The Garebeg Procession in Karatons

In the morning of Garebeg, ten thousands of people standing in front of the Pagelaran, the front hall of Karaton, in Alun-alun Lor (north square). Between Alun -alun Lor and Masjid Besar (Great Mosque) around 500 M Northwest of Pagelaran is also crowded with on lookers, waiting for Garebeg procession.

The sound of drums, trumpets and music heard, coming out from Pagelaran, then appear the Karaton soldiers with their specific colorful uniforms, armed with their traditional weapons and old shot guns. They are bearing their different banners, marching elegantly in front of several Gunungan (Gunung = mountain) like food offerings, brought from Karaton to the Great Mosque. In the mosque yard, these offerings shall be distributed to the people. They believe this food, as a gift from Sultan should bring fortune and happiness.

No wonder when Gunungan arrive in the mosque yard, they shall be 'attacked' by thousands of people, trying to get a small part of this offerings. The 'Lucky man' bring it home with a high spirit, shall eat it together with his family.

The Gunungan of Garebeg is offering from the King for the safety and welfare of his country, his kingdom and his people. The prayer said in the mosque, requesting Gusti Allah (God Almighty) to protect the king, his kingdom and his people, to be always safe and prosperous.

The Garebeg is held three times in a year, namely :

  1. Garebeg Maulud (Maulud means birth)
    Held in the Javanese month of Maulud on the 12th, on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.
    The 2008 Mulud will be in March 2008.
  2. Garebeg Sawal
    Held in the first day of Javanese month of Sawal, after one-month fasting period.
    The 2007 Sawal will be in October 13th, 2007.
  3. Garebeg Besar
    Held in the Javanese month of Besar, on the 10th day, the Day of Sacrifice (Idul Adha).
    The 2007 Besar will be in December 2007.
What is the meaning of Garebeg ?

Escorting the king or high-ranking officials to receive audience from his families and subordinates during Gunungan offerings. The biggest Garebeg is the Garebeg Maulud in the Javanese of DAL year (there are eight revolving years, namely ; Alip, Ehe, Jimawal, Je, Dal, Be, Wawu, Jimakir.
For instance, this year is Alip year, next year should be Ehe year and last year was Jimakir year. This means once in every 8 years

The Garebeg ceremony originally was dated back in the 12th century of Majapahit era. After the fall of Majapahit, in Demak kingdom, the Garebeg was temporally stopped. The people, who always used to a such ceremony, were disappointed. Then the famous Wali (saint) Sunan Kalijogo proposed to the Sultan of Demak to revive the Garebeg. It was used to spread Islamic teaching and gamelan music was played nearby the mosque to attract people.

Sunan Kalijaga was a very nice Wali, with his speeches he invited people to confess to Islam without besmirching the other beliefs. The playing of the Gamelan in this event is named 'Sekaten'. From that time to the present date, Sekaten always withdraw a big crowd.

The Gunungan

The busiest part to organize Garebeg is the making of the gunungan. There are six types of gunungan, such as ;

  1. Gunungan Lanang (lanang means a man)
    This 1,5 high gunungan put on the big tray supported by a wooden frame of 2 x 1,5 m. The top of the gunungan or Mustoko (which means head) are stuck with cookies from rice in the form of fishes called Baderan. Five garlands of melati (yasmine) flowers with kantil flower on its each tip are hung to baderan.

    Rice cookies called Bendul (small balls) circle the head. A row of salted eggs also circles it. The Gunungan is covered with kacang panjang (long green peanuts) with some red chili peppers. The end of each kacang panjang as decorated with a kucu (glutinous rice in the form of a ring) and upil-upil (a triangular cake). Twelve-rice cones with side dishes, four banana leaves bags contain of various side dishes, four young coconuts and a pair of young banana leaves upon a cloth with pattern Bangun Tulak (against evil) also placed on the tray. At each corner of the tray, garlands of melati (jasmine) flowers are hung.

  2. Gunungan Gepak (flat top mountain)
    The wooden frame has the same measure as the Gunungan Lanang, the tray is covered by a Bangun Tulak designed cloth. Forty baskets full with 5 shapes and 5 colors of small cookies; red, blue, yellow, green and black, and some fruits are placed above the tray. Each corner of the tray is decorated with pieces of yellow cloth.
  3. Gunungan Pawuhan
    The shape is almost the same with Gunungan Wadon with a flat top. On the top, some white flags are implanted, on the slope some rounded black flags stuck. The Bangun Tulak cloth covers the tray.
  4. Gunungan Darat
    It has also a flat top. On the top placed several black flat cakes, surrounded by glutinous rice cookies in the form of lips. The Bangun Tulak cloth covers the tray.
  5. Gunungan Wadon (wadon means woman)
    The top of this gunungan is almost similar with an opened umbrella. It is decorated with a big flat black cake, surrounded with many cakes in the form of leaf and bud of flowers (rengginan). The body of this gunungan is covered with glutinous cakes in the form of stars 8 rounded rings, the middle part of this cakes implanted with kucu and upil-upil.

    There are also some eblek (square glutinous rice cake) and betetan (glutinous rice cake in the form of parrot's beak) on top of bamboo's pin, wajik (big brown glutinous rice) and fruits. Stems of banana tree formed like an upside down cone support the lower part of this gunungan. The Bangun Tulak cloth covers the tray. The Gunungan Wadon resembles to a very big flower.

  6. Gunungan Kutug/Bromo
    Kutug means to burn incense (kemenyan); many people believe that burning incenses is meant to communicate with spiritual world. Its shapes resembles with gunungan wadon, but decorated with cakes and fruits as the gunungan lanang.

    Like the other gunungan, it is placed above a big tray covered with Bangun Tulak cloth, put on the wooden frame of 2 x 1,5 m. On the top of gunungan there is a hole to place a brazier for burning incense. A continuos incense's smoke appears from the top of this gunungan.

    Gunungan Kutug/Bromo is only made in Garebeg Mulud of DAL year, that's mean only once in 8 years.

Gunungan Lanang (left) and Gunungan Wadon (right)

Every gunungan is carried on shoulder by sixteen men from Karaton to the mosque. For Gunungan Lanang, two additional men are needed, holding two long canes to support the gunungan.


In the complete, Garebeg Mulud Procession, 30 (thirty) gunungan are made, consisting of ;
10 Gunungan Lanang
4 Gunungan Wadon
4 Gunungan Pawuhan
4 Gunungan Darat
8 Gunungan Gepok
1 Gunungan Kutug/Bromo

In Garebeg Maulud of DAL year, one additional Gunungan Kutug /Bromo is also made, so the total is 31 gunungan.
In Garebeg Sawal, 12 gunungan lanang are prepared without other gunungan.
In Garebeg Besar, the total of gunungan is like in Mulud (30 gunungan).

The procession begins in a ceremony called 'Numplak Wajik', in south Kemagangan Pavillion in Karaton, witnessed by the relative of Sultan - a senior Karaton's official, in the afternoon.

A sound of music, called 'gejogan' played by hitting a lesung (wooden mortar for pounding rice) with alu (rice pestle) accompaniment of Kidung (ritual Javanese song) Tundung Setan (evil spirits chasing) and other ancient ritual songs. First turn to be arranged is the Gunungan Wadon in honor of the holy duties of women in the process of life creation. Some related offerings are given cosmetics, mirror, comb, sirih (betel leaves, areca nut, lime, gambier, tobacco), Tulak Balak cloth, a white sheet of fabrics and semekan (a cloth to cover chest).

The gunungan are kept in the omah (house) of gunungan in east and west Kemagangan, ready for morning procession.


For Garebeg Mulud, 2 sets of gamelan must be prepared. Publicly these gamelans are known as Kyai Sekati, consist of 2 sets;
The gamelan set of Kyai Gunturmadu (guntur ; to fall, madu ; honey) , symbolically it means 'to receive a gift.
The gamelan set of Kyai Nogowilogo symbolizes continuously winning the war.
Kyai Gunturmadu is originated from Karaton Majapahit, Kyai Nogowilogo is a newly made duplicate of Kyai Gunturmadu.

Each set consists of one saron demung, two saron barung, one saron penerus, two bendes, a set of kempyang and one bedug. Before the fifth day of month Mulud, these gamelans were prepared by cleaning and give them offerings.

The gamelan players called Wiyogo, they have to purify their souls by one day fasting and take a bath and washing hairs and then attend the Kenduri/selametan (a pray by several peoples with some food offering requesting selamet (safety) from God.

In the evening, on fifth of Maulud., the gamelan played in the palace compound to mark the beginning of sekaten. First played is Kyai Gunturmadu with the opening song of Gending Wirangrong. Several prince will give udik-udik (coins) to the musicians. At 11.00 p.m. the music stopped and sharp at midnight, the two sets of gamelan carried on shoulders to the mosque yard.

Kyai Gunturmadu is placed in Pagongan Kidul, whereas Kyai Nogowilogo in in Pagangan Lor (Pagangan is a pavilion to keep the gamelan set in the mosque yard. Kidul means south; Lor means north). The gamelan is played continuously after morning (subuh) prayer. It is stopped at every Adzan (call to perform duty prayer) and also at Thursday night until Friday at noon for the Friday prayer. On the 11th of Mulud, at midnight sharp, the gamelan Kyai Gunturmadu and Kyai Nogowilogo, brought back to the Karaton.

It is worth to note, that procession of carrying the gamelan from Karaton to the mosque vice versa are very solemn procession, guarded by some princes and other Karaton dignitaries as well as some units of Karaton soldiers. No wonder, this procession also withdraws a huge crowd.

The Visit of Sultan to The Mosque

In the evening on the 11th of Mulud of around o8.00 o'clock, Sultan in a complete Javanese costume appears from his Gedong Kuning residence of his Karaton compound. At Bangsal Kencono Pavilion, he is respectly greeted by the princes, who are ready to escort him to the mosque. Walking from the Bangsal Kencono to his car in Kemandungan, his highness is protected with an opened golden umbrella, solemnly greeted by Karaton dignitaries. The colorful Karaton soldiers are already there too. Sultan accompanied by bigger followers goes to both Pagongan to give udik-udik to the musicians. Thousands of people are coming, wishing to see the ceremony.

Then Sultan is entering the mosque, at the gate of the mosque veranda, he is greeted with full of devotion by the chief of Penghulu (priest), by kissing his hand. Sultan and all his escorts attend the reading of Prophet Muhammad biography and selawatan or invocation in accordance with Islamic religion. Before the ritual begins, Sultan goes inside the mosque give some donation and spreads udik-udik nearby the four main pillars of the mosque.

After the selawatan, the chief of Penghulu offers melati and kantil flowers and put them on both side of his ear, others are doing the same thing. This old local tradition is called 'Caos Sumping' symbolizing holiness. Before midnight Sultan and his escorts left the mosque and return to Karaton.


The Manggung or court ladies dressed specially for Garebeg procession bring the palace Regalia consist of 9 golden objects of grandeur, namely;

  1. Banyak (goose) symbolizing holiness
  2. Dalang (deer) symbolizing skillfulness
  3. Sawung (cock) symbolizing courage
  4. Galing (peacock) symbolizing authority
  5. Ardawalika (dragon) symbolizing responsibility
  6. Kacu Mas (golden handkerchief) symbolizing cleansing all dirty things
  7. Kutuk (a kind of fish) symbolizing attractiveness
  8. Kandil (Lantern) symbolizing brightness
  9. Saput (a box of jewelries) symbolizing readiness

Before the procession, all the Manggung and other bearers of palace grandeur's objects and heirlooms must purify their bodies and souls, by fasting, bathing and others spiritual preparations.


There are several objects of Sultan used in this celebration, called 'Ampilan' such as, golden chair (Dampar Kencono), feet supporter (Pancadan), golden box for sirih/ betel leaf (Cepuri), golden finger bowl (Wijikan), and golden fan from peacock's feathers (Badak), etc.


Some selected pusaka are also escorting Sultan such as keris (daggers), tumbak (spears), etc.
Note : see separated article of Pusaka.


Among the Sultan's subordinates, there is a group of invalid people, such as; crippled, albinos, dwarfs, etc. They are wearing red batik, with big waistband, without shirts & caps. In the procession, there are walking in front of the Manggung court ladies bearing the palace Regalia, in the audience they are sitting nearby the Sultan. The Polowijo and Cebolan are a proof that the Ratu (king) is taking a good care of them, and although they are having physical defect, they can serve the country as other normal human beings.

AUDIENCE in Karaton

In the events of Garebeg, an audience with the Ratu is held. This is called 'Pisowanan', where the King is receiving the visit of his family, princes, Karaton high-ranking officials and subordinates. The visitors shall greet the King devotedly in a special way. They shall give 'sembah bekti' or sembah pangabekti' or 'ngabekti'to the King or Ratu.
In Yogya palace, they do Ngabekti to Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X.
In Pakualaman Palace, they do Ngabekti to Kanjeng Gusti Pakualam IX
A special place is chosen, for instance in Bangsal Kencono or Siti Hinggil.

Sembah : respectful greeting, made with palms together, fingertips upward, the two thumbs touching nose.

Bekti : full of devotion or obedience. The Ratu and visitors are wearing traditional costume, the king is sitting on a chair with straight body, bent legs, both knee exposed in front of him.

The people who shall give Sembah Bekti are sitting cross-legged on the flour/mat about one meter in front of the Ratu. From this position, the man shall kneel and give sembah (as explained above) and then goes forward to kiss the right kneel of the Ratu, his tip of nose touching slightly the knee, his both palms is holding the knee of the king, saying :
"I give you my Sembah Bekti, kindly apologize my mistakes and request your blessings".
The subordinate or Kings relatives will do sembah again and retreats by walking in squatting position for one or two meters (outside the palace compound, the royal families are doing the same Sembah Bekti to their parents and elder relatives). The elder relatives of the king are treated differently. They sit on chair while waiting for the Sembah Bekti, the wording is the same, but with different position.

An uncle of the King, who is a senior prince, comes forward and stops around two meters from the King, he kneels a bit whilst saying his greetings, he touch his left and right ears with his left and right hand thumb, the Sultan does the same thing.

In the feudal times, any subordinates did not show up for Sembah Bekti, meant as unfaithful to king, should be punished.


In the morning in Bangsal Kencono, every body is ready with her/his proper fiesta costume, ready to carry out the duties in the Garebeg. All palace Regalia, heirlooms, etc are well prepared. The king is sitting in his golden throne, dressed grandiosely with his most powerful keris in his waist. Under the command of the King himself, the most senior Prince assigned for the task leads The Garebeg celebration.

The inside procession starts from Bangsal Kencono (golden pavilion) to Bangsal Manguntur Tangkil in Sitihinggil. Meanwhile, the Patih (chief-minister) and other subordinates are waiting in Pagelaran , north of Sitihinggil. In Bangsal Manguntur Tangkil the king sits on his golden throne above the Selo Gilang (square stone), accompanied by some princes, dignitaries and his trusted men. Several units of Karaton soldiers are ready.

'Munggang' an ancient song was being played by Karaton music corps, then the different units of soldiers with their coat of arms, marching, saluting the king. They march downward to Pagelaran on the way to the mosque. The last unit of soldiers, the Mantrijero is bringing the gamelan 'Kyai Guntursari' which are always played during the procession.

Then the gamelan Kyai Keboganggang and Kyai Gunturlaut are playing the song 'Kodok Ngorek'. Accompaniment with this music, the gunungan appear preceded by a Gagar Mayang (a bouquet of flowers and leaves implanted to a banana trunk). At first is Gunungan Kutug/Bromo with its smoke of burned incense, followed by 30 (thirty) gunungan of different types.

The appearance of the gunungan is answered by salvos by all soldiers units and a cheer welcome by all attendants. The people in Alun-alun are shouting happily, they believe that they receive 'berkah dalem' (His highness blessings), their life should be a fortune, as for the villagers, their harvests should be successful.

The procession is leaving Pagelaran. Firstly appear the Karaton soldiers, followed by Karaton high-ranking officials and domestic staffs, Princes and Patih. Polowijo and cebolan (the invalid staffs), the heirlooms, the king with his internal security soldiers, some heirlooms were protected by golden umbrellas and incense burning. All soldiers guard the procession and the king's appearance.

In the mosque, led by the chief Penghulu a Kenduri is held. This is offering for Wilujengan Nagari (country safety), after that selametan dahar kembul (eating together for the safety of all people). After lunch, the king shall bring home a small portion of food (berkat) to be consumed symbolically by the princesses, so that the princesses too, should live in safety. Then the king and his escorts shall return to Karaton.

Karaton Surakarta Hadiningrat

The aim and the time of implementation of this traditional ceremony are same. The gunungan are prepared in the terrace of "Koken" kitchen four days before every Garebeg days in the Javanese month of Mulud, Sawal and Besar.

Garebeg is organized by the Parentah Karaton (Palace Authority). The King, Susuhunan Pakoe Boewono XII in his domain, Sasono Hadi, orders a Karaton official, Mas Tumenggung Bupati to transmit to the related officials/Bupatis and Nayakas in Bangsal Marakata to carry out Garebeg ceremony.

For Garebeg Mulud, the Karaton Gamelan Kanjeng Kyai Sekati, consist of K.K. Gunturmadu and K.K. Guntursari are taken out from Pendapi/hall Parangkarso.

The abdi-dalem (court employees) Semut Ireng (Black Ants) carry on shoulders these gamelan to Great Mosque, West of North Square. First, K.K. Gunturmadu are placed in Bangsal Pradonggo in the Great Mosque.

Entering the mosque's gate, the gamelans are played by abdi dalem Niyogo. During the Sekaten (fair commemorating the birth of Prophet Muhammad), the sound of the gamelans are always heard, except during praying times. These gamelans are brought back to the Palace to mark the end of Sekaten.

Puro Pakualaman

Early in the morning, some court employees of Pakualaman flanked by Puro's court soldiers stand in display in the front yard of the house. They receive with honor, a gunungan sent by Karaton of Yogyakarta. Then the gunungan is sent right away to the Pakualaman Mosque.

Amount of Gunungan

Nowadays, due to change of time, the Karatons make only several gunungans.
Karaton of Surakarta, if in the past made 24 gunungans or 12 pairs, at present makes only 4 gunungans or 2 pairs.

Karaton Of Yogyakarta usualy makes 6 gunungan a.o.:
Gunungan Darat, Gunungan Gepak.
1 Gunungan Pawuhan.
1 for Puro Pakualam, 5 for Karaton ceremony.

Puro Pakualaman, it does not make the gunungan, it receives 1 Gunungan Lanang from Karaton of Yogyakarta.

(Suryo S. Negoro)

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