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Coronation Anniversary: Angels dancing at the Mangkunegaran Palace

IO – After a long dry that left even the green leaves of the teak tress wilting and dry, ready to fall, last Wednes­day, the 19th of September 2018 on the 30th coronation anniversary of Prince Mangkunegaran IX in Solo, a torrential rain came pouring down in streams of water that over flowed the guttering and drains, creating small floods in gardens and on lawns. Some said they hopped it would not affect festivities at the palace. Others were of the opinion that it was a sign of pros­perity and luck for the Mangkunegara royal family.

In the evening at the Puro (Palace) Mangkunegara there was not a trace of rain but the fresh clear air was lad­en with the smell of jasmine and rose petals – those strongly scented pink roses from the hills of Boyolali. The reception pavilion known as the Pen­dopo Agung was festooned with chains of chopped, green pandanus leaves emitting a further scent reminiscent of vanilla. These mixed with the gentle sounds of the gamelan as the danc­ers for the bedhoyo dance entered in asmall procession. Later the singing accompanying the bedhoyo sounded like a Gregorian chant only sweeter, much, much sweeter… and then the dancers entered swaying with the slow­est of movements, graceful as fawns.. it seemed as though angels were dancing at the Mangkunegaran Palace.

There were seven dancers with bows and arrows performing the “Bed­hoyo Anglir Mendung” in honour of the “Tingalan Wiyosan Jumenengan” or Coronation Anniversry Commemora­tion. The Prince whose formal title is Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Adipati Aryo Mangkunegara IX has been on the throne since 1988. The bedhoyo is a sacred dance performed only once a year and danced only by royal ladies of the court after fasting, meditation and much practice. The slow and graceful movements of the dance are deceptive and it is only as the dancers lift their arms and the perspiration gleaming on their bare shoulders is visible that it sinks in how strenuous in fact the dance is. It was created by Raden Mas Said also known as Prince Sambernya­wa, the founder of the Mangkunaraga­ran princedom. He created it to com­memorate his rebellion I 1752 against the Dutch East India Company or VOC in Ponoroggo. Amongst his soldiers he also had women troops and the dance reenacts their resistance against the Dutch. Consequently, it is not only the dancers who are women but also the “pesinden” or singers and it is also women who beat the drum.

The dancers all wore old, priceless patolas from India over which they wore dark green cloths decorated with gold alasan motifs. Their hair was swept back into buns held in place with hair nets of jasmine from which a single braid of jasmine descended hanging over their shoulders until their waists. Diamond studded hair pins in the shape of bobbing flowers formed a crown of sorts over their heads. The dance itself is so soft and refined that the eyes of the dancers may never come in contact with the public. As the dancers finally left the room they were accompanied by ladies in black kebayas and brown soga batiks who were the wardrobe mistresses.

Later men performed the Beksan Werkudoro Bagadenta dance original­ly created by Prince Mangkunegara VI. He based it on a story in the Ma­habharata namely “The Death of Abi­manyu”. During the battle Werkudara or Bima fights Bagadenta and wins. In the dance the fighters elegantly at­tacked each other with maces; at one point, scuttling sideways like very graceful crabs along the seashore.

The dance was followed by a cere­mony where Prince Mangkunegara IX bestowed almost 32 royal titles mostly on palace courtiers but also on sever­al notables such as former President Suharto’s youngest son, Hutomo Mandala Putra better known as Tom­my Suharto, Police Inspector General Condro Kirono who heads Central Java police force and General Gatot Nurmantyo whose wife Enny Trimurti is still related to the Mangkunegaran Palace. “Receiving the title was simply the continuation of an old friendship that had to wait until I retired from the army last March,” explained Gen­eral Nurmantyo.

The Pendopo Agung where the cer­emony was held is the largest joglo style building in Indonesia. It has four central pillars made from teak which are regarded as sacred and every Fri­day night small offerings and incense are placed beside each pillar. The original building was built in 1757, however it was further renovated in 1866 by Prince Mangkunegara IV. The ceiling of the pendopo is deco­rated with a motif know as the “ku­mudowati” motif. It consists of eight mystic colours to prevent anyone with bad intentions entering the Mangku­negaran. The “modang” or “tongues of fire” motif represent “spirit” or “enthu­siasm”. Around these are the twelve symbols of the Javanese zodiac and the eight weapons of the gods, sym­bols of “astabrata” or “leadership” such as fire for enthusiasm, “water” or “life force”, strengthens one’s resolver or has a cooling down or calming effect.

Behind the Pendopo Ageng stands the Dalem Ageng. This is the heart of the palace. The main pillars sepa­rating the nDalem from the Pendopo Ageng were decorated with two palm leaves creating an arch between the pillars, in order to avert catastrophes.

To each pillar were also tied a stalk of the“pisang raja” bananas to sym­bolize the sweetness of life; sugar cane to strengthen one’s resolve and the leaves of the strangler fig which represent protection or shelter. These are usually only displayed during weddings but also for coronation an­niversaries.

The many guests were exquisitely dressed. The women all in dark co­loured long plain kebayas and the tra­ditional austere brown, dark blue or black Solo batiks, everyone avoiding the royal “lereng” motif which is only for the Prince. The men looked dash­ing in their brown soga sarongs with Javanese headdress, short, black mil­itary style jackets with brass buttons and krises worn behind. Underneath the jackets they wore white high col­lared shirts like gentlemen out of the 19th century. The most glamorous and debonair amongst them was the Crown Prince Haryo Paundrakar­na Sukmaputra Jiwanegara who is also known as a talented musician and actor. He is the son of Prince Mangkunegara IX and Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of for­mer president Soekarno. Amongst the guests present were tycoon Seti­awan Jody who owns a lovely heritage house in Solo, the elegant princesses Gusti Ratu Ayu Retno Satuti Rahard­ian Yamin and Gusti Ratu Ayu Retno Rosati Kadarisman (sisters of Prince Mangkunegara IX) and the beautiful Nina Tanjunga, wife of former Golkar chairman Akbar Tanjung. “When one receives a royal title one also receives a new name. In my case some years back, I received the title “Raden Kan­jeng Ayu” and the name “Kusumanin­grum” which means “scented flower,” Ibu Nina explained gently.

Present were also Prince Bhre Cakhutomo Wira Sujiwo and his sis­ter Gusti Ratu Ajeng AncelaSura Ma­rina Sujiwo. The charming pair are the children of Prince Mangkunegara IX and his current wife, Prisca Marina Supardi.

The next morning at the Praci­moyoso or palace guest house, the sister of Prince Mangkunegaran IX, Princess Satuti greeted the Indepen­dent Observer for a tour of the build­ing with all the graciousness and elegance one expects of a princess. The Pracimoyoso was built by the well-known Indies architect Thomas Karstenz in 1920 during the reign of Prince Mangkunegara VII. It consists of a pavilion that is used as a sort of living room for receiving visitors, a din­ing room, a bedroom, bathroom and dressing room. In 1919 the Prince married Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Timur, the daughter of Sultan Hamengkubu­wono VII of Jogjakarta. Since then he was already preparing a suitable and representative pavilion for when his famous father-in-law came for visits to Puro Mangkunegaran.

Prince Mangkunegaran VII was considered a very modern and quite erudite prince for his time, interested in education, culture and the arts, in particular Javanese arts and culture. He studied at Leiden and wrote about the symbolism in wayang. Later he was active in the famous Java Institu­ut and also the Boedi Oetomo move­ment as well as Jong Java. In 1933 he erected the first native Indonesian ra­dio station for which he donated land and became known as the Indonesian “Father of Radio”.

He hired Thomas Karstan to design and build the guest pavilion. Karstan was a Dutch engineer who contribut­ed significantly to Indies architecture and town planning and was known for having built public markets in both Jogjakarta and Solo.

Karstan’s bathroom in the pavilion is decorated in grey and pink tiles. It is in the traditional form of a cistern and dipper for sluicing oneself with water. The cistern being set into a deeper part of the room so that not every­thing would get wet. In the ceiling sits a stained glass skylight in the form of a sun or “suryo sumirat” or “the sun that shines” which is the symbol of Mangkunegaran. It is also to show that Magkunegaran is a continuation of the ancient kingdom of Majapa­hit whose symbol was also the sun. “Karstan felt that he best time and place to bath was at a natural spring in a village in a natural light – and he tried to recreate that here. When the sun is at its zenith the stained glass skylight sun almost seems to glow,” explained Mr Purwanto who acts as a guide and assists the cultural section of the Palace.

Prince Mangkunegara IX liked the way he combined European style with local elements. In the dressing room all along the wall are there are tiny pedestals with wooden dolls in the most important poses of the Java­nese dances that the princesses must learn. There are mirrors all around the room so that the ladies can see themselves from all angles and leave the room with their hair and cloths in a perfect state.

The combination of styles can how­ever be most clearly seen in the Praci­moyoso dining room which is designed an the Art Deco style, especially the built-in furniture and wooden fea­tures in the room. The stained-glass windows which Karsten installed only in 1941 feature a Javanese wayang performance and a slametan. In both the faces of the figures are inspired by Javanese shadow puppets. On the large mirror Karsten installed at the end of the room are illustrations of three “gunungans” or mountains of produce such as fruit, vegetables and grains that are carried during harvest processions. The central “gunungan” is the “jaler” or male gunungan and the two gunungan on either side of the jaler are the “estri” or female equiva­lents. They represent the “yoni” and the “lingga” or fertility and harvest. Surakarta has always been an agricul­tural area so that the harvest plays a very important role in its traditions.

Meanwhile, the wood carving on the furniture and wooden fixtures such as the screen room divider use Balinese carving styles. On the head of the sofa there is the “sangka” or “conch shell” motif of Vishnu the preserver. Karstan also affixed two large Balinese paintings by the re­spected Balinese artist, Anak Agung Gde Sobrat. In front of these as well as elsewhere stand beautifully carved Balinese statues. They were all gifts from the Raja of Karangasam, Ida Anak Agung Angeloerah Ketut Ka­rangasam who was a good friend of Prince Mangkunegara VII and attend­ed his wedding in 1920. For the wed­ding the Raja of Karangasam brought Balinese masks, a gamelan, statues, krises and dances. In the collection of heirlooms in the nDalem Ageng one can also see several fossilized coconuts sent through the years by the Raja of Karangasam. These were thought to have strong mystic powers to prevent evil from entering the pal­ace. The last was sent in 1941. Sadly, it did not prevent the Japanese forces from ransacking the palace and stealing all the horses. This may have been in part because Prince Mangkunegara VII was also a colonel in the KNIL or Royal Netherlands Indies Army in his capac­ity as head of the famous Mangkuneg­aran Legion which was created 1805 after Marshall Daendels, Napoleon’s representative in the Indies ordered the native kings to modernize their troops. Prince Mangkunegara VII died in 1944 and his architect and engineer Thomas Karstan died in prisoner-of-war camp in 1945.

“After independence the govern­ment confiscated our sugar factories Colomadu (the Beehive) and Tasik Madu (the Honey Lake) and that re­ally made it very difficult for us to maintain the upkeep of the estate,” Princess Satuti explained sadly. As we were leaving omeone mentioned the heavy rain before the coronation anniversary as a symbol of prosperi­ty. Gusti Satuti merely smiled. “It al­ways rains before the Bedhoyo Ange­lir Mendung,” explained the princess calmly. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)


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