Red rose on white tomb: Greeting to another world That sees but says not—
Nyekar is one tradition that many Javanese still keep until today. Nyekarcomes from the word sekar that means flower. Nyekar is sprinkling flowers on to someone’s tomb as part of a prayer to the loved ones lying under the tomb.
Javanese pin a meaning to the word and activity of nyekar by relating it with the flowers’ fragrance, colours and shapes. The fragrance and beauty of the flowers sprinkled on to the tomb are sent as supplementary to the prayer whispered by those “visiting the dead”. At the same time it is to remind the living that it should be the good deed and memories of the dead to be cherished; bad memories and bad deed should be neutralised through forgiveness — not easy but doable.
Aside from flowers Javanese add boreh as part of the flowers sprinkled. Boreh literally means to spread or to smear cream or paste on to skin. Borehis mixture of ground dlingo (Acorus calamus L) and bengkle or bengle or bangle (Zingiber cassumunar). Dlingo has a keratabasa (acronym) of elingothat means to remember. Bengkle has a keratabasa of becikkelakuane that means good deed. In short, boreh is added to the flowers to emphasize the importance of remembering the good deed of the dead they visit.
What a beautiful visit is made to the dead by those Javanese who understand what they sprinkle on to the tomb of their loved ones.
So, no it is not just beautiful flowers or flowers arrangement; more than that, it is the beautiful meaning that Javanese pinned to the flowers.
Deaccelerate, Accelerate on the road. Life is not a race.
Fasting is a very familiar way of life to Javanese. Called pasa or poso, fasting in Javanese culture is always related to the effort to self align. Many Javanese like doing fasting with or without meditation (tapabrata or topobroto) depending on their commitment.
While Javanese Muslim do at least one month of fasting per year in Ramadhan, fasting in Javanese culture itself came even much earlier before Islam was introduced. While in Islam fasting is between dawn to dusk and the same restriction is commonly applied to all kinds of fasting, Javanese fasting is more varied both in term of period and restriction.
Fasting helps Javanese slow down the pace in their mind, regulate the speed of their ambitious behaviour upon life goals, train themselves to be patient.
There are several kinds of fasting in Javanese culture that are still practiced by relatively many nowadays.
1. Regular fasting This fasting is done only from dawn to dusk like the Islamic fasting. This is a common practice, many Javanese parents use this kind of fasting to train their children about how to manage their immediate excessive desires and concentration in under pressure situation. I remember when we were elementary and high schoolers, we were instructed by parents to do fasting on Monday and Thursday during yearly school testing weeks. Yes, I felt more focused on my study as I had to prioritise tasks to save energy. Brilliant!
2. Mutih Mutih is derived from the word putih (white in Javanese, Indonesian, Malay). During this fasting, a person is restricted to eat other than white rice and fresh water for 24 hours started either at dawn or dusk. Ordinary Javanese can do it for one day, three or seven. Yet more advanced (usually senior) Javanese would extend the period as per commitment.
3. Ngasrep or nganyep Ngasrep is derived from the word asrep that means cool or cold; while nganyep from the word anyep means tasteless. In this kind of fasting the food and drink should be all cool and tasteless. The person is suggested to eat only boiled vegetable without adding taste (salt, sugar, oil, sauces, etc) and drink fresh water. It is mostly done in three days.
3. Ngrowot Ngrowot is a word derived from the word krowot that means Javanese common carbo source except rice. The person who does this fasting will only eat carbo non rice like sweet potato, suwek (konjac), gembili, gembolo (English please….), taro, cassava and other tubers.
4. Ngebleng Ngebleng means staying in; so doing this, a person will do regular fasting but very limited food intake allowed without leaving room or house, not meeting anyone, just doing meditation or doing household chores without distraction from anyone. Someone can do it three and seven days and forty days. Not many are doing this as this is a challenging one: not easy to find a place. This fasting is quite heavy because it does not allow sufficient food intake for a long time.
5. Patigeni(pati: turned off, geni: fire) It literally means “fire turned off”. This is the highest level of Javanese fasting as the restriction applied really tests the person’s very high commitment: s/he is not allowed to eat, drink, sleep including fall asleep and see any light both artificial and natural. How long? The shortest is 24 hours, maximum unlimited. Note: if s/he sleeps or falls asleep, s/he has to restart the fasting.
There are other kinds of fasting in Javanese culture which were done by very limited people and have been left by many due to the impracticality such as pasangidang (from the word kidang or deer) in which a person is only allowed to eat raw foliage like a deer, pasangalong (from the word kalong or bat) only eating ripe fruit from the tree, pasakungkum (bathing up to chin level either in the pool, river or shallow sea) without eating or drinking, etc. There are probably other kinds of fasting as Javanese used to be very creative in “fasting engineering” hahaha….
Javanese believe that with fasting they will connect better to themselves and inevitably with the ultimate power of the universe. They will usually become confident people without showing off. Those fasting committed people —if doing it right and without evil intension— will be a highly spiritual people and voluntarily dedicated to environment and people.
Javanese believe that this type of people bring blessings to the surroundings although blessings are not always tangibly seen. The blessings can be as simple as peaceful daily life with little conflict,
Do we still have many of them? In very silent villages around Java island we might still find a few. They are traditional farmers who feel the need to connect with the ultimate power as only that can help them manage their humble farming that is now severely industrialised and exploited.
Clear sky, Beloved, Calm blue where clouds swim, birds fly Under the warm sun—
Javanese live their life with meaning and that makes them “effortlessly” survive even in the hardest time. They pin meaning to everything they experience. I believe Javanese are naturally philosophers whose communal humble life is richly loaded with wisdom; unfortunately fading away by the time.
Meanings easily recognised by most Javanese are those pinned to batik method and patterns. Historically batik patterns were works of art composed by either scholars from padepokan (ashram in Sanskrit) or the royals (king, queen, prince, princess or royal artists). In fact, there were few batik patterns created by commoners such as batik nitik and batik kawung. Kawung is one of the oldest original patterns of Javanese batik which has existed since 12th century. Nitik was born younger, approximately in 19th century.
Fun fact about Javanese king: aside from courses of political knowledge, leadership, palace management etc, long time before his coronation a Javanese crown prince must completely compose 3 works of art and publicly present them to the board of senior royals then announced the art pieces to people in the kingdom. Those three are batik pattern whose batik is handmade by him, tembang/kidung (sacred Javanese song) sung by him; and bedhaya dance trained to the dancers by him (a solemn Javanese dance performed by a group of dancers).
While batik nitik was initially created as secret codes by commoners to circulate among them classified information kept hidden from unjust aristocrats at that time or from the enemies (some historians said though this pattern was composed by the royals); kawung was allegedly created by a mother to dress her son who was instructed by the king to join his exclusive team due to his outstanding skill of espionage and balanced state of mind (again the historians said this pattern was composed by the royals). The said mother made a sheet of kawung pattern for him before he left as a prayer that her son could keep his current quality even after he later lived among (socially, politically, professionally) higher rank people.
Kawung is the Javanese word of sugar palm (kolang-kaling). The symmetrical four half chambers in a fruit are used to symbolise balanced state among physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual. The clear colour of the seed is borrowed to symbolise clarity: of conscious mind, of conscious decisions, of intension, of purpose and of actions.
People also relate the word kawung to suwung that can mean emptiness: in this matter suwung is more about self alignment, absence of sense-driven wanting. A person in this suwung state in positive interpretation means someone who is already free from his/her craving for worldly interests, s/he is able to calmly and consciously prioritise among physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual proportions with no doubt or confusion. S/he is in high level of awareness of a “perfect” human being.
In Java region that kind of person is not necessarily a saint or a priest or a bikhu(ni) or a nun; s/he might be a farmer, a batik maker, a herbal seller, a taxi driver, an employee, a housewife, a leader etc, just whoever is willing to self align through what they do everyday regardless their professions. Not a few of them were “bad” people hearing the inner calling, deciding to quit their wrong doings and living “new” life.
At younger age, I met more of that type around us in my hometown. Now fewer and fewer people are interested to achieve that level because life pace is now becoming faster with the “tsunami of information” and life needs are “forcing” people to be constantly in alert mode with the high competition to “survive certain life style”.
Not much I can do this time. I try to breath more slowly, pay attention on shift of emotions through body reaction (my body will never betray me) then acknowledge the emotion whatever it is. Time flies like a wind sometimes like a storm, I choose to ride it, not to get dragged by it. Not easy but doable.
How light this head is after ranting!
Fun fact about the honourable batik makers: - Once a batik maker pulls the “canting” filled with hot wax on a sheet of fabric, it will start developing lines or dots as the hot wax gets dry fast and block the fabric. That is why they work very carefully to avoid unplanned error. Correcting unplanned error is more tedious in batik making process compared to drawing the patterns with canting. Zero accident policy applies. - Batik making is a highly contemplative activity (almost) like meditation. That is what makes many of batik makers especially those senior and/or with high quality artisanal works have good self alignment. - Some batik makers don’t need to draw the planned pattern with pencil on the fabric. They are the highly skilled, the artist, the master of what they are doing. - It takes approximately 5 months to complete a piece of two sided hand-made batik of 210-250cm long. Those batik makers also do household chores in between their batik making activities as they mostly don’t earn good money. If you buy hand made batik, please give extra dollars to share some comfort. - Majority of batik makers are female. Very few of them are young.
Her life, Beloved, Perfectly-directed film Ready for Oscars—
She sometimes forgets that life is a performed script in which she is casted to act out a given role the best she can. She should follow the director’s direction and directive.
What about spectators? She should ignore spectators. Spectators are stars whose job is to see and comment on the film. And they pay for what they see and comment. The payment goes to the stars!
So, dear Star. Fix your moves. Better your expression. Tag your ears with the melody. Live in harmony, with your own self like JavaneseBedhaya performers who are meditatively drowned in the sacred composition.
Blissful, Beloved, Joyful, gleeful— life should be. Save the right window.
‘m praying that I’ll be saved from any danger and threats from any creature. Amen…
Nagasari or Nogosari is rice cake filled with ripe banana, one “snack” included in Javanese praying ceremony. This food symbolises prayer to God for safety and security from any danger and threats from any creature; and so a Javanese’s life can be blissful, joyful and gleeful.
August, Beloved Earth is thirsty and open. Second crop should come.
Pranata mangsa literally means season (mangsa) rules (pranata). It is a structured rules for farmers and fishermen in Javanese culture with which they make their plans in growing plants and harvesting the sea. This comprehension was also implemented in Sundanese (major ethnic group in West Java) and Balinese (major ethnic group in Bali). Some European ethnic groups did have this, too like Bauern calendar in Germany.
There are 12 mangsa (seasonal cycles) in Javanese pranata mangsa.
Kasa (Kartika) – Jun. 22 to Aug. 1
Karo (Poso) – Aug. 2-24
Katelu – Aug. 25 to Sep. 17
Kapat (Sitra) – Sep. 18 to Oct. 12
Kalima (Manggala) – Oct. 13 to Nov. 8
Kanem (Naya) – Nov. 9 to Dec. 21
Kapitu (Palguna) – Dec. 22 to Feb. 2
Kawolu (Wasika) – Feb. 3-28
Kasanga (Jita) – Mar. 1-25
Kasadasa (Srawana) – Mar. 26 to Apr. 18
Dhesta (Pradawana) – Apr. 19 to May 11
Sadha (Asuji) – May 12 to Jun. 21
The dates are adjusted every four years due to the 365 and 366 days in a year (leap year).
Javanese would grow certain seeds in each mangsa because in those particular mangsa the earth metabolism have specifically different characteristics suit certain plants to grow; and so, growing them will both maximise the crops and mitigate hazards to the soil.
And the Javanese fishermen would go to sea on certain mangsa and wouldn’t in the others or if they went, they knew which directions they would go as in certain parts of sea is in rage or the sea habitat isn’t ready to present crops to the men. Combined with the ethnoastronomy, the pranata mangsa was a powerful tool for Javanese fishermen in their golden era. No more though 🥴
Pranata mangsa was developed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of both the human beings and the environment. That’s confirmed and proven for ages!
However, this powerful pranata mangsa has been left if not forgotten by the owner. Instead the owner has started using the modern no-season farming and fishery where earth is raped and tortured to cater for the human being greed. The Javanese have betrayed both their own identity and the environment by leaving the pranata mangsa.
Do we really need so much? Or do we want so much?
Maybe it has come to a time to apologise to the earth goddess (called Batari Sri in Javanese, the one given authority by God to take care of soil) and the ocean god (called Batara Baruna in Javanese, the one given authority to take care of water)— they might have screamed for so long because of us, we who don’t care of the risks of harmful fertilisers and irresponsible sea harvesting both to us and to the earth.
Maybe it has come to a time to start healing them that are almost broken and exploding, and healing ourselves for having been greedy and selfish.
Too much love will kill
Who? None. Love will overflow,
Reviving the death.
Finally an agreement was achieved among some friends to start a project to support a few batik makers that we know and to spread knowledge about batik from unique perspectives. There will be video about batik, the batik artisan’s life and thin slices of Javanese wisdom. And so I have to restart the old hobby that has been dormant for how long only heaven knows.
Can’t wait to travel to dear home-base-will-be and produce slides and shows….
Hope it works well.
Friendship nurtures human beings in many ways possible.
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.