Many of the cities in Java have been named after the great cities in the epic stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Madura island is named after Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna. Mt. Bromo is derived from the Javanese pronunciation of Lord Brahma himself. Yogyakarta (or Jogjagarta) is named after Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Ram, another Hindu influence.
So far it had been an amazing week of learning – about another culture, about the people from that culture. Sam was in the mood to discuss politics in Indonesia since the presidential elections were due to happen in mid 2014. It was interesting to find out that it was an unwritten law of the country that any man contesting the post of President had to be from the dominant Javanese tribe. Sam was all praise for Jokowi, who is seen as a potential candidate in the election for President.
We passed the little district of Muntilan and Sam pointed out that most people from this district make statues from volcanic rocks for a living. The statues are made for the overseas markets since the Islamic homes are not allowed to keep statues or sculptures of any living creature in their homes. According to the teachings of their prophet, the act of creation is the prerogative of God and not humans.
The last day of our travel took us to visit the ‘big ruins of an old Buddhist temple’ as Sir Raffles had been told in 1814. On our way, as it was usual practice by now, Sam filled us in on the many interesting facts about Borobudur.
Borobudur, a monument from the 9th century, has been renovated several times to the tune of 30 million USD. The last renovation went on for over ten years, when several volcanic rocks were removed and reset like a giant jigsaw puzzle after they had disarranged themselves in the repeated earthquakes and cyclic weather changes. According to Sam, there are many speculations as to why the Mahayana Buddhists decided to construct such a fabulous temple at that particular spot. One of which he said could be because Central Java is also where the provinces of Demak and Kudus existed and they were considered to be almost as holy as Mecca by the Islamic population.
The Borobudur temple lies in an axis line that connects it to two other Buddhist temples believed to be constructed in the same century- The Mendut and Pawon– which are a few kilometers away from each other. Even though no known reason has been established, Sam supposed it was because in the ancient times people had to walk great distances, over long periods of time to reach Borobudur. The temple lies between two rivers, Elo and Progo. Typically people had to walk across one river rest for a bit before crossing the second river, to reach Borobudur. Even today, Buddhists in Indonesia, observe the annual ritual on Vesak day, by walking from Mendut passing past Pawon and end at Borobudur.
We reached the temple premises when the weather threatened to become bad. From a bright sunny morning, somewhere along the way, it had turned dark and cloudy. Thankfully there were locals who had umbrellas for hire, and we had the good sense to take one each before our climb. Trishno, the local guide who took us around Borobudur, was a veteran, who by virtue of repeating the story to the many tourists before us, could say the story of the sculptures backwards, if you woke him up in the middle of the night.
It is believed that a Buddhist of Indian origin, Gunadharma is the chief architect of the temple of Borobudur. He is believed to have visualized the teachings of Vedas and incorporated these into the design of the temple. The temple design, which is in various levels, is believed to correspond to the phases of life a bodhisattva lives to reach nirvana. We learnt of the incredible Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva who refused Nirvana only to stay back in the world to share his wisdom and ensure others reached the state of Nirvana. The Dalai Lama is believed to be one such, in Tibetan Buddhism.
By the time we were done, the rains had begun to pour. It was Jummat (Friday), a sacred day for the Islamic community and we had little hope to reach our next destination before closing time. We did reach the palace of the current monarch of Jogjakarta, Hemangku Buwono X, who also happens to be the provincial governor of Jogjakarta, just short of closing time.
The rain continued to pour and yet, we managed to take in a few details of the vast palace grounds, the pandapoh (the pandals) and some exhibits of royal batik and the occasions that they were worn, the gamelan ( musical instruments) and the gifts received by the royal family over the years from other countries.
Akank and I found entertainment in the English captions given for the exhibits. The others were seriously contemplating the wonders of the centuries gone by.
Our next stop was at the beautiful garden restaurant of the Prince of Jogja, nDalem ngabean, for lunch. The buffet was largely meat and shrimp based but they gladly accommodated our veggie requests and rustled up some yum fare. We listened to the gamelan music of gongs and xylophones accompanied by singing of which we didn’t understand any.
Post lunch, we headed to Taman Sari, the water castle of the Kings of Jogja.
It was possible to imagine green lush gardens minus the housing that has sprouted around the complex. Our last stop of the day, sans rains, was at the batik factory. Even though we have been to one in Malaysia, to watch the workers at it, is always amazing. It reminds me to appreciate why I pay so much for batik material. We ended up picking something for everyone from the store there.
That was the end of our week long sojourn of East Java. We flew back to Singapore the next morning, bringing with us plenty of memories and photos to share. I hope you have enjoyed my posts on our vacation at Java as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you.