possessor of the universe, God the Almighty.

“So, when you have to deal with it (the volcano), the most important thing that you should do is pray to God for protection,” Suryanto convinced.

Offerings like tumpeng or jajan pasar (traditional snacks), says Suryanto, are just accessories. No one can really say if a particular ritual is appropriate or not.

“Even if you have nothing to offer, that’s OK. Your total submission to God is the most important thing,” he said.

Therefore, Suryanto adds, the living myths and rituals can also be seen as a way of preserving a natural balance at the volcano.

Sri Wahyuni

Sumber: http://www.planetmole.org/daily/myths-and-mysticism-surrounding-merapi-central-java-indonesia.html


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