Acquired: during the Reign of Sultan Hamengku Buwana I
Type of Gamelan: common practice–modernized
There exists a legend about this much revered gamelan pusaka of the Kraton Yogyakarta which explains why K.K. Kancilbelik (“mouse deer in a pond”) was given its unusual name. When Sultan Hamengku Buwana I (known at that time as pangeran Mangkubumi) was still waging war with the Dutch prior to the establishment of Yogyakarta, his soldiers reported the presence of a mouse deer (kancil) on the southern slope of Mount Lawu. His Highness took a bow and arrow and shot the deer. The deer was hit above its right rear leg but, even though lame, still managed to run. It plunged into a small pond (belik) below a kapok tree, and when it emerged from the pool it was no longer lame and continued running. Mangkubumi sensed that this pond possessed the power to heal wounds and ordered his followers to broaden it for bathing. His men made the pond much wider, but before long they came across numerous bronze gamelan gongs and keys (without their casings) in the pond. Later, these gongs and keys were repaired and additional new ones were fabricated to make a complete set. Its new casings depicted a mouse deer plunging into a pond below a kapok tree with crows perched in its branches. In this legend, the found instruments are implied to be the source of the pond’s curative powers and thus possessed of supernatural energy. As if this association is not sufficient to make it an extraordinary entity, the ensemble’s connection to the First Sultan just prior to the founding of the Yogyakarta court certainly contributes to its mystique. Additionally, there exists a whole literature of didactic folktales about the kancil in which this creature plays the role of a trickster, so its presence in the legend surrounding K.K. Kancilbelik could potentially introduce further layers of meaning to a Javanese familiar with the kancil tales.
Legends aside, a few sources simply report that K.K. Kancilbelik was constructed in Surakarta prior to the founding of the Kraton Yogyakarta. If this dating is correct, the set would have been in the possession of Prince Mangkubumi during his rebellion against Pakubuwana III in the early 1750s. Therefore, it conceivably could have been the gamelan that the Dutch East Indies Company’s Governor Hartingh reported was brought by Mangkubumi to an important meeting in 1755 at which the details of the division of the Mataram Kingdom, and the founding of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, were worked out. K.K. Surak, a gamelan sléndro, is the other likely candidate, and we will probably never know with confidence which of these two extant gamelans were sounded at that meeting, or if both might have been present.
A close association has existed between these two pre-Yogyakarta common practice gamelans, even though there is no evidence to suggest they were constructed as a sléndro-pélog double gamelan or even made by the same craftsman. If we are to work with the shards of information about the musical life of the Kraton Yogyakarta during the reign of the First Sultan, these would be the only two common practice gamelans in the palace during the first forty years of the institution’s history. While I find this hard to believe, the reality that they are the only two common practice palace gamelans to have survived from this period goes a long way in explaining why they are reserved today for use in ceremonies that involve the nobility directly and that incorporate common practice gamelan repertoire. K.K. Kancilbelik appears never to have been used for the more public events into which K.K. Surak is known to have been incorporated. It has been only quite recently (early 2000s) that this pair of gamelans has been included in the five-year cycle of gamelan pairs used for Hadiluhung broadcasts that celebrate the sultan’s weton (birthdate in the 35-day Javanese calendrical cycle). During one of these five years they are set up in Bangsal Kasatriyan and used on a regular basis. Prior to this change, they would seldom be seen or heard by anyone other than participants in private royal family ceremonies.
Similar to K.K. Surak, K.K. Kancilbelik had instruments added to its pre-modern instrumentation in the 1920s, during the reign of the Eighth Sultan, to make its instrumentation fully modern. We do not know for sure what the instrumental makeup of K.K. Kancilbelik was in the middle of the 18th century, but if it already had the saron section of its pre-modern instrumentation–four saron demung and eight saron ricik; other loud-sounding metallophones in the set included a gambang gangsa and a slentho–then it was certainly capable of producing a great volume of sound when played in the soran (loud) style. It very likely did have such an instrumentation, because two of the other three palace gamelans that possess a comparable saron section (K.K. Guntursari and K.K. Surak) also date from the reign of the First Sultan (the third set is K.K. Panji, dating from the reign of the Sixth Sultan). The original instrumentation of K.K. Kancilbelik almost certainly included soft-sounding instruments (two gendèr barung, two gambang kayu, and a rebab), three sizes/registers of gong chime instruments (bonang panembung, barung, and penerus), phrase marking gongs (two gong ageng, one kempul, one kenong jaler, one kenong japan, and one kethuk), and drums (one kendhang gendhing, one kendhang ketipung) as well. During the reign of the Eighth Sultan, types of instruments that had by that time fallen out of favor, such as the gambang gangsa and the slentho, were put into storage. The latter instrument was replaced by the gendèr panembung, and other newly established instruments were added (two gendèr penerus and a clempung, and several each of gong siyem, kempul, and kenong jaler) to make this set’s instrumentation fully modern. New cases for this set were made at that time as well. A recording of K.K. Kancilbelik being performed with its full modern instrumentation is heard in Audio 1.
K.K. Kancilbelik is painted bright green (ijem nem) with gold highlight. On the front boards (tebungan) of the gendèr-type instruments the main decorative motifs are a deer half-submerged in water and the royal emblem (lambang) of the Eighth Sultan set off by a red background. Surrounding these motifs are through-cut representations of vegetation (lunglungan) that give the boards a three-dimensional appearance. On the casings of most of the other instruments of this set (the kenong, bonang, gambang, saron, and slentho), the lambang does not appear and the “deer-in-the-pond” motif is centered in a distinctive vegetation design that includes two facing crows with seeds in their beaks. This vegetation/crow design quite possibly originated in a carved wooden panel on display in the palace the origin of which no one that I asked seemed to know but all agreed must have served as the inspiration for the background carving on K.K. Kancilbelik. I have not noticed the bird/crow image elsewhere in the iconographic vocabulary of the palace proper except on other gamelans. However, I did spot bird-with-seed-in-beak representations on the walls of the nearby Taman Sari, the pleasure palace built by the First Sultan. There, given the function of that complex, it possibly symbolized the fecundity of the Sultan.
gong ageng (2)
gong siyem/suwukan (3)
kenong jaler (6)
kenong japan (1)
bonang penembung (1)
bonang barung (1)
bonang penerus (1)
saron demung (4)
saron ricik/barung (8)
gendèr penembung/slenthem (1)
gendèr barung (2)
gendèr penerus (2)
gambang gongsa/gangsa (1)
gambang kayu (2)
kendhang ageng/gendhing (1)
kendhang ketipung (1)
kendhang alit/batangan (1)
bendhé (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
bedhug (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
rebab (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
siter (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
kemanak (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
kecèr (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
keprak (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
tambur (general use instrument shared with other gamelans)
Audio and Video Clips:
Audio 1 [Gendhing Megamendhung minggah ladrang Susilomadya, pathetan Pélog Nem Jugag performed on K.K. Kancilbelik on September 15, 1982. This performance is in the soft style (lirehan) except between 20:42-21:50, when the instruments are performed in the loud style (soran).]