Classical Court Dance

Karaton of Surakarta

Bedaya KetawangBedaya Ketawang is the most sacred dance in the Palace of Surakarta Hadiningrat, it is the mother of other court dances. Officially, Bedaya Ketawang is only performed once a year in the karaton compound to commemorate the coronation of Sri Susuhunan Pakoe Boewono, as the King of Surakarta.

This dance is depicting the very special relation between the first ruler of Mataram, Panembahan Senopati with Kanjeng Ratu Kidul, the Goddess of the South Sea – the Queen Kencanasari. She vowed to protect every King of Mataram, the direct descendants of Panembahan Senopati as well as the country and its people.

For the karaton Surakarta, Kanjeng Ratu Kidul is its protector in the South, other protectors are:

In the East : Sunan Lawu (Mt. Lawu)
In the West : Kanjeng Ratu Kedaton (Mt. Merapi)
In the North : Kalayuwati (Krendawahana) and Kyai Prabayeksa (Java Sea)

The lyrics of the Ketawang song was so amorous, and also of other Bedayas, as Bedaya Dorodasih, a creation of King Pakoe Boewono IV when he was a Crown – Prince, depicting his affectionate love with R.A. Handaya.

The BedayaThe Bedaya are girls – employees of the Sunan / Sri Susuhunan / King, with main duty to perform rituals of the palace. The bedaya must have a high ability to dance, to make batik, to converse in a proper Javanese language, to know literature, to prepare herbal traditional medicine etc.

The bedaya dance in the karaton is performed by 9 girls, wearing same make-up and costume like a bride. The nine could mean 9 human orifices to control human lust or illustrating the constellations of stars, as Ketawang means sky in old Javanese.

The bedaya Ketawang is very special, it is focusing to the love scene between P. Senopati and K.R. Kidul, the other seven dancers move attractively in seated position. The sound of music, which are involving of five instruments and a choir of female sindens (singers) is very simple.

The dance formation could be changed to represent war movements, such as Garuda Nglayang (flying Eagle) and Supit Urang (Lobster’s Claws). The dancers enter onto the stage led by a chaperone, Ms. Ibu Menggung Tari, carrying incense burner. Firstly they are obliged to solemnly making circle movement around the king, who is seated on his throne.

Wathing the performanceDuring the one hour long dance performance, neither the king nor the audience are permitted to smoke, drink or eat. It is a strong traditional belief of the sacred of Bedaya Ketawang. It is regarded as fertility rite and symbol of union between the king and people and between the Creator and the Creatures, as said in Javanese Manunggaling Kawulo Gusti.

The bedaya dancers have to strictly follow some ceremonies and rules before performing the dance. The preparation is just following exactly the same manner as one about to marry. The night before the performance, all dancers have to sleep in the palace, secluded in Panti Satriya, the most sacred area of karaton, where the power objects are stored.

Bedaya PangkurThe bedaya dance exercises are held only every Tuesday Kliwon (Hanggoro Kasih), once in every 35 days, and usually intensive training started 10 days prior to the ceremony. The other bedaya which are famous in karaton Surakarta are a.o:

Bedaya Daradasih (from King P.B. IX)
Bedaya Sukaharjo (from King P.B. IX)
Bedaya Pangkur (from P.B. IV and VIII)

SrimpiSrimpi dance is the other dance which is also considered as basic dance in karaton Surakarta. The lyrics of its song reflecting moral lesson. The Srimpi Gondokusumo and Srimpi Sangupati (from King P.B. IX) are amongst the popular dance.

Other court dances also learnt and performed in karaton. As a rule all Princes and Princesses have to know how to dance. Sri Susuhunan Pakoe Boewono X had set a special time for his children to learn to dance.

The dances of Petilan or fragment from the epics of Ramayana, Mahabarata and East Java Kingdoms, such as Lawung, Garuda Yeksa, Klono Topeng (masked Solo Dance) Sancaya Kusumowicitro from King Pakoe Boewono V depicting human emotion, are favorite.

The present Sinuwun, King Pakoe Boewono XII was famous as Gusti/Prince Gatotkaca, because several times he danced as Gatotkaca. He has an easy-going personality, since his young age, he joined the court employees for dance training.

The dance exercises in karaton Surakarta held regularly at:

Sundays :
9.00 a.m. – 11.00 am for beginners
1.30 p.m. – 04.00 p.m. for senior students

Wednesdays :
02.00 p.m. – 04.00 p.m.

Saturdays :
02.00 p.m. – 04.00 p.m.

The Javanese court dance in karaton Surakarta shall always be preserved, maintained and developed in the best way, as it is also considered as Pusoko/Heirloom and high valuable heritage from their noble ancestors.

Joglosemar Online is grateful to Princess G.R.Ay. Koes Moertiyah Wirobhumi for the interview and photos.

(Suryo S. Negoro)


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