Zachary back in Central Java Gamelan trip

Yogya/Solo Travel Journal - 8 Dec 2015 to 18 Dec 2015

Mangkunegaran Palace

Mangkunegaran Palace

Solo (Surakarta) and Yogyakarta, heirs to the Mataram Sultanate, are considered today to be the cultural centers of ‘high’ Javanese art forms, with artistic lineages that have been in constant development spanning centuries, predating the HinduBuddhist courts of Java till today. I visited these cities earlier this year with BronzAge and was captivated; Yogya is expressive and dynamic, Solo is tranquil and meditative. Central Java came to be a place that represented refuge for the mind, away from the troubles of my own city. When I saw an opportunity to travel there this term break as a study trip with Singa Nglaras, I immediately decided to go for it.

Travelling in Yoyga



As usual, I visited the touristy spots the shopping districts and the monumental temples auspicious for the upcoming year. Borobudur radiates a silent assurance from its core that the universe is ; the Bodhisattva path that promises enlightenment by the end of your ascent the multivalent structure it is a mountain, a mandala, and a stupa all at once.

Prambanan stands as a testament to the Shaivite Kingdoms that flourished in central Java, it’s triple spires surging upward to the celestial realms. It is the axismundi of the Sanjayan Kingdom, the metaphysical Meru, a symbol of power, a center of Hinduism.

I must mention that I have visited these two temples before, but I just had to see them again, and I will see them again if I have a chance. Of course, the best time is to go when there are as little tourists as possible.

After visits to several museums and galleries in Yogya, me and my travel buddy headed to Solo to meet up with the rest of the group.

To Solo

Private Lessons

I took one Gender lessons from Mas Darsono bagus. It was a good introduction to an instrument one can probably spend a lifetime learning.

Ibu Cendani and Rose

Ibu Cendani and Rose

I sat in on Rose’s (my gamelan youth club mate) Sindhen classes from Ibu Cendani. I remember listening to her sing in the Pujangga Laras. We practiced the Gendhing Gambir Sawit. From the classes I sort of understand very briefly how the Pesindhen part is structured within a piece. It was really great. I want to be a Pesindhen.

Group Latihan

During our group latihan throughout the week we did a couple of pieces. One of them was a Gendhing Bonang titled Majemuk. Majemuk is a long piece with a slow but really rewarding build up. It starts pensive and extremely reserved, but crescendos into a glorious, thundering work that demands for your attention, calling for an audience to a show. I learned the sekaten style during this trip, doing the demung imbal, which was really a wise choice for me at my level of musicianship because it was challenging but not impossible to grasp given the amount of time we had.

The second piece we did was Ladrang Sri Karongron. I learned the gerongan parts for this, which was great because 1. the version that I learned from Mas Darsono Bagus is not on youtube and 2. there is a senggahan part during irama wilet which is really cute “é oaé lontong, lontong é lontong gosong” 3. it’s a really nice piece in general, something that I will loop on my ipod (and I already have since I came back) .

During the dance rehearsals at the Mangkunegaran at night we revised Beksan Menak Koncar, as well as did some pieces that I had not done before such as Tari Srimpi Pandelori, Gambyong Pareanom, Gambyong Pangkur, Tari Sancaya Kusuma Wicitra and others which I cannot remember off the top of my head. We also learned a mysterious new Lancaran ‘a’.


Dhalang and the Wayang Kulit puppets

Dhalang and the Wayang Kulit puppets

I had an opportunity to see a Ruwat (Wayang Kulit version) with Mas Jarwo, who drove me up to Klaten. From my limited knowledge Ruwat is a ritual cleansing ceremony to remove bad luck that can be performed by only a select number of people (mystics, priests? and the Dhalang). It was a really a nice experience tucked away at a quiet village on the outskirts of the main city. I always feel nervous at these kinds of things because I am so obviously an outsider but I am surprised every single time. This is what I love about Java. I was graciously offered hospitality that would be hard to get in Singapore, I was given a nice place to sit (beside the sindhens) and offered food and snacks which were delicious.

As a nerd for all sorts of religious / spiritual things, this was perfect for me: I saw the ritual cleansing which involves the Dhalang reciting a mantra before cutting a lock of hair from the boy and then cleansing him in with water scented with flowers. The best part was the mad rush and negotiations for the free stuff (which I think are offerings) at the end of the ceremony.


Calung is a bamboo ensemble from Banyumas, the Eastern side of Java. In contrast to central Javanese arts which our teacher Pak Darno describes as extremely serious, Banyumasan music is more lighthearted and whimsical. I was placed on Gambang Barung (I think for most parts) and it was really quite challenging because of several things: it being a new instrument to me, the speed etc. (even though we are doing the easiest things and Calung is the 2nd easiest type of bamboo ensemble). The vocal melodies and lyrics (graciously translated by Mas Damian) are extremely quirky and fun to sing. I’d certainly like to do more of this in the future.

Thank Yous

Trying out the becak

Trying out the becak

A huge mega thank you to Xin Wei who made everything so easy and possible; from booking the accommodation to scheduling and liaising with teachers and bringing me to buy a drum. This trip would not have been so fruitful and fulfilling without his planning.

Thank you to Ibu Fitri for one of the most pleasant kost experiences one can ask for, & thank you to everyone on the trip and everyone who loves KARAWITAN.