Sekaten

[This page is under construction.]

K.K. Nagawilaga being performed in the Pagongan Lor (Northern Gamelan Building) of the Mesjid Ageng during Sekaten 2016.

A primary responsibility of all Javanese kings since the establishment of Islam as the state religion around the beginning of the 17th century CE has been to serve as the penata agama, the kingdom’s chief religious official. In this capacity they have been responsible for perpetuating the spread of Islam through such traditions as Sekaten and the three yearly grebeg. This chapter focuses specifically on the yearly week-long celebration of Sekaten as it was realized in December 2016. For the purpose of this study, I am interpreting this (and every other) iteration of Sekaten as being comprised of seven events, each lasting an entire Javanese day (from one sunset to the next).

Sekaten runs from the eve of the sixth to the eve of the twelfth of Mulud, the third month of the Javanese lunar year. It features the two palace heirloom gamelan sekati, K.K. Gunturmadu and K.K. Nagawilaga. For centuries the primary context in which these ensembles have been utilized is the yearly, one-week-long, palace-sponsored celebration of Sekaten. Sekaten celebrates the birth and death of Mohammed and concludes, on the twelfth of Mulud, with the reading of the Prophet’s life history (“maulid” [Arabic], from which “Mulud,” the Javanese month, is derived) to the Sultan at the Mesjid Ageng.

The origin of Sekaten and the two gamelan sekati that are at the core of its realization are situated historically at the transitional moment between the Hindu-Javanese and the Islamic-Javanese epochs. In the appendix On the Origin of Sekaten, a telling of the Sekaten legend is presented in which it is explained how the disciples who spread Islam in Java drew upon Hindu-Javanese traditions, including gamelan, to attract the common folk to Islam. The web of associations revealed in this legend between Islam as a faith, the cultural engineering of key figures at the historic moment of its introduction to Java, and the adaptation of an existing musical resource and performance practice to the service of the new faith is resonated in the following multi-vocal Javanese explication by Surjodiningrat of the word “sekati”:

The name Sekati according to popular etymology is derived from the word[s] sesek-ati, sukati, se-kati and syahadatain. From sesek-ati or “tense heart”, since the situation was tense when the gamelan Sekati was played for the first time; from suka-ati or “happy heart” which commemorates the victory of Demak [the first Islamic-Javanese kingdom] against Majapahit [the last great Hindhu-Javanese kingdom]; se-kati or “one kati” [a Javanese unit of weight, approximately .617 kilograms] which is said to be the weight of one of the wilahans [keys] or plates of the saron; syahadatain, since at the first Sekaten in Demak, many people went to the mosque and became Moslems by speaking syahadat. (1971:2-3)

Together, the origin legend of Sekaten and the derivation of the word “sekati” presented above demonstrate how certain objects—in this case, the two gamelan sekati of the Kraton Yogyakarta–transcend their mere functionality as musical instruments to become one with a deeply significant cultural practice—Javanese Islam. And, this is so even before they are sounded.

But sounded they are, nearly continuously for one culturally significant week every year during the “month of remembrance,” Mulud, in the Javanese lunar calendar. During this week, the two pusaka gamelan sekati are relocated from the private domain of the Kraton to two purpose-built buildings, called pagongan [“gamelan buildings”], located in the public domain of the Mesjid Ageng forecourt. K.K. Gunturmadu resides for the Sekaten week in the pagongan at the southern end of the mosque courtyard, K.K. Nagawilaga in the pagongan at its northern end. It is there that Javanese traditionalists have a window of opportunity to be in the physical and sonic presence of these pusaka gamelans that so strongly index the Prophet Mohammed and the origins of the Islamic faith in Java.

Grand processions, called gongso miyos (bringing out the gamelans) and gongso kondur (bringing home the gamelans), are mounted on the first and the final days of Sekaten (the gongso miyos procession from 2007 can be seen in the Sekaten film on this site, starting at 6:00 minutes in and ending at 11:15). They serve the utilitarian need of moving the two gamelan sekati and, more importantly, they symbolically reinforce in a very public manner several core cultural relationships of the traditional Javanese world: those between the Kraton and the Mesjid, between Kingship and Islam, and between the Sultan and his subjects. This final relationship is further heightened on these occasions by the action called udhik-udhik, the giving of alms. Just preceding the processions either the Sultan himself or members of his family toss handfuls of coins to the crowds in attendance. Attendees scramble to obtain one or more of these gifts that are believed to bring its owner good luck and prosperity in the coming year (see the Sekaten film, 5:20 – 6:00).

In the chart below I have outlined the schedule of the gamelan sekati for the week of 6-12 Mulud 1950 AJ (5-11 December 2016 CE). Across the top are listed the dates and days (beginning at sunset) according to the AJ calendar, while the dates and days of the Gregorian calendar are listed a few hours later, at Midnight, when they are conceived of as starting. The gray rows running across the figure mark the approximate times of the daily prayers (salat) that regularly punctuate the Muslim day:  subuh (c. 5:00 a.m.); luhur (c. Noon); asar (c. 3:00 p.m.); magrib (sunset); and isa (c. 7:00 p.m.). The sounding of the gamelan sekati is not to interfere with these periods of prayer. Likewise, between salat asar, approximately 3:00 p.m. on Kemis (Thursday) and salat luhur, around Noon Jumuwah (Friday), a period during which the Friday weekly sermon is presented in mosques, the gamelan sekati remain silent. Before World War II, during the reign of the Eighth Sultan, the gamelan sekati were sounded almost continuously throughout the Sekaten week except for the above mentioned periods of prohibition. This would have included being played between Midnight and 8:00AM, which has not been the case now for several decades. Today, the gamelan sekati are sounded for approximately sixty-two hours during the Sekaten week.

TIME

18:00

19:00

20:00

21:00

22:00

23:00

MIDNIGHT

01:00

02:00

03:00

04:00

05:00

06:00

07:00

08:00

09:00

10:00

11:00

NOON

13:00

14:00

15:00

16:00

17:00

MULUD:

 

 

 

 

 

 

DECEMBER:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Selasa

salat magrib

salat isa

Pancaniti (3/4)

Pancaniti (3/4)

gongso miyos

Mesjid (3/4)

6 Tuesday

 

 

 

 

salat subuh

 

 

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

salat luhur

[break]

Mesjid (3/4)

salat asar

Mesjid (3/4)

[end of day]

7 Rebo

salat magrib

salat isa

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

7 Wednesday

 

 

 

 

salat subuh

 

 

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

salat luhur

[break]

Mesjid (1/2)

salat asar

Mesjid (1/2)

[end of day]

8 Kemis

salat magrib

salat isa

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

8 Thursday

 

 

 

 

salat subuh

 

 

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

salat luhur

[break]

Mesjid (3/4)

salat asar

no gamelan

[end of day]

9 Jumuwah

salat magrib

salat isa

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

9 Friday

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

salat subuh

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

no gamelan

salat luhur

no gamelan

Mesjid (1/2)

salat asar

Mesjid (1/2)

[end of day]

10 Setu

salat magrib

salat isa

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

10 Saturday

 

 

 

 

salat subuh

 

 

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

salat luhur

[break]

Mesjid (3/4)

salat asar

Mesjid (3/4)

[end of day]

11 Akad

salat magrib

salat isa

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

11 Sunday

 

 

 

 

salat subuh

 

 

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

Mesjid (1/2)

salat luhur

[break]

Mesjid (1/2)

salat asar

Mesjid (1/2)

[end of day]

12 Senen

salat magrib

salat isa

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

Mesjid (3/4)

gongso kondur

12 Monday

 

 

 

 

salat subuh

 

 

Grebeg Mulud

Grebeg Mulud

Grebeg Mulud

Grebeg Mulud

salat luhur

 

 

salat asar

 

[end of day]

The way in which the forces of musicians are organized to meet the schedule of Sekaten in itself reinforces the traditional concept of the Javanese day. More than sixty abdidalem musicians of the palace’s Performing Arts Office (Kridhamardawa) participate in the Sekaten activities, and they are divided into four groups of fifteen or more musicians each. Two of these groups (numbers I and III) perform only on K.K. Gunturmadu, the gamelan sekati in the southern pagongan of the mosque, while the other two (groups II and IV) perform only on the gamelan sekati K.K. Nagawilaga in the northern pagongan. Groups I and II are always paired together, as are groups III and IV. Each pair of groups performs one full Javanese day, providing all the musical activity between two consecutive sunsets. I have noted when the various pairs of groups performed during Sekaten 2016 in the chart above by using Roman numerals in parentheses below their starting times each Javanese day. While in 2016 groups III and IV opened and closed the Sekaten week, it will be groups I and II in 2017—this alternation continues year after year.

The pieces performed during Sekaten include gendhing that are specific to this week-long event and gendhing that are drawn from the modern, common-practice gamelan repertoire. All gendhing are performed in a distinctive Sekaten style, so that even common-practice gendhing take on a particular, unmistakable sonic character when performed for Sekaten on the two gamelan sekati. More detailed information regarding the repertoire and performance practice of Sekaten can be found in the Appendices section of this site (see Sekaten Repertoire and Performance Practice; Musical Content of a Sekaten Day; and A Complete Sekaten Performance of Gendhing Rambu).

Each full day of Sekaten begins with the playing of four particular Sekatèn–specific gendhing—Rambu (played first on K.K. Gunturmadu and then on K.K. Nagawilaga), Rangkung (again played in turn on both gamelan sekati), Andong-Andong (played on K.K. Gunturmadu), and Lung Gadhung Pel (played on K.K. Nagawilaga). After this and for the remainder of the day the choices of gendhing are left to the musicians, whose choices are constrained in two ways. First, the choice of a gendhing must follow the conventional pathet – time-of-day association that governs gamelan performance in general in the palace. This pathet-time constraint, as it impacts Sekaten performance today, is represented in the “PATHET” column of the chart below. The other constraint on repertoire choice is the general Yogyanese convention of signaling the end of an event involving gamelan performance (in this case, the end of a day of Sekaten) with the playing of a gendhing in the bentuk bubaran.[1] Ideally, both groups playing on a given day of Sekaten will play a gendhing bubaran to finish their day’s work, but sometimes only one such piece gets sounded at the end of the day. In the following chart, the musical structure of a full Sekaten day is diagrammed.

TIME SALAT PATHET K.K. Gunturmadu K.K. Nagawilaga

20:00

20:30

21:00

21:30

22:00

22:30

23:00

23:30

MIDNIGHT

 

 

lima

lima

lima

lima

lima

lima

lima or nem

lima or nem

Rambu

 

Rangkung

 

Andhong-Andhong

 

gendhing choice

 

[8-hour break]

 

Rambu

 

Rangkung

 

Lung Gadhung Pel

 

gendhing choice

[8-hour break]

08:00

08:30

09:00

09:30

10:00

10:30

11:00

11:30

NOON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

luhur

barang

barang

barang

barang

barang

barang

 barang

barang

gendhing choice

 

gendhing choice

 

gendhing choice

 

gendhing choice

 

[break]

 

gendhing choice

 

gendhing choice

 

gendhing choice

 

gendhing choice

[break]

14:00

14:30

15:00

 

 

asar

lima or nem

lima or nem

gendhing choice

 

[break]

 

gendhing choice

[break]

15:30

16:00

16:30

17:00

 

barang

barang

barang

gendhing choice

 

bubaran choice

[end of day]

 

gendhing choice

 

[end of day]

Not all Sekaten days are full ones as represented in the above chart. The two groups of musicians assigned to Jumuwah (Friday, meaning from Thursday evening to Friday evening) during Sekaten perform for only about three hours at the end of the day. Since they begin during a period when gendhing in pathet lima can be selected, players sometimes choose to open this shortened day with one of the core Sekaten-specific gendhing (such as Rambu or Rangkung) played on K.K. Gunturmadu. However, the full opening sequence of Sekaten-specific gendhing heard at the beginning of a full Sekaten day is not presented. The 12th of Mulud, the final day of Sekaten, will typically involve the playing of Rambu and Rangkung, each played in turn on both of the gamelan sekati, before the gongso kondur procession is realized and the gamelan sekati are returned to the Kraton.

Sekaten is a prime example of what I am calling a intra-negara event, one which perpetuates the perception of the Sultan and his Kraton as the exemplary center of a traditional Javanese ideal universal order. Rich in symbolism of a totally non-verbal nature, Sekaten is realized through the creation of distinctive patterns of sound on heirloom musical instruments and through the performing of dramatic gestures such as udhik-udhik and the gongso miyos and gongso kondur processions. It is through such grand orchestrations of symbolic actions that the Sultan/Kraton fulfills its traditional obligations to its subjects, the residents of the Yogyakarta region that self-identify to varying degrees as traditional Javanese.

A crowd gathers around one of the open sides of the Pagongan Lor (Northern Gamelan Building) to listen to the gamelan sekati K.K. Nagawilaga being performed during Sekaten 2007.