The Temporal Dimension of Kingship: Performance and Calendrical Systems

Temporal cycles and coincidence are, to put it mildly, compelling to the Javanese. Their world view is informed by, perhaps even structured around, perceptions of temporal cycles and the metaphysical significance of the coming together of specific cogs on seemingly unrelated gears of the eternal timepiece that regulates their existence. The mysterious and superhuman forces and powers unleashed by these metaphysical workings are acknowledged by the Javanese, in general, and the Javanese nobility, in particular, through beliefs and ceremonies. One scholar speculates that calendric cycles and coincidence are so deeply ingrained in the Javanese psyche that it manifests itself in the actual sound structure of gamelan music.[1] Be this as it may, my concern presently is to illustrate how the Javanese map out their daily and ceremonial lives in accordance with various calendrical systems.

The Javanese possess numerous, non-synchronous calendrical systems,[2] some structured according to natural phenomena (lunar and solar years), others based on the coincidence of two or more weekly cycles of different lengths. Many of these calendrical systems provide temporal structure to aspects of Javanese life or segments of the society–some relate most clearly to agricultural cycles, others to government, commerce, or religious activities. The date of an event (e.g., a person’s birth) is thought of not so much in terms of its place in one of these calendrical systems, as its placement in many, if not all, of them. A particular event in turn carries significance in the Javanese world according to its simultaneous position in the various systems.

To illustrate the complexities of Javanese calendrical systems, I will analyze the dating of an event that was of great importance to the Kraton Yogyakarta over a period of nearly forty years– the birth of the Ninth Sultan. It was expressed as follows:

Malem Setu Paing, 25 Rabingulakir Jimakir 1842, Mangsa Sadasa, Wuku Manahil, Windu Hadi, 12 April 1912.[3]

I will explain below the various components of this elaborate birth date.

Malem Setu PaingMalem = eve; Setu = the seventh day of the seven-day week, or Saturday; Paing = a day in the Javanese five-day week.[4] Javanese days begin in the evening at sunset. Thus, from our perspective, the sultan was born on a Friday evening, and indeed the date 12 April 1912 was a Friday. The seven-day week is equivalent to the Western week, while there is no Western parallel to the five-day pasaran (from pasar = market) week. A 35-day cycle, called a selapan, is created by these concurrently running weeks (5 x 7 = 35), each day carrying a unique double name, one of which is Setu-Paing. Perhaps the most important date for a Javanese is the coincidence of these two week-cycles on the day of his or her birth, as is indicated by the placement of Setu-Paing in the sultan’s birth date. The coincidence is called weton or, for a king, tingalan dalem. The fundamental importance of the weton is so strong that some Javanese know only that aspect of their birth date.

25 Rabingulakir. A date-month indication from the Muslim (Hijrah) lunar-year calendar which today, for all practical purposes, is the same as the Javanese Anno Javanico (AJ) and Saka calendars (which is Hindu in origin and has since been adjusted to the Muslim year).[5] Thus, the sultan was born on the twenty-fifth day of the fourth month (Bakdamulud in the Javanese calendar, Rabingulakir in the Hijrah) of the Javanese-Muslim calendar.

Jimakir 1842. Two types of year indications. The numerical one refers to the 1,842nd year in the Anno Javanico (AJ) or Saka era.[6] Jimakir is the eighth lunar year in an eight-year repeating cycle called windu.[7]

Mangsa Sadasa.  The tenth (sadasa = ten) month of a twelve-month, quasi-solar, Javanese year which begins on the Summer Solstice.  This month runs from the 26th or 27th of March to the 19th of April.[7]

Wuku ManahilManahil is the twenty-third of thirty 7-day weeks (called wuku) that form a 210-day cycle called pawukon. The principle of this system is the same as for the 35-day selapan , with the further complication of a six-day week running concurrently with the 5- and 7-day weeks (5 x 6 x 7 = 210). This 210-day cycle does not constitute a year that then becomes numbered in an era, but simply repeats as does the 35-day selapan cycle. Although not stated in the sultan’s birth date, it may be determined that he was born on the fifth day, Uwas, of the six-day week by consulting a Javanese almanac. Thus, the sultan was born on malem Setu-Paing-Uwas.

Windu Hadi.  The above-mentioned windu (eight lunar-year cycle) becomes the basis of a cycle of windu.  There are four windu in this large cycle, creating a 32-lunar year cycle that is also called windu.[8]

12 April 1912.  A Gregorian calendar designation which holds the greatest meaning for Westerners, but is of lesser significance to the Javanese traditionalist. Dating according to the Gregorian calendar is a relatively recent introduction and is used primarily by non-traditional institutions such as the national government, the military, and the international business community.

If nothing else is evident from the above analysis of the dating of a single event, we know that Javanese time-reckoning is complex. But it is more important to understand what the Javanese read into these dates, for to them time has quality, character, and power. In particular, the weton (in the 35-day cycle) and the wuku (in the 210-day cycle) of one’s birth can have a tremendous effect on decision making in one’s life. This is because most Javanese subscribe to elaborate divination beliefs that articulate propitious choices in most every facet of their lives.

The coincidence of days in different week-cycles and the placement of a day in a month or a month in a year or a year in a cycle of years carry meaning to the Javanese in that they reveal one’s place in the ultimate order of the universe. The powers of this order are great, and one must attempt through divination to work in harmony with these powers rather than against them. In reference to palace life and the musical activity therein, it must be stressed that the dating of nearly every ceremonial in this institution has cultural meaning beyond its placement in one or more of the calendric systems. Most cyclically observed events are not simply viewed as taking place on a given date, but as having occurred originally when they did as the result of the will of God. One-time ceremonies, such as weddings, are given dates that are determined through divination to be propitious for the parties involved. All in all, no ceremony takes place when it does by chance, but only by design. The ceremonial life of the palace in effect ritualizes the order of the universe as viewed by the Javanese.

A number of fundamentally important palace ceremonial observances are regulated by two of the above-mentioned calendrical systems, the 35-day selapan and the Javanese/Muslim lunar year (hereafter AJ, for Anno Javanico). There are also palace events that are not anchored in these reckoning systems. Some of these come about as a result of life-cycle or status transitions of royal family and palace community members, while others relate and are timed to fit programing decisions determined outside of the ceremonial needs of the palace itself. Whether punctual or not, hundreds of events that take place in the palace in the course of a year necessitate the involvement of gamelan performance either by itself or integrated with dance and/or theatre.

Finally, it needs to be mentioned that certain days, periods, and occurrences carry a prohibition on the sounding of gamelans in the kraton. The palace strictly observes two Muslim-related prohibitions on gamelan performance:  dinten (day) Jumuwah (sunset Thursday until after solat luhur, the midday prayer, on Friday), which occurs weekly; and wulan (month) Pasa (the fasting month), which occurs yearly. Also, music and other entertainments are not a part of the activities following a Javanese death. The palace officially marks the death of a royal family member with a one-week mourning period that includes a restriction on gamelan and dance activity in the kraton proper; following the death of a sultan there is no gamelan to be sounded for an entire month in the kraton. Other than during these periods of restriction, gamelan performance can theoretically take place at any time.