Nocturnal Etnnography in Parangtritis, Javanese Sacred Site in Trouble Times

Paul Stange, School of Asian Studies, Murdoch University, September 2001

background notes

Parangtritis is a ritual centre related to courts in Yogyakarta and Surakarta and focused on the goddess of the south sea (Kajeng Ratu Kidul or Nyai Loro Kidul). It is surrounded by related sites--graves of saints, meditation caves and springs. All are patronised by Javanese Muslim pilgrims (including, during the election of 1997, Suharto's emissary Harmoko and opponent Megawati). Generally the area is a focus of myths relating to political power, connecting it to earlier kingdoms and to nature through marriage between rulers and the goddess. My research focuses on contemporary uses (through meditation and ritual) and imagination of these sites. Concentration is on personal disciplines and imaginations of power, especially how the latter is imaged in stories or myths repeated by living people (nearby villagers and pilgrims) rather than as recorded in fragments of old text (which will be counterpointed, using secondary sources, with this ethnographic approach).

geomorphology--conjunction of rice, cliffs, ocean; roads and settlements; changes in recent times; Kali Opak connecting Merapi & south Sea; toward situating of environmental awareness in changing Javanese circumstances. Mapping of sites, part of this aspect of the project, will outline links to landforms, early Mataram (7-9th century) later Mataram (17-18th century) and post independence constructions.

local tourists; foreign tourists; levels of capital development; Suharto versus Yogya kraton perspectives; attitudes of local residents; sexual tourism. During the initial period of my research there was controversy in Yogya over proposed major tourist developments which would have impinged close on the major court complex in Parangtritis. Newspaper coverage was extensive and local (in Parangtritis) opinion divided.

mythologies of modern nationalism; the events--who he was & why he went thru; the road/route; AKABRI cadets marching past; modifications in the pathway. Coincidence between the flight of revolutionary armies under Sudirman during the revolution against the Dutch and of sacred sites along the route covered is strong and has never been noticed. The route is ritually retraced by cadets at the military academy annually.

Beyond uses of the site for local tourists (international tourism is minor) the area is important mainly for periodic rituals (the most routine happening every 35 days, always with several thousand attending) and pilgrimage (much smaller numbers, only in the dozens). The later are those I have been concentrating on, mainly those meditating for periods of a week or so at Sendang Beji and Gua Pertapaan, two related sites on the escarpment above the beach.

A blindingly self evident reality of such sacred sites--that it matters when and how we 'see' such sites--is profoundly significant and easily ignored. The boundaries of memory (in relation to depth spiritual experience) and limits of access condition what can be known. 'Esoteric' experiences in such contexts nevertheless, like the hidden portion of icebergs, being foundational to understanding of how such sites are culturally positioned.

New: 4 October, 2001 | Now: 6 May, 2015