Traditional Javanese concepts of statecraft hold that a good and just king possesses extraordinary kakuwatan batin (spiritual strength or potency) that should be channeled to the benefit of his entire kingdom. This concentration of spiritual strength should ensure that the kingdom will be internally stable and shielded from potentially disruptive elements, be they of this world or of the supernatural. Although contemporary Yogyakarta exists in a world the social, political, and economic realities of which are strikingly different from times past, such beliefs surrounding kingship have not been totally abandoned by turn-of-the-millennium Yogyanese. Especially among those individuals who choose to actively participate in the institution of the palace, a strong charismatic attraction to the Sultan and the beliefs that define his position are still in currency.
The sacred imagery attached to the position of Sultan pervades any object that is considered his possession, and this has clear ramifications in the way the members of the palace community view and behave around anything that is closely associated with him. When attached to any object of importance in the palace (e.g., buildings, pavilions, sets of shadow puppets, and manuscripts), the label kagungan dalem (property of the king) shapes the way members of the palace behave around it. Things labelled kagungan dalem are not simply objects owned by the Sultan; they are treated as extensions of the Sultan's being.
All palace gamelans are considered kagungan dalem and are afforded gestures of reverence by the members of the palace community. Perhaps the most obvious sign of respect shown to all kagungan dalem, gamelans included, is the salute-like gesture called sembah, a gesture of obeisance shown to an individual of higher social status. Sembah is executed by pressing one's palms together, thumbs approaching the nose, while bowing the head slightly. Each time a palace musician seats himself at an instrument, as well as when he leaves that position, he will execute a brisk sembah, symbolically expressing his respect for the Sultan whose sacredness is felt to permeate the gamelan instruments that are so emblematic of his high position.
If members of the palace community know nothing else about a particular palace gamelan, they know that it is kagungan dalem and therefore warrants the basic gestures of respect that all such objects command. A few palace gamelans are further distinguished as being especially deserving of reverence by being labeled pusaka. Pusakas are artifacts believed by the Javanese to be sacred and to have magical power or mystical influence due to their origin, age, past ownership, or participation in an historic event. They come in many forms, perhaps the most common being hand weapons such as kris (daggers) and tumbak (lances). But cannons, flags, carriages, manuscripts, ceremonial objects, clothing, shadow puppets, individual musical instruments, and complete gamelans may be pusaka. In general pusakas are believed to possess a certain energy of their own that can exert mystical influence, of either a positive or negative nature, on their owner or the world at large.
Several palace gamelans are part of the Sultan's inheritance of pusakas. These include the archaic ceremonial sets K.K. Gunturlaut, K.K. Maésaganggang K.K. Gunturmadu, K.K. Nagawilaga, and K.K. Guntursari, and the common practice sets K.K. Surak and K.K. Kancilbelik. All of these pusakas date from the reign of the First Sultan and are closely associated with that charismatic leader. In times past these gamelan pusakas were played in a vigorous manner as part of processions or at public spectacles sponsored by the palace. They were valuable but practical agents of kingship, not sequestered artifacts meant solely for aristocratic eyes and ears.
When moved or performed upon, the spirit of a gamelan pusaka is presented with gestures of respect in the form of offerings (sajen) of three basic types: burning incense (menyan), flower petals (kembang borèh) and food (dhahar). Generally, such offerings are placed in or near a set's gong agengs. It is through such gestures of offering that the numinous force believed to reside in these extraordinary objects is addressed and honored.