Their fluidity, complexity and even their inherent contradictions are waht makes them so fascinating and colourful. More than this, of course, many local Indonesian rites are extradinary dramatic spectacles and exceptional occasions in the life of the community. Some of them could even be said to rank among the more extraordinary ritual events to occurt at any time, anywhere. Central to the adat observances of most Indonesians is the ritual sacrifice and communal feast, in which ceremonial foods (generally including freshly salughtred meats) are offered up to the spirits and blessed, then publicly cosumed, in order to ensure teh well – being of the participants and strengthen the solidarity of the group.
The most common example of such a feast is the ordinary Javanese selamatan (literally: “safe guarding”), in which special foods are eaten (most commonly, a tumpeng or inverted cone of coloured rice accompanied by various meat deshes), incese is burned, Islamic prayers are intoned and formal announcements or requests are amde by the host.
A selamatan may be given at any time and for almost any reason – most commonly to celebrate a birth, a marriage, a circumcision or an anniversary; to commemorate a death; to initiate a new project or dedicate a new building; to dispel bad luck; or to invite good fortune.
More elaborate selamatan are held annually by the roayl courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta in Central Java. The kargest of these is known as Sekaten and coincides with the prophet Mohammed’s birthday. For a month before the appointed day, tens of thousands of Javanese throng to these cities to attend a carnival set up in the square before the palace. During the final week, two sacred royal gamelan sets are alternately played in the adjacent mosque, and villagers believed that listening to them can prolong one’s life, while small whips purchased here are said to have the power to fertilize cattle.
On the final day of Sekatan a long procession composed of elegantly dresed noblemen, court officials, palace guards, dancers and musicians accompany two impressive gunungan – mountains of rice and vegetables in the shape of lingga and yoni (representing the male and female reproductive organs) – from the palace to the moqsue. Here the gunungan are blessed through the rading of Konaric prayers, and the food is then distributed to the gathered masses, in what is essentially an ancient fertility rite copted by Islam.Peasants aet and deposit morsels of the gunungan in their fields, to ensure good health and harvests.
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