A reality of the early 21st century is that the Kraton Yogyakarta, an institution intent on perpetuating traditional ceremonies associated with Javanese statecraft, is situated in a rapidly modernizing city that is part of the world’s fifth-most-populous sovereign nation-state, the citizens, commerce, and government of which are in turn increasingly implicated in the ongoing process of globalization. While the perpetuation of Javanese cultural practices originating in a negara-centric statecraft that has been evolving for well over a millennium may seem anachronistic, at the same time the Kraton has not entirely turned a blind eye to the realities of its present-day social and cultural landscape. Since the early years of the reign of the Ninth Sultan (r. 1940-1988) a conscious effort has been made on the part of the institution to soften the separation between, on the one hand, the palace as an impenetrable sacred and mystery-cloaked domain of the nobility and their trusted retainers and, on the other hand, the general population outside the palace’s walls. Two moments in recent palace history will be mentioned to illustrate this process.
In 1946, following the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945) and at the beginning of Indonesia’s struggle for independence from The Netherlands (1945-1950), the Ninth Sultan made the Pagelaran and Sitihinggil areas of the palace available to the newly-chartered University of Gadjah Mada (Selosoemardjan 1962, p. 364). The Sultan had already decided to simplify palace ceremonies, and the Sitihinggil area, which during coronation and the yearly grebeg ceremonies had functioned as the temporary ritual center of the palace (see The Spatial Dimension of Kingship appendix), was no longer utilized for this purpose. In doing so, nearly a fifth of the palace’s footprint—its front door, so to say—became a semi-public space the action of doing so symbolizing a re-calibration of the relationship between the Sultan/Kraton and his “subjects.”
In the early 1950s, another decision was enacted by the palace that further illustrates the institution’s commitment to adapting to the changing times. Indonesian Independence had been won in 1950, the Ninth Sultan had played a much-admired role in the Independence struggle, and there was a push from within the Kraton to educate the general public about its history and purpose. This was to be accomplished with opening sections of the inner palace (the Kedhaton; again, see The Spatial Dimension of Kingship appendix) to public tours of domestic school groups and foreign tourists. The earliest publication I have encountered dealing with this initiative is from 1953 (Tepas “Drawa Pura”, pp. 8-9). In this article, application guidelines for groups of domestic students and foreign tourists are laid out, and the route of tours through the palace is described. Opportunities to hear gamelan rehearsals and broadcasts and to watch the airing of palace wayang kulit (shadow puppet) sets on specific weekdays are also listed. The palace tour scenario outlined in this article (but not the procedure for obtaining permission to visit the palace) has served as the model for tourist visits right up to the present day.
These two palace spaces mentioned in the preceding paragraphs—the Pagelaran/Sitihinggil area, and the Kedhaton (in particular the Srimenganti and Kasatriyan areas)—have continued to the present day to serve as “spaces of encounter” between the Kraton Yogyakarta and the world outside its walls. They are spaces in which the institution can construct an image of itself for presentation to contemporary audiences of local, national, and international visitors. These visitors are not directly invested in the perpetuation of the negara-centric palace traditions that carry meaning for Javanese traditionalists, who constitute a nested cultural formation within the general population of the Yogyakarta region (see Intra-Negara Events). Rather, tourists are more likely interested in experiencing during their palace visit a concise simulacra of Javanese court culture that confirms impressions of it that they already hold.
An overview of palace-sponsored events that took place in these two “spaces of encounter” during my 2016 visit will illustrate: 1) how the palace endeavors to shape the perception of itself in the eyes of the general public; and 2) how palace gamelans are implicated in this enterprise. Of the thirty-seven events that took place during my month-long visit, eleven were presented in Pagelaran/Sitihinggil (see Pameran Karaton: Palace Arts Exhibition) and twenty-six in bangsal Srimenganti, a large pendhapa (open-sided pavilion) located in the Kraton proper (see Daily Performances for Tourists). Regardless of in which space presented, these performance events share a number of characteristics in common. First, they are not organized by the palace’s performing arts office, Kridhamardawa, but by other divisions of the palace government. Abdidalem niyaga, who are managed by Kridhamardawa, are therefore not assigned to perform for these events; rather, groups from outside the palace are invited to perform for them. Such groups are comprised of amateur musicians and dancers from neighborhood and town clubs and from dance and performing arts schools in and around Yogyakarta. Second, non-pusaka gamelans that have been either recently procured or modernized by the palace are used for these events. Such sets, while possessing some degree of prestige as being kagungan dalem, are viewed relatively within the gamelan holdings of the Kraton as being more utilitarian than the older common-practice and sacred ceremonial sets. Finally, these presentations are not viewed by members of the palace community and traditional Javanese in general as being ceremonial in nature. They are performances that audience members pay admission to experience. Palace ceremonies (Intra-Negara Events) never have a price of admission attached to them.