Life’s flame, Beloved
Gaseous, burning, glowing.
Choose your own spectrum.
What is urip iku urup? It is literally “life is flame”.
Most Javanese describe “urip iku urup” as “your life should be beneficial and/or helpful for others” like flame coming out from fire giving surrounding the light, saving others from the dark. Always do good things. Help others. Don’t make a noise. Don’t disturb others. Those are very normal advices coming from the Javanese elders. Not bad, but to me it is a jumbo burden to always being good and being nice and saying yes and not complaining when life is sometimes tough and forcefully dredging out negativity from the very gut.
I though highly respect this urip iku urup through my own interpretation: “life should be full of passion”. Only those with passion, zeal, enthusiasm, energy, commitment, excitement, fondness, zest, keeness, avidity, gusto, glee, joy can bring the most benefits of what they do towards others. Not so much different from what normal Javanese interpret, just that I prefer seeing things from how life radiates from within self rather than how it is measured through others’ benefitting my life. Simply put: I’ll do super best; if you get the benefit, that’s good for you. If not, tell me and I’ll make it better.
If you choose to be a teacher, be the best version of teacher you are. If you want to be a researcher, be the best version of researcher you are. If you decide to be no one, be the best no one in the world! There is a spirit of learning from the scratch and striving for perfection. And there is a sense of originality.
Flame has different colours, depending on the heat and intensity of the fire. Many think red flame is the scariest perhaps because it is the one bellowing in rage, eating up property in fire. However, it is the most external part yet actually of the the lowest temperature. It is the tongue, not the voice. The blue represents the hottest flame — it is the gas burning, the higher temperature, the innner most, the closest to the core. It’ll cook things faster but quiter! It is the vocal cord, not the voice.
In life people should choose what flame they want to represent in life. It is whether they want to stand out and be the red, symbolising the intensity of the whole fire! Or, they want to be outstanding as the blue and not arguably be the hottest support to the reds around. Both are ok. Just remember not to extinguish each other, Red and Blue. People need to choose their own roles in community. Some people are good at performing at the stage. Some are good at executing. Some are good at initiating changes and pushing from the back of the course. Some might be good at all but I doubt one person can be good at three perfectly at teh same course. If one thinks so, one will either overkill the people around one or kill one’s self.
Within self, red and blue is about act of maturity or choice of expression in many different occasions to face different situations with different people. How people process their experience and mold the wisdom within is a hidden flame. Let them do. Their timing is theirs, not yours. Sometimes they want to show their red, the other time they show their blue.
Flame is alive inside and outside! Be a flame while we live! You’re the voice!
If you listen to this song, you’ll see that urip iku urup -the so called Javanese local wisdom- can be found everywhere. Local wisdom is never local, it is universal value expressed differently by many in different places.
Note about the writing and the song: don’t bother, it is my interpretation 😊
I’ve been told to pray for the ancestors, overall those in the family tree who have been deceased. We will trace back from my late father to his parents to his parents’ parents, up above to the very first regardless traceable or not and trace back from my mother’s parents to her parents’ parents, up above to the very first regardless traceable or not.
In old Javanese tradition people will do the prayer for ancestors in a simple yet sacred ritual – while some people will go to the graveyard or monument to do it, many are doing it at home. No altar, put thing on your table and pray.
However, four components shall be thoughtfully prepared: the day, the prayer, the food, drink, and (sometimes) cigarettes, and the flowers. Each of those has meaning.
As a reminder, here is the meaning. Please don’t quote me as my knowledge is the result of my personal contemplation mixed with very limited knowledge that I read and hear from many sources.
Chosen Days All days are good, all time is precious. We are the one giving them meaning by putting some more attention and creating the moment on particular days. So choosing the day is a decision to give meaning to particular time so that it becomes a beautiful moment that boost our mood to connect with our beloved and respected members “above”. The day you are born must be your favourite day.
People will do it at night; many choose to do it at Thursday night before Friday morning breaks, others choose to do it on the day they are born (Sunday to Saturday combined with one of the Javanese 5 days. which is Paing, Pon, Wage, Kliwon and Legi — so if you combine, it can be Thursday Kliwon, Tuesday Legi, etc which are astrologically calculated in a very complicated system. Don’t ask me further about Javanese astrology – I’m zero!
By the way, people traditionally do the ritual ancestor prayer once in 35-40 days or on special dates/occasions but nowadays most people do it twice in a year: around Ramadan and in Javanese new year (lunar calendar). Me? Don’t ask…. 😂
Prayers To me chanted prayer is a set of (poetic and romantic) line to synchronise the emotions through all senses with the inner self by focusing on what are uttered or sung. Chanted prayer improves concentration. It helps achieve the oneness within self. So, make sure you understand what you are saying in the prayer. Otherwise, you become a talking parrot.
In Javanese old tradition people recite some “tembang” the Javanese songs which reflect wishes and philosophical thought. Young Javanese used to be taught how to sing those songs in elementary school but now that lesson has gone from the formal education and replaced by popular music lesson as a result of modern culture massively affecting and marginalising the local potential.
While Dhandhanggula verses are commonly chosen to be sung softly by those who are good enough to be heard by the wind and human beings — oh please excuse my out of tune; other Javanese songs (Mocopat) can be the alternatives. People can only use the tembang’s tones or tones and verses. There is no rigid rule for that.
Some others will use Quranic verses containing universal prayers — Javanese culture has been merged and amalgamated with many different religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and strongly with Islam) and so Quranic verses are inserted or substituting some items in the culture. Many will choose QS Yaasiin allegedly the “heart of Quran” or QS Arrahman that contains a lot of heavenly joy to reflect our prayers that all ancestors’ souls are living in heaven. Many people also use QS Alfatihah allegedly the “mother of the Book” or the “mother of Quran” which is much shorter than the other two.
Why Quran is used in many aspects of Javanese? There is a lot of synchronicity between Javanese thinking tradition (Kejawen) with the Islam spirituality (Sufi) and that has developed mutual functionality between those traditions.
If you live in Java island especially central to eastern part of the island for just a while (one week maybe), ou will shift understanding about the Islam which you might have perceived as a rigid teaching originated from Arab land. Islam in Java is different at an almost extreme level of characteristics from Arabian culture. No, no I don’t hate Arab or the “Arabian Islam”, I just don’t want people to wrongly think that all muslims are rigid and narrow minded just by some wrongly-defined teaching or hatred-based perception made by some irresponsible Orientalists. Please don’t judge my language. I don’t mean anything but “Islam isn’t like what you think it is, You should travel more to know more.” Ok, I rest my case.
The other group will just say nothing at all, their prayers are uttered silently in the secret language that can only be understood by those praying.
What do we pray for? We pray for the joy of ancestors’ soul — I myself like to whisper in English “Dear beloved and respected Ancestors, may you be living peacefully in the heart of green birds in heaven. May you be blessed with good sight of seeing us remembering and praying for you. May you be greeting us too when we realise that we exist after and through you.” Then we pray for our own selves — whatever good prayer we want to chant. What is good prayer? My goodness, any prayer for your happiness and success! 😊
Preparation of Drink and Food If you know ancestors’ favourite drink and food, prepare them. If not, take your most favourite and remember to always prepare the best ones.
I never know what my ancestors’ favourite food but I know my father loved “kue lapis” – that with layers of coloured rice cake. So kue lapis is always there accompanied by others.
And the beverage is always kopi tubruk and teh tubruk because those two types are the favourite of all in Javanese tradition. Kopi tubruk is plain brewed ground coffee – we don’t filter it, no strainer no no, some people let the coffee powder settle at the bottom of the cup but some will drink the black black coffee with some coffee paste in it, and don’t forget sugar! Teh tubruk is the other one: you just throw dried tea leaves into a cup, pour boiled water, let the leaves drown down, then sip it up with or no sugar!
Cigarettes? I am sorry, dear Ancestors. Smoking isn’t healthy as cigarettes nowadays are made of those hazardous chemicals that will harm your health. So, please excuse this decision. 😁
Flowers What flowers are used? The key is always “what’s you ancestors’ favourite?” As I am not sure what my ancestors’ favourite flowers, I just refer to what flowers are commonly used in the tradition. Jasmine, rose, ylangylang and magnolia alba are the ones. As I could only find rose then rose it is! I plan to use sunflower, lily or orchid next time as they re my fave!
Why flower? Flower is always associated with fragrance. Fragrance symbolises the good deeds that were dedicated by our ancestors in their life time that will be eternally carved as a sacred key to connect with their bloodline. It also symbolises our good deeds to connect with ancestors. Only when we do our good deed and preserve ancestors’ good deeds, will we connect strongly with the powerful blessings from ancestors.
Being a modern human being should not stop me from remembering that I can only exist with “the good heart and help” of those up above the branches and trunk in a family tree. Hey, we might be a part of a giant family tree – Homo Sapiens whose ancestors are the same. So, next time I’ll probably pray for everyone’s ancestors.