K.K. Maésaganggang

Acquired: during the Reign of Sultan Hamengku Buwana I
Type of Gamelan: archaic–kodhok ngorèk
Tuning: three tone, and sléndro

The gamelan kodhok ngorèk of the Kraton Yogyakarta, K.K. Maésaganggang.

In the Wédha Pradangga, a compilation of orally-transmitted stories about the history of the gamelan and its repertoire, Warsadiningrat credits Prabu Surya Wisésa with creating the first gamelan kodhok ngorèk in 1223 CE.[1] Kraton Yogyakarta manuscripts and publications place the origins of the palace’s pusaka gamelan kodhok ngorèk, K.K. Maésaganggang (“fighting buffalo”), at about the same time, in the 14th century Majapahit Kingdom of East Java. While the veracity of these beliefs is unprovable, it is important nonetheless to be aware of them as part of the baggage and gravitas of this gamelan in the context of the Kraton Yogyakarta. This gamelan’s association with the Majapahit kingdom serves to situate the present day kraton in the long history of Javanese kingship, and to validate the kraton as a royal institution.

Warsadiningrat implies that the gamelan kodhok ngorèk of the Kraton Surakarta, Kyai Jati Ngarang, was a descendent of Prabu Surya Wisésa’s creation at least in type.[2] It was probably parts of this gamelan that came to the newly established Kraton Yogyakarta in 1755 CE as a result of the Treaty of Giyanti. This agreement between warring factions at the time involved the sharing of royal heirlooms between the Surakarta kingdom and its new equal, the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. The Surakarta gamelan kodhok ngorèk Kyai Jati Ngarang was one of these heirlooms, and it has been chronicled that half of its instruments were allotted to Yogyakarta. By 1757 CE these instruments had been augmented to become a complete gamelan kodhok ngorèk and given the name K.K. Maésaganggang (this set is also referred to as K.K. Keboganggang; “maésa” and “kebo” both mean “buffalo”). I have yet to encounter an inventory that lists exactly which of the instruments from Kyai Jati Ngarang came to Yogyakarta, and which of the instruments in K.K. Maésaganggang were mid-18th century additions. To members of the Kraton Yogyakarta, I sense it does not matter that such details have been lost to history. The bottom line is that to the members of this community this gamelan, along with a few others that came to Yogyakarta as part of the Treaty of Giyanti (see K.K. Gunturlaut and K.K. Gunturmadu), contributes significantly to how they situate the Kraton Yogyakarta in the centuries-old tradition of Javanese kingship.

It should not come as a surprise that in order to effectively index antiquity this gamelan needs to look and sound different from contemporary sets. Among the archaic instruments found in this gamelan are a bell rattle (sekar dlima), cymbals (rojéh), a pair of distinctively-shaped medium-size gongs with flat faces (penonthong), and four single-row gong chimes (bonang) with eight gongs each. These instruments, more so than the remaining instruments of this set,  visually convey a sense of antiquity.  But this gamelan also includes three melodic instruments with thick bronze keys (one saron demung and two smaller saron barung, all tuned to the sléndro scale) that are found in all modern common practice gamelans but not in any other gamelan kodhok ngorèk. These three saron instruments are understood as additions made during 1755-1757 to the incomplete set of instruments from Surakarta, and have been used subsequently to highlight K.K. Maésaganggang as being distinctively Yogyanese. This could very well be true, but one detail about these saron instruments that I find curious is that they have seven keys each, as do contemporary Solonese saron instruments, rather than six, which is the standard number of keys for modern Yogyanese common practice saron instruments. This, in my mind, raises the possibility that the keys for these saron instruments might have been part of the allotment of instruments from Surakarta that resulted from the breaking up of Kyai Jati Ngarang in 1755. That gamelan today includes two melodic metallophones–a gendèr barung and a gambang gangsa–tuned to the sléndro scale. Could, prior to 1755, Kyai Jati Ngarang have also included the three saron now found in K.K. Maésaganggang in addition to the gendèr barung and a gambang gangsa still found in its instrumentation? Until more evidence in the form of precise accountings of the objects transferred from Surakarta to Yogyakarta as a result of the Treaty of Giyanti surface, we cannot be certain one way or the other.

There is only one musical piece, gendhing Kodhok Ngorèk, performed on this gamelan (Video 1). This piece is ostinato-like with a single three-note, two-pitch syncopated motif repeated over and over on the bonang setren and jaler instruments and a third pitch reiterated incessantly on the bonang klénang. An underlying cyclical structure produced collectively by the kenong japan, penonthong, the two kendhang paneteg, and the two gong ageng creates a phrase structure that encompasses four iterations of the melodic motif played on the bonangs. But perhaps the most distinctive contributions to the aural personality of this gamelan arise from the indefinite-pitched rojéh and sekar dlima, which contribute rhythmically to the underlying phrase structure of the piece. When the drummer slows down the initial driving tempo to half speed (at 1:41 on Video 1), the saron section performs a melody, called Ayam Sepanang (“separated chicken”), over gendhing Kodhok Ngorèk. This two-phrase melody is itself cyclical, each iteration spread out over four cycles of the piece’s underlying phrase structure.

Palace inventories dating from the middle of the 20th century and earlier mention that there are four gong ageng belonging to K.K. Maésaganggang, two of them considered pusaka (powerful heirlooms) and named, respectively, K.K. Maésaganggang and K.K. Sima (“tiger”). It is very likely that the gong ageng K.K. Maésaganggang is now part of a pair of former palace gamelans (K.K. Mangunsih and K.K. Mangunkung) given by the Ninth Sultan to the University of Gajah Mada in 1949–one of the two gong ageng in this paired gamelan is named Kyai Keboganggang (“kebo” and “maésa” both mean “buffalo”). This might explain why, when I saw the gamelan kodhok ngorèk K.K. Maésaganggang in 2007 and 2016, both of its gong ageng had the name “K.K. Sima” painted on them (images 1 and 2). Dutch musicologist Jaap Kunst conveyed a story about the pusaka gong ageng K.K. Sima (at his time in the 1930s there was just one such named gong) that reveals something about the Javanese belief in pusaka objects. The story goes that, should the palace functionary entrusted with the care of the palace gamelans forget to make a periodic (every 35 days) offering of incense and flower petals to K.K. Sima, he would immediately have an encounter with a tiger.[3] I’m not sure this ever happened, but such stories about pusaka objects in the Kraton Yogyakarta are many.

Given the distinctive visual and sonic character of this gamelan and the cultural associations it carries as discussed above, it should come as no surprise that K.K. Maésaganggang is strategically inserted into the cultural, and particularly the ceremonial, life of the Kraton Yogyakarta. Over the more than 250-year history of the kraton the occasions for which this set is employed have varied, but in general it is sounded in association with the sultan himself or for certain members of his family, or for events sponsored by the palace and which by custom are credited to the sultan. The current list of appropriate occasions for the sounding of this set is: during the ceremony to enthrone a new sultan; for the send-off of the gunungan (“rice mountain” offerings, considered gifts from the sultan to his subjects) from the palace to the mosque (where they are received by the public) during the thrice-yearly grebeg celebrations; when a daughter is born to the sultan by his primary wife (prameswari); for the marriage ceremonies of children of the sultan by his prameswari; and as the body of a sultan leaves the palace for the royal cemetery at Imogiri. One long-ago context of incorporation of K.K. Maésaganggang that was discontinued well before the turn of the 20th century was the tiger-buffalo contest (ngaben sima kaliyan maésa or adu-adu macan). These duels, staged in the Northern Square of the kraton (Alun-alun Lor) and open to the public, were symbolic, with the tiger representing Dutch colonial authority and the buffalo Javanese righteousness in subjugation. Surprisingly, the buffalo was usually the victorious combatant, much to the joy of the Javanese. I bring this up only because of the names of the two pusaka gong ageng of K.K. Maésaganggang at the time this gamelan was used for this purpose–K.K. Maésaganggang (“fighting buffalo”) and K.K. Sima (“tiger”)–are also the names of the combatants in the symbolic duel. It is ironic that at the present time the gong ageng that bears the name of the gamelan as a whole has been banished from the set (now part of former palace gamelans at the University of Gajah Mada) while the two gongs currently in use in the pusaka gamelan are named after the creature that once represented the greatest adversary of the Javanese nobility.

K.K. Maésaganggang is painted a rich dark red (abrit sepuh) with silver/gold highlights (prior to 2016 the highlight color had, in my encounters with this set, always been gold; when I saw the set in 2016 the gold highlight had been covered over with silver paint). This set’s carving motif–a frog (kodhok) framed by wings (mirong)–makes reference not to the name of the gamelan itself, but to its type–kodhok ngorèk translates as “croaking frogs.” The current casings for this gamelan are quite new, having been made in 2006-2007 to replace the earlier (though certainly not original) casings that were damaged during an earthquake that struck Yogyakarta on May 27, 2006. At the time, K.K. Maésaganggang was on display in the Trajumas pavilion, which partially collapsed. The rubble damaged many of the gamelan’s casings and destroyed one bonang gong kettle, which has been replaced. But, regardless of the temporal, political, and geological challenges that this set of instruments has experienced over the centuries, members of the palace community still view K.K. Maésaganggang as an inheritance from medieval Javanese kings. It represents a valued continuity with the past and is therefore afforded the greatest respect–even though the paint from its most recent repairs has barely dried.

gong ageng (2)
penonthong (2)
kenong japan (1)
rojéh (1)
sekar dlima / klinthing rebyong (1)
bonang kodhok ngorèk (4; 1 setren, 2 jaler; 1 klénang/eneng-eneng)
saron demung (1)
saron ricik/barung (2)
kendhang paneteg ageng (1)
kendhang paneteg alit (1)

Audio and Video Clips:

Video 1 [Gamelan kodhok ngorèk K.K. Maésaganggang being performed at Sitihinggil as part of Grebeg Mulud on March 31, 2007]

The archaic gamelan kodhok ngorèk of the Kraton Yogyakarta, K.K. Maésaganggang.