By Irfan Nugroho
Sunday February 5th, 2012 was a bright and sunny day. In Solo, Central Java, more precisely at the Masjid Agung Surakarta, thousands of people flocked the Masjid area waiting for something that can give them blessing.
Yes, the day was the end of a seven-day Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival 2012; an event dedicated to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad and to express the city’s ancient ruler – Karaton Kasunanan Surakarta Hadiningrat – for abundant blessing from God.
The last day of Sekaten Festival usually becomes a hectic day for the management of the Masjid Agung Surakarta, remembering that a huge number of people will come to the Masjid, but unfortunately not all of them perform the Shalat (prayer) on time at the Masjid.
The time I came to the closing ceremony of Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival 2012, about hundreds of people had already been at the front yard of the Masjid Agung Surakarta.
Some were offering and selling traditional foods and souvenirs typically the city of Surakarta (Solo), and a number of them were waiting for two couples of Gunungan offerings, in which they do believe that the Gunungan offerings could bring blessings for their life in the future.
Amongst the crowd attending the closing ceremony of Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival 2012 were granny mothers coming from places that are far far away from the Masjid Agung Surakarta.
Some of them even came to the Masjid Agung Surakarta by walking through a distance of more than 15 kilometres away with the aims of getting their sins erased by God and an expression of answering the call of Islam.
To me personally, I said in my heart, “Moms, you don’t need to come here by walk just to get your sins erased by Allah. There are things you can do to get your sins erased like reciting Istighfar, performing the five prayers on time daily, and many more recommended Islamic rites.”
Well, but it appears that such a believe will always live at their hearts for their fanaticism to the Javanese culture and tradition.
Then at this point, their fanaticism to the Javanese culture had derailed from the true intention of Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival; that is to respect and commemorate the Prophet Muhammad.
At around 10 o’clock in the morning, the visitors got more crowded. Hundreds more people of all ages enthusiastically came to the closing ceremony of Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival this year.
Those who were in charge of securing the festival worked very hard to manage the visitors inside the area of Masjid Agung Surakarta.
“I prefer securing a street strike rather than this (the festival). It’s all about fanatic belief, thus they are difficult to manage,” said a policeman to me.
Precisely at 10.15, the rite began with an Islamic preaching by a famous Muslim scholar named Kiai Haji Ahmad Baidlowi who talked about the great virtues of the nine Muslim scholars (Wali Songo) and their ways of introducing Islam to the Indonesian people hundreds of years ago.
In his preaching, rather than making straight the people’s misleading belief to the Gunungan offerings and all related to the mystic belief around the celebration of Sekaten Festival, Mr Baidlowi, on the contrary, appeared to say that such a tradition should always be there in such a way.
“This is a great virtue of the Wali Songo, who knew very well that introducing Islam to the Indonesian people is not an easy matter. So we must take high respect to them by knowing and preserving such a tradition,” he said.
Only few people listened to the explanation from Mr Baidlowi about the semiotic meaning of the Kinang tradition at the Sekaten Festival.
Mr Baidlowi used the five ingredients of Kinang as bearing the meaning of the five Islamic pillars: (1) testifying only Allah who is rightfully worshiped and the Prophet Muhammad is Allah’s messenger; (2) performing Shalat (prayer); (3) fasting in the Ramadhan month; (4) paying the obligatory Zakat for those with wealth abilities; and (5) performing Hajj to Mecca.
Kinang, in the Javanse tradition, is composed of five ingredients; betel vine, Gambier, lime, tobacco, and betel leaf. Each of these ingredients, according to Mr Baidlowi, represents the five Islamic pillars above.
Unfortunately, explanation of the five Islamic pillars was delivered very brief, and worse, only very few people looked to attentively listened to Mr Baidlowi’s speech.
Consequently, local people and the next generation of the Solonese people will always regard the Gunungan offerings and the Kinang of Sekaten Festival of being able to give abundant blessings for them in the future.
At approximately 10:45, Mr Baidlowi finished his preaching, meaning that the Gunungan offerings would soon be brought to the Masjid Agung Surakarta for a number of traditional Muslim scholars were waiting to pray upon the Gunungan offerings.
Thousands more visitors were waiting outside the Masjid Agung Surkarta.
They found it hard to go inside the front yard of the Masjid for the main entrance gate was closed for the sake of the smoothness of the event.
But the side gates of the Masjid Agung Surakarta were left unguarded and therefore people went into the Masjid complex from these two gates.
Time showed precisely at 11 o’clock, and some of the Karaton’s servants had already came into the Masjid complex, bringing a signal that the Gunungan offerings would soon arrive at the Masjid.
Far away there, the flags of Karaton Kasunanan Surakarta Hadiningrat waved back and forth, meaning that soon the Gunungan would be coming in.
Thousands of people were waiting enthusiastically, depicting the situation of the Anshar people in Medina were waiting for the coming of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca at a historical event called Hijrah.
The Gunungan entourage were led by a group of Karaton’s soldiers wearing blue uniforms, and accordingly, they were in charge of guarding the Gamelan orchestra played during the journey from the Karaton to the Masjid Agung Surakarta.
The entourage of Gunungan were another group of Karaton’s soldiers wearing black uniforms, and as far as I know, they were assigned to guard the Gunungan Kakung (male Gunungan).
For information, there are two couples of Gunungan offerings, two couples of Gunungan Kakung (male Gunungan) and Gunungan Putri (female Gunungan), were released by the Karaton Kasunanan Surakarta Hadiningrat.
Each gunungan were shouldered by twelve people, specifically old people. Yes, most of the Karaton’s servants are those with ages above 50 years old.
The Gunungan Putri came into the Masjid complex, following the Gunungan Kakung.
The situation got more hectic. Panic was all around, with some people might find it hard to breathe when thousands of visitors were eagerly watching the Gunungan offerings.
But this situation was much ‘comfortable’ if compared to another rite after the Gunungan offerings were prayed upon by the locally traditional Muslim scholars.
Soon when those Muslim scholars finally ended their praying for the Gunungan offerings, those flocking the Masjid Agung Surakarta ‘attacked’ the Gunungan for grabbing some parts of the Gunungan.
They do believe that each of the ingredients used at the Gunungan are able to give blessings for them in the future.
But of course this is not the true intention of the Wali Songo when they first created such a festival.
There are highly valuable Islamic messages behind the Gunungan offerings, which are now neglected by the Javanese people.
Instead of learning the Islamic messages of Gunungan Sekaten offerings, people in the present seem to less care about the messages tried to be delivered through Gunungan Sekaten.
They struggled with thousands of people to get the Gunungan, but their struggle leaves no real changes in their Islamic understanding; and worse, there is a Shirk (polytheism) within.
Some believe that the tobacco of Gunungan Sekaten may bring luckiness if it is put at the corner of their home.
Some other believe that the rice of Gunungan Sekaten gives efficacy to abundant harvest if they are farmers.
Well, Islam teaches simple way to achieve such luckiness or abundant harvest actually. But those people are willing not to learn the Islamic teachings in a correct way.
If only the initiator of Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival still lives nowadays, they will be very sad to see their innovative Islamic mission has derailed far far away from their intention.
Finally, there are great messages behind the celebration of Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival. But people in the present seem no longer care about the Islamic messages being delivered through the festival.
Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival in the present are full of misleading belief and mystical matters with no logical reasons on it.
It is the duty for us, the Muslim activists to take them back to the right path of Islam as what have been taught by the Prophet Muhammad because the reason for the celebration of Grebeg Maulud Sekaten Festival is to express the love to the greatest man in history, the Prophet Muhammad salallahu ‘alaihi wasalam.
And one of the right way to express love to the Prophet Muhammad is by following his teachings in daily life.
“This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion...” (Al-Maidah : 3).
“O ye who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; and follow not the footsteps of the evil one; for he is to you an avowed enemy,” (Al-Baqarah : 208).
“Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any of whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the praise of Allah,” (Al-Ahzab : 21).