Honorifics and Names

The unique sonic and visual character of each palace gamelan and its integration into palace life is acknowledged by it being given a personal name preceded by the honorific “kangjeng kyahi” (from “ingkang panjenengan kyahi,” “the venerable one,” hereafter abbreviated “K.K.”). The honorific and name of a palace gamelan appear on the back side of its gong ageng in Javanese script.

gong inscribed with kangjeng kyahi nagawilaga
The inscription on the back side of this gong ageng reads “kangjeng kyahi nagawilaga” (“The Venerable Serpent of War”), the name of the palace heirloom gamelan sekati to which it belongs.

The names of palace gamelan sets incorporate Javanese and Old Javanese (Kawi) words. The translations of these palace gamelan names as presented here cannot possibly capture the often obscure, oblique, and invariably multiple connotations these names may evoke in the minds of individual Javanese. Most of the names will not make sense in their English translations, but this in large part is due to the strong possibility that they, in their original Javanese form, are thought of more in terms of how they sound rather than what they mean literally.

Three archaic gamelans attributed to the reign of the First Sultan (1755-1792) include the Kawi word ‘guntur‘ meaning, variably, ‘to fall’ (as leaves do from trees, or soldiers do in battle) or ‘thunder.’ Although neither definition works well with all of the other components to which it is attached in the names of the three sets to produce comprehensible translations–laut (sea), madu (honey), and sari (essence, beauty, flower)–it is perhaps again the archaic sound of the word and its association with a powerful natural phenomenon (thunder) or with bravery (falling in battle) that made it an appropriate choice for the names of ceremonial gamelans some two-hundred-fifty years ago. Further references to symbols of power and warfare are brought together in the names of other gamelans also dating from the reign of the First Sultan: naga (snake, dragon, elephant) and laga (war, battle) for the gamelan sekati K.K. Nagawilaga; maésa (water buffalo) and ganggang (separated combatants) for the gamelan kodhok ngorèk K.K. Maésaganggang; surak (a cry or shout of encouragement, or perhaps a battle cry) for the gamelan sléndro K.K. Surak, which was supposedly taken into battle by the First Sultan. Collectively, the names of the gamelan sets associated with the First Sultan suggest an emphasis on a martial lifestyle, and indeed the First Sultan is characterized as having been a great warrior. Even the one set from his reign that has no martial references in its name–the gamelan pélog K.K. Kancilbelik; kancil (mouse deer), belik (pond or pool)–actually is associated with his military exploits, but this connection will be explored later.

The names of several palace gamelans also include words found in the names and titles of members of the aristocracy. Madu (honey), harja (comfortable, prosperous), negara (kingdom), kusuma (flower, beautiful, aristocracy), puspa (flower), and nadi (river) are common components in the names given to the progeny of the sultans of Yogyakarta. The court-conferred names of the wives of sultans have an almost entirely separate vocabulary of components some of which are also found in the names of palace gamelans—sih (in love), sari (essence, beauty, flower), murti (body, entity), and mulya (noble). Daughters of sultans generally married the high-ranking men in the palace bureaucracy called bupati. These men, many themselves descendents of royalty (often one generation removed from a sultan, i.e., children of princes and princesses), carried rank titles such as tumenggungriya, and panji preceding their palace given names. A few gamelan sets that are or have been in the possession of the palace are named with these terms of rank.

The names bestowed upon palace gamelans draw heavily upon a circumscribed vocabulary of archaic Kawi and modern Javanese words that resonate certain cultural ideals valued by members of the Yogyanese aristocracy: refinement, beauty, power (especially military prowess), potency, sensuality, prosperity. Names given to palace gamelans also echo the court-conferred names of the nobility in whose lives these sets are implicated. Thus, gamelan names partake fully in a complex network of social and symbolic associations that are an integral facet of Javanese court life.