K.K. Nagawilaga

Acquired: during the Reign of Sultan Hamengku Buwana I
Type of Gamelan: archaic–sekati
Tuning: pélog

One of the two archaic gamelan sekati of the Kraton Yogyakarta, K.K. Nagawilaga.

According to Kraton Yogyakarta sources,[1] K.K. Nagawilaga (“serpent of war”) was made in 1757 CE to complement the newly filled-out heirloom gamelan K.K. Gunturmadu, components of which were allotted to the kraton as part of the 1755 CE Treaty of Giyanti. K.K. Nagawilaga, like K.K. Gunturmadu, is an archaic form of gamelan called sekati, after which is named the event Sekatèn , a week-long festival leading up to the birthdate of the Prophet Muhammed in the Muslim lunar calendar. The creation of this type of gamelan is attributed in oral tradition to the 16th century Kingdom of Demak, located on the north coast of Java. It was there and at that time (approximately the second quarter of the 16th century) that Islam as a state religion took hold in Java. Credited with this significant change were nine missionaries (some of them foreign, some of them native) known as the Wali Sanga (“nine holymen”). Amongst them, one in particular, Sunan Kalijaga, advocated the utilization of a loud-style gamelan, similar to types already used in that period, to attract local populations to the newly established Mosque of Demak and to Islam. Rulers of subsequent Javanese-muslim kingdoms have continued this practice up to the present. Components of the Kraton Yogyakarta gamelan sekati K.K. Gunturmadu are believed to have originated in a gamelan sekati built during the reign of Sultan Agung of Mataram in 1644 CE. K.K. Nagawilaga has no such pedigree, though that it was ordered built by the First Sultan of Yogyakarta and that it has throughout its entire existence been used in tandem with K.K. Gunturmadu during the yearly Sekatèn festival contribute significantly to its importance in the eyes of Javanese traditionalists. These associations with the First Sultan and with Sekatèn are likely the primary reasons for it being considered as pusaka. One palace source[2] reports that the mixture of bronze used to make the gongs and keys of K.K. Nagawilaga included titanium extracted from a meteor that had fallen in the nearby area of Prambanan. To incorporate raw material that has literally originated from the heavens into the sounding bodies of a gamelan is another powerful reason for viewing a set as extraordinary and worthy of the label pusaka. Together, this set’s associations with the First Sultan of Yogyakarta, with Islam, Sekatèn and K.K. Gunturmadu, and with meteor-delivered raw materials used in its bronze, contribute to it being viewed and treated as a revered object that is effectively deployed in the cultural geography of the Yogyakarta region.

In the early decades of the 20th century K.K. Nagawilaga was incorporated into several facets of palace ceremonial life in addition to its primary role in Sekatèn : as part of wedding, circumcision, and clitoris-piercing ceremonies of the sultan’s children, and as part of the Grebeg Mulud procession. When the incorporation of this gamelan into these ceremonies began is not known, but certainly by or during the reign of the Ninth Sultan (r. 1940-1988) such ceremonies had been simplified in part by no longer involving the use of archaic gamelans. But the one consistent utilization of K.K. Nagawilaga and its nearly identical twin K.K. Gunturmadu, has been for Sekatèn . This is their sole commitment today, which means they are sounded only for seven days each year (from the 6th to the 12th of the Javanese/Muslim lunar month of Mulud). The restricted use of these sets and the timing (the week leading up to the marking of Mohammed’s birth) and location (at the Mesjid Ageng, the Great Mosque of Yogyakarta, in two purpose-built structures called pagongan, or gamelan buildings) of their utilization serve to further bolster their status as emblems both of Islam, as practiced in central Java, and of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, to whom they belong, as “Abdurrahman Sayidin Panata Gama” (“Generous Master Over the Religion”) and “Kalifatulah” (“Successor of Mohammed”). The high regard in which these two gamelans are held by members of both the palace community and the general public can be readily seen in the behavioral gestures demonstrated by people toward these objects during Sekatèn . Offerings are made to the gamelans before they are sounded; common people make requests for assistance (nyuwun berkah) to the spirits of these gamelans through religious intermediaries (see Video 1); and the palace mounts impressive procession spectacles (see Video 2) to deliver these sets to the Mesjid Ageng and return them to the palace. During these processions, instruments that are deemed particularly powerful in each set (their bonang barung, bedhug, and gong ageng) are carried beneath royal parasols (songsong) that are used specifically to mark the most significant individuals and objects in the kraton cultural domain.

Physically, K.K. Nagawilaga is nearly identical in all respects to K.K. Gunturmadu, except for its bonang kettles being slightly smaller in size and the nuances of the pélog scale to which it is tuned. The instrumentation of the two Kraton Yogyakarta gamelan sekati is spare in comparison to common practice gamelans and, for the most part, absent of archaic instruments save for a pair of bendé (small, vertically suspended gongs with shallow rims). Visually, their most distinguishing feature is the large size, vis-à-vis common practice gamelans, of their saron-type instruments and their bonang barung. This latter instrument is actually played by more than one musician and serves two separate musical functions: its jaler row (higher register) gongs, along with its two pengapit side gongs, is performed by one musician in the role of Lurah Gendhing (“melodic leader”) of the ensemble; the setren row (lower register) gongs are used as a set of phrase-marking instruments (like the kenong in a common practice gamelan) and played by one or two musicians. Also noteworthy regarding the instrumentation of these sets is the absence of kendhang; the only membranophone in each set is a bedhug.

For anyone experienced in listening to Javanese common practice gamelan music played in the pélog tuning system, the pélog tuning of K.K. Nagawilaga is noticeably lower by an interval of approximately a perfect fourth. This contributes considerably to the distinctive sound quality of this ensemble while at the same time making it impractical to incorporate common practice gamelan singing practices with the set. Therefore, all performance on this set is strictly instrumental and played soran (robust, loud style). The repertoire of pieces (gendhing) played on K.K. Nagawilaga is a complicated topic and will be explored elsewhere on this site. For now it will be said that many common practice gendhing can be played on the gamelan sekati, but some of these pieces have unique versions specifically for when they are played on these sets. There is also a core set of about fifteen gendhing that are strongly associated with the two gamelan sekati, and many rules as to when they may or may not be sounded during the week of Sekatèn . Regardless of whether gendhing are specifically associated with the gamelan sekati or borrowed from the common practice gamelan repertoire, they all are shaped by the distinctive performance practice that has evolved for this archaic type of gamelan in the Kraton Yogyakarta and therefore have an unmistakeable sound when realized on them. A sense of this “gamelan sekati sound” can be garnered from listening to the Audio 1 clip on this page, on which a lengthy excerpt of gendhing Rendeng performed on K.K. Nagawilaga during Sekatèn in 1982 is heard.

Like many of the archaic gamelans in the Kraton Yogyakarta, K.K. Nagawilaga is painted a rich, dark red (abrit sepuh). The highlighting of the basic borders and some vegetation carving is in gold, but the most pronounced carving motif–a majestic sawat (wings and tail feathers of the mythological garuda bird) that appears on several instrument surfaces–is highlighted in light blue and white.

The impressive appearance and sound of K.K. Nagawilaga, and its deep associations with Islam in Java and with the First Sultan of Yogyakarta, make it an effective agent in the ongoing relationship between the Kraton Yogyakarta and the general population of the Yogyakarta region. This relationship is symbolically refreshed each year during Sekatèn when the royal heirlooms K.K. Gunturmadu and K.K. Nagawilaga are ceremoniously paraded from the inner domain of the palace to the public space of the Mesjid Ageng where their distinctive sonic character and the beliefs it resonates are shared with the general public.

gong ageng (2)
kempyang (1)
bendhé (2)
bonang barung + 2 pengapit (1)
saron demung (1)
saron ricik/barung (2)
saron peking (1)
bedhug (1)

Audio and Video Clips:

Video 1 [People requesting the assistance of K.K. Nagawilaga through a palace religious official at the northern gamelan building of the Mesjid Ageng during Sekatèn in 2007]

Video 2 [K.K. Nagawilaga being carried through Pagelaran during the procession from the palace to the Mesjid Ageng as part of Sekatèn in 2007]

Audio 1 [Gendhing Réndéng performed on the gamelan sekati K.K. Nagawilaga during Sekatèn on December 12, 1982]

The gamelan sekati K.K. Nagawilaga being performed in Bangsal Ponconiti for the opening of Sekatèn on March 24, 2007.