A quiet day in an ancient Yogyakarta Keraton, with a cup of hot tea

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Royal Maids passing by on their way to serve tea to Sultan of Yogyakarta. (Photo: IO/Dessy Aipipidely)

IO, Yogyakarta – Keraton Kasultanan Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat (the Noble and Esteemed Palace of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta), more familiarly known as “Keraton Yogyakarta”, is more than just the residence of the sultan and his family. The Keraton is the lodestone for the cultural development of Central Java, as well as the keeper of the flames of its spirit.

Keraton Yogyakarta was constructed by Pangeran (Prince) Mangkubumi in 1755. Despite its centuries-old age and the damage it sustained during the great quake in 1867, it remains standing and well-preserved. A visit to Keraton Yogyakarta is a valuable, deeply-impressive experience. Keraton Yogyakarta is filled with the aura of ancient elegance in daily living, starting from the activities of the abdi dalem (royal indoor servants) at work, to the very furniture and knick-knacks found in the old palace.

Independent Observer was lucky enough to have witnessed a line of five Abdi Dalem Keparak (royal maids) passing by on their way to serve the 11.00 a.m. tea. The sultans of Yogyakarta have paused for mid-morning tea for generations.

Tea is served twice a day, at 6.00 a.m. and 11.00 a.m. The process is started by the lighting of the stove and the lifting out of water from the Nyai Jalatunda well. The water is cooked in a special copper Air kettle, because copper is believed to neutralize any poison in the water and get rid of bad influences. When the water boils, it is used to make a dekokan of the tea.

Dekokan is an extremely thick tea decoction, which will be diluted later when served. It is then left to simmer for half an hour without any stirring, then poured out half into a special teapot for the king. The remaining half is given to the Abdi Dalem Keparak, who then do their duty as icip-icip or tasters.

Five Abdi Dalem Keparak bring in the necessary tea utensils. Four of them carry the utensils, viz. one set of tea rampadan (drinking set, i.e. pot and cup), one set of coffee rampadan, a hot-water kettle, and a plain water kettle, the klemukKlemuk contains plain water that has been set aside for an entire night. The remaining maid carries an umbrella to protect the klemuk from the heat.

The use of each drinking utensil, i.e. the pot, cup, tray, and spoon, also has its own strict set of regulations. You cannot simply use any of the utensils as you please. In Keraton Yogyakarta, the preparation and serving of tea is a ritual by itself. It is an art, a stimulation of sensibilities, and a means for legitimizing and preserving traditions. These rules seem to be complex and troublesome, but they teach you appreciation of even the smallest things like a teaspoon. By drinking tea according to these rules, you are aware that there is more to tea than just quenching thirst.

Other than being able to catch a view of the serene daily life, we can enjoy both the antique items in use and on display in the Keraton. The furniture and décor delightfully preserve the lifestyle maintained for centuries and used every day, while other items are stored in glass cases and displayed in the various rooms accessible to visitors: ceramics and pottery, ancient weapons, old photos, miniatures and replicas, as well as the myriad types of batik as well as the diorama for its production. Other than inanimate things, tourists can also enjoy live art performances on the Keraton grounds: macapat, wayang golek, wayang kulit, and dances. A different show is scheduled each day.

(Dessy Aipipidely)