Prev THE GAMELANS OF THE KRATON YOGYAKARTA
Next

The remainder of this study surveys the twenty-three gamelan sets currently in the possession of the Kraton Yogyakarta. For each palace gamelan we will present a translation of its name, a description of its decorative elements, and information about its history and its utilization in the ceremonial and everyday life of the palace. If any special beliefs or stories exist about a set, these will also be presented. The age of each palace gamelan will be articulated in terms of either the epoch of Javanese history or the reign of a particular Sultan during which it was constructed and/or became associated with the Kraton Yogyakarta. Knowledge of such links between objects of the present and their earlier existence in association with legendary historical figures and times is likely relished by members of the palace community--present-day courtiers can enjoy, both visually and viscerally, the same gamelans that their predecessors did centuries ago. It is hoped that these compilations of information will approximate the kinds of context-specific information and associations that knowledgeable Javanese members of the palace community might command and draw upon in shaping their responses to each set. While reading the chapters to follow, you will need to keep in mind the general relevance to Javanese courtiers of a set's name, its decorative elements, and its ties to charismatic individuals and supernatural forces as discussed in the preceding chapters.

Since a gamelan--especially a complete common practice set--consumes so much space when set up for performance, it is almost impossible with a single photograph to document it in its entirety. We are therefore taking quite a different approach to the visual presentation of the palace gamelans. While general shots of the archaic gamelans will be presented, for the common practice ones we will present a close-up of a single instrument type, the gendèr barung, from each set. We chose this one type of instrument because it typically encapsulates the key visual elements--color combinations and carving motifs—that can be used for identification of a set. These identifying clues are most clearly displayed on the instrument’s tebungan, the hourglass-shaped front board of the gendèr barung. The gendèr barung also provides further assistance in differentiating one gamelan from another. Gendèr barung cases in the Kraton Yogyakarta come in two basic shapes. One shape is referred to as Mataraman or Majapahit, which are names of long past Javanese kingdoms that are much respected by courtiers and commoners alike. This shape is characterized by high, undulating end pieces that extend well above the plain of the instrument’s bronze keys. Totally inconsequential to the operation of the instrument, this dramatic visual gesture is employed for purely aesthetic reasons. The other basic form has rectangular-shaped, vertical end pieces capped off with blocks to which the strings used to suspend the keys are attached. These blocks are gracefully curved or peaked on some sets, more cylindrical in form on others. One final reason to isolate the gendèr barung as the representative instrument for an entire set is that it is typically positioned right at the front and center of a gamelan that is set up for performance, allowing an observer a clear view of the instrument.

Much of the historical information used in the entries to follow is gleaned from the introduction to the palace manuscript Pakem Wirama, which was compiled during the reign of the Eighth Sultan. Details about the recent and current utilization and condition of the palace gamelans are the result of our own research over the past twenty years. Dates for the reigns of the Sultans of Yogyakarta during which gamelans were added to the palace’s holdings are:

First Sultan Hamengku Buwana I 1755-1792
Second Sultan Hamengku Buwana II 1792-1812
Fifth Sultan Hamengku Buwana V 1823-1855
Sixth Sultan Hamengku Buwana VI 1855-1877
Seventh Sultan Hamengku Buwana VII 1877-1921
Eighth Sultan Hamengku Buwana VIII 1921-1939
Tenth Sultan Hamengku Buwana X 1989-

PrevNext