The Grand Parade Under the Sun

Trip Start Mar 30, 2006
Trip End Mar 31, 2006

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Saturday, April 1, 2006

I think I am the first to wake up, so imagine my shame when I see that my parents are all set. It is a good thing that Lam Tjeng Kiong is only a breath away from our house. In no time, I get myself ready and here we are, on the temple's outdoors. The traffic is unusually busy, and yet the sun has but risen minutes ago. In front of the temple gate, trucks and buses line up, in place of chairs and the stage of yesterday's night performance that has successfully entertained the guests-of-honor and masses alike.

I join the group of temple officials that are among the first to go to the seaside. The preparations for the morning prayer-by-the-sea is underway, and my hunch says it is going to be grand. The altar of sacrifice is being set. Upon it, in the first line are placed twelve kinds of foods, twelve bowls of rice in the second line, then fruits and a big bowl of grains and beans in the third, then cups of tea and wine, and so on. The list is endless. On the higher altar, all covered by sacrificial paper, are placed the statues of the gods. Rather tediously, I might add, because for every statue placed on this altar, a prayer has to be recited first. "Therefore the gods will not be infuriated because we move them here," says one official.

Meanwhile, guests are coming by the busloads. The locals, sea-folks, appear by the hundreds. Are the officials feeling nervous, being watched by thousands of people?

Yes and no. Since there are a lot of things to be taken care of, along with the gravity of each, they must feel nervous lest they forget a simple but 'deadly' bowl of rice, for instance. They must be working under constant stress, as their eyes (mostly the women's) tirelessly wander about, checking and rechecking others' jobs. However, this tradition has been done for decades, and at least some of them have been doing this for years, so they have experience on this and need not worry.

Before long, I see Hasan the Shaman again. The same monotonous rhythm builds up again as Hasan burns phu and inhales the smoke. (Inhalation of smoke and hallucinations induced by it have been connected with the medium's magical powers in many shamanic cultures worldwide.) He begins to mumble. Then come out his sword and majestic robe. Now he's ready.

And we are, too. As the last statue is placed on the altar, every believer has taken their positions, as if heeding the sound of gongs that rules the air. It's seven o'clock sharp. The prayer's about to start, and Hasan seems to be in charge. All the hackings, scribblings, murmurings, dancing that he did yesterday, he does it again here and now. The believers, incense on their hands, kneel behind him, facing the altar, praying. The onlookers, lots of them are children, simply watch it with great delight.

When he's done with the altar, Hasan faces the sea, followed by hundreds, incense still in their hands. Temple officials bring up large dishes of foods and put them on the sand, encircling him. With his sword and flag Hasan moves about, blessing the sacrifices, which are soon taken away past him, past everyone, into the embracing waves. In a matter of seconds, the sacrifices are gone, awash.

The sacrificial papers are put in flames on the ground. Nobody wants to miss this part: they get some, throw them into the great fire, then kneel and pray for good fortune. When the sheets quickly turn to ash, people seem to care no more. They crowd and rush around the phu-issuing Hasan, like the phu will not be enough for all.

So far, this event has been real Chinese in almost everything: the deafening, annoying noise caused by metal and ox-skin percussions, the availability of food in terms of quantity and variety (served free to all), the infatuation with fire, the incredible number of guests and bystanders. All that, plus the religious concept behind the event itself, makes this something very Chinese, yet can't be experienced in China.


For every god-statue brought out from a temple, there is a corresponding joli, an elaborately embellished and massive palanquin, thought as sacred as the statue it carries. Consider it a god throne, so sacred it must not even be laid on the ground without use of platform. And today, on this temple yard, sit at least 26 of them, hailing from temples all around Java, ready for the street march. Which happens precisely at one o'clock.

Clamors begin first to exude from the temple, then spread outward and fill the streets. Carts, carrying drums made of ox skin irritatingly played by their drummers, are being hauled along with the jolis, out ot the temple gate, while the impatient crowd stand and watch and wait. From the direction of the sea, a siren yells, heralding the coming of the marching band, whose personnels are local high school students, that will lead the great pageant.

More than a thousand people take part in the procession, separated in groups of 26 overly-happy-to-shake-and-rock-the-joli officials from different temples, the banner-bearers, the opening modern band (who plays pop songs all the time), and finally, at the rearmost of the procession, the impressive Javanese dancers that become the event's closing act. Their route is a rectangular one, wide roads where thousands of onlookers have been congregating ecstatically to see whatever is going on.

No less than four hours and six kilometers later, the head of the pageant reenters Lam Tjeng Kiong. The gods who have been riding on the jolis have enjoyed the trip, and now are welcomed back at the temple's yard, joli by joli. The procession of return is an interesting one to witness: first, the banner-bearer from the related temple where the joli comes from will enter, and then-here's the fun part-the joli bearers will spend the last of their energy by running like hell while bringing in their joli to the yard.

The twenty-or-so jolis have returned safely and now their bearers are relaxing, consuming meals served religiously by the diligent ladies of Lam Tjeng Kiong. The reentry procession itself is getting boring. But then, an amazing thing near the end takes place.

To my amazement, the remaining three groups seem very reluctant to get into the temple. These joli bearers from temples in Slawi, Adiwerna and Tegal line up, one beside another, consistently rocking their jolis back and forth with no hint of exhaustion, as if competing: whoever falters loses. (They surely do change personnels every other minutes or so, but as a whole, their rocking power is not fading even a bit.) The repetitive, trancelike music from the cymbals and drums get even louder and more spirited as these three jolis shake. In short, for that thirty minute encore, these guys go berserk, oblivious to the wowed audience and even the host's impatience of getting them inside and finish off the whole shebang.

At the end, almost everybody that have taken part in the march have bloodshot eyes. Perhaps it is because they have walked that long supporting the joli's weight, or simply because they lacked sleep the night before. All I know now, they are laughing and talking and shaking hands with one another; the occasion's too important for them to care about their eyes.

When night ascends, when most of the guests have returned with their buses and trucks to their hometowns, the moist-laden air finally materializes as buckets of rain fall down mercilessly. "The rain is good omen," an old man points to the sky and voices his remark. "It means the gods are happy, and as our rewards, we will prosper."

The following morning, every people my family and I meet on the streets can't stop talking about the success of the event. It may well be either that Cilacap is too small a town for this event, or that Hian Thian Sang Tee's birthday is too colossal an event to be indifferent about. Whatever it is, the gods must surely be very happy.
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Heather on

Such great posts! Any updates?!?

mindmaker on

Thank you. I'll keep you notified if I'm adding some new posts in the near future.

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