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Bedhaya Semang : The Sacred Dance of Yogyakarta - article ; n°1 ; vol.24, pg 127-142

21 pages
Archipel - Année 1982 - Volume 24 - Numéro 1 - Pages 127-142
16 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
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Jan Hostetler
Bedhaya Semang : The Sacred Dance of Yogyakarta
In: Archipel. Volume 24, 1982. pp. 127-142.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Hostetler Jan. Bedhaya Semang : The Sacred Dance of Yogyakarta. In: Archipel. Volume 24, 1982. pp. 127-142.
doi : 10.3406/arch.1982.1774
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/arch_0044-8613_1982_num_24_1_1774SEMANG : BEDHAYA
"Bedhaya Semang," the only sacred Bedhaya dance in the central
Javanese court of Yogyakarta, has received renewed attention in recent
years due to court attempts to reconstruct it. The last performance of
this work occurred sometime before 1920, possibly before the beginning
of this century. This article examines the status and significance of
"Bedhaya Semang" in relation to Yogyanese court culture, history,
and ritual. (*)
In the history of the central Javanese courts of Yogyakarta and
Suraikarta, one of the great honors for guests was to be presented a
performance of a Bedhaya dance. Performed by nine of the best palace
dancers, these dances were the aesthetic pride of the courts and di
splayed the pinnacle of subtle refinement cultivated in female-style
dance. They were formerly reserved solely for presentation by the
ruler and, as such, had a status similar to the official regalia of the
(*) I wish to thank the following individuals for their very generous assistance in
providing information, arranging access to materials, and sharing their knowledge
with me : R.L. Sasminta Mardawa, R.B. Pustaka Mardawa, G.B.P.IL Suryobrongto,
G.B.P.H. Hadinegoro, G.B.PJi. Puruboyo, G.B.P.H. Puger, K:R:T. Harjonegoro,
Cécile Bigeon, Ben Suharto, Siti Sutiyah, and F.X. Wiidaryanto.
As author of this article, I assume full responsibility for its contents. To avoid
confusion, I bave followed modern spelling conventions for all Javanese language
items whh, the exception of proper names of individuals and .titles of written
works. All translation from Javanese and Indonesian, sources is my own. 128
A Bedhaya performance was an event of majesty and splendor
and took place in the main audience hall of the palace, a marble-floored
pavilion illuminated by crystal chandeliers. The event was marked by
stately processionals, elegant costumes, and the resonant sound of the
gamelan orchestra and chorus of singers. It was a formal performance
of royal art.
Though one seldom sees dt performed in a palace in the present
age, the dance is much the same. A Bedhaya dance proceeds in a slow
fluidity of unison movement, the nine dancers creating the impression
of a single entity in continual metamorphosis. The flowing delicacy of
the movement combined with the lush textures of the music form an
art in which the expression of rich depths of feeling is made exquisite
through subtlety and restraint. Although the poetic text sung by the
chorus often tells a story, the dance itself is formal in design and gives
only, the most abstracted portrayal of a dramatic event. The mood is
lyrical but solemn, captivating but remote.
It has been said that someone watching a performance of Bedhaya
forgets the bustle of modern life and feels transported to the world
of meditation, like the smoke of incense rising inside a temple (Van
Helsdingen-jSchoevers, 1925, p.8). Association with meditation is also
found in the mystical interpretations given to the formal designs of
the dance, , particularly as espoused by: dance . experts in Yogyakarta.
In these interpretations, the dance is regarded as a symbolic portrayal
of a person's spiritual life culminating in the experience of mystical
The question of when the first Bedhaya was performed is unans
werable. Legend says that the first Bedhaya dancers were heavenly
nymphs created by the god Brahma. Their dance for Brahma was later
echoed by the earthly Bedhaya dancers' performance for the sove
reign of the land. Although we cannot point with certainty to the first
temporal performance of Bedhaya, we can state that the presently ex
isting large repertoire of Bedhaya dances in the Yogyakarta and Sura-
karta courts represents a long tradition of royal art which serves to
both edify and bring pleasure to the sovereign .who views it.
There are, however, two* Bedhaya whose status is singular. These
works, "Bedhaya Semang" " in Yogyakarta and "Bedhaya Ketawang"
in Surakarta, are considered sacred and they are each regarded as the
most important and the oldest work in their respective courts. Both
are said to have been inherited from the Mataram kingdom from which
these courts descend. . . ...... Illustration non autorisée à la diffusion
1 7
The opening formation of a Bedhaya dance in the tradition of Yogyakarta
Pictured is "Bedhaya Angronsekar," choreographed by R.L. Sasminta Mardawa
and performed at nDdalem Notoprajan, Yogyakarta, in 1978
(Photo by J. Hostetler) A Fie, Major des Chinois de Son épouse, mère de Queeny Chang, Tjong
Medan en costume de Nyonya (vers 1900)
' Photo de groupe,
avec les parents
\ du côté maternel
\ (prise à l'occasion
du jubilee en
1916) Chang et son frère Pa-liang Queeny
en 1908
En costume de soirée, vers 1920 Dans les neiges d'Arosa (Suisse) et*ve'rso~d'un~dè's bàets de banque émis par la "Swatow and'.. Recto Co.''
. . • Chaochow Railway 129
The key to the special status and importance of these Bedhaya is
their connection to one of the most important spiritual entities of cen-i
Irai Java, Ratu Kidul. Ratu Kidul (literally, Queen of the South) is
the queen who rules over the spirit realm, a realm which includes a
wide assortment of supernatural beings of considerable power and danger.
These beings pay homage to Ratu Kidul and are alert to do her bidding.
They wait in attendance at her court, a place of heavenly splendor
lying in the depths of the Southern Ocean, i.e., the Indonesian Ocean
off the southern coast of Java.
Stories about Ratu Kidul are found in many Javanese chronicles,
suclh as the various versions of Babad Tandh Jawi and Babad Nitik- Of
greatest relevance to the study of the Yogyanese "Bedhaya Semang"
is Serat Babad Nitik, (2) a chronicle which focuses on the life and
kingship of Sultan Agung, who is considered to be the greatest of the
Sultans of the Mataram kingdom. He ruled from 1613 to 1645 A.D.
A look at excerpts from the Serat Babad Nitik tells us of his relation
ship with Ratu Kidul.
Before he became Sultan, the young Sultan Agung was given spe
cial preparation for his future position. Part of this preparation was
an introduction to the true scope of his realm, including Ratu KiduL
Then it is told of the gods in the water :
the nature of Java is not all the same
[but] also separates and unifies.
A maiden is the queen.
3. Always, the spirits
are in attendance to the maiden.
The Queen is truly the greatest
and she is still unmarried.
(2) My primary source is a typescript whose frontispiece reads, "Poeniko serat Babat
[sic] Nitik hinggih Tjebokk lampahan dalem hingkang Sinoehoen Kandjeng Soeltan
Mangkoerat Hagoeng, toeroenan salting kgagoengandalem [sic] Goesti Kangdjeng
Ratoe Kemtjono", and hereafter referred to as Serat Babad Nitik.
Corresponding passages included in "Tjuplikan Serat Nitik" are nearly
identical. The source for the latter is stated as "Kagungandalem Serat ingkang
dipun murjani Kangdjeng Ratu Hageng, Garwodalem I.S. Kangdjeng Sultan
Hamengku Buwana VI". 130
In fact, she was formerly human ;
the lovely one was possessed by spirits (Anonymous 1872:9). (")
The gods decreed that it was time for the queen to marry. She was
to wed the future ruler of Java. As he meditated on the mountain
Girilaya, the power of his meditation caused great turbulence in nature.
The Merapi volcano began to tremble and spit out tongues of fire, the
ocean moved as though boiling, and many spirits fell, struck by the
power of the meditator. The queen herself came to face Sultan Agung.
Their meeting and subsequent union was like that of the goddess Sri
and the" god Wisnu.
The union of masculine and feminine embodied in these two gods
was also like that of Arjuna and Sumbadra, and Rama and Sinta, cha
racters from the Mahabarata and Ramayana epics respectively. It is
the union that provides the foundation of a kingdom. As such, it can
be compared to the Tantric concept of a god and his sakti or consort,
as mentioned by Soe'kmono in his explanation of Çâkta and Tantra.
"As .is the case with humanity, which must be composed of males and
females in order to bring into being and continue the species, so too
a god must be partnered by a consort in order to create and continue
the world" (Soekmono 1973:33).
However, it is important here to note that, of the four musculine-
feminine pairs mentioned in Serat Babad Nitik, only the Islamic Sultan
Agung is of a fundamentally different status than the consort. He is
a human being capable of spiritual perfection while she is confined
to the imperfect spirit world. The pre-Islamic pattern of god-sakti or
ruler-consort is maintained in the pairing of Sultan Agung and Ratu
Kidul, but it is now qualified. The ruler is no longer a god himself,
but a man who adheres to God. The consort remains a goddess, but
a goddess of the underworld who cannot attain the heaven awaiting
nahen kocap paradyeng jroning wé
tanah Jawa alamé tan sami
ugi pi&ah nunggil
kenya ratunipun.
3. Gung pra peri perayangan ejim
sumiwi sang sinom
Prabu rara yekti gedhé dhéwé
meksih wujang wau raja dèwi
èstu nguni janmi
kajiman sang ayu. 131
human beings. In her rulership over legions of demons, Ratu Kidul
is parallel to Batari Durga, the cursed consort of Siwa. However, Ratu
Kidul is as beautiful as the legendary widadari (the nymphs of heaven) ,
while Batari Durga is perceived as a frightening demoness. The union
of Sultan Agung and Ratu Kidul represents the union of the worlds
of humans and spirits. Such a union is not only spiritually desirable,
it is a strong requirement for the peace and prosperity of Java. Even
so, Serat Babad Nitik regards Sultan Agung as the superior power.
At the time of their first meeting, Sultan Agung accompanied the
queen to her palace in the Southern Ocean where he marveled at its
beauty. The melodic sounds of leaves rustling and blowing inspired
Sultan Agung to create the gamelan Sekati.
"Nimas, (4) the sound is beautiful.
I must compose it in the future.
It is fitting to be played inside the palace."
13. "...
It should be given a name ;
a sign of belonging to the king."
"Yes, nimas, I will name it
the gamelan Sekati" (Anonymous 1872: 18). (5)
Sultan Agung then looked &t the dance presented by Ratu Kidul.
Then Sultan Agung looked
at the queen's dance. i
18. The Sultan spoke softly,
"Nimasx your concept is perfect.
I give it the name Semang;
all movements
"Nimas" is a respectful but familiar term of address applied to a woman of high (4)
nimas, pélak kang swara
porno sun citak ing bésuk
pantes munya jro karatyan.
yogi pinaringan nama
tanda kagungan nata
ya nimas sun rani iku
Sekati raning gamelan.