Yogyakarta is a Daerah Istimewa, special district, in south-central Java, and is often affectionately known as Jogja. It is bounded to the west, north, and east by Central Java Province (Propinsi Jawa Tengah) and fronts the Indian Ocean to the south. The district includes the city of Yogyakarta, and most people think that only the city is Jogja.
Most of the western half of the special district comprises coastal plains, as much as 15 miles (24 km) wide, consisting of lava and ash soils that are frequently replenished by the volcanic discharges of the Mount Merapi massif to the north. The eastern part of Yogyakarta is an extension of the Kendang Plateau, which runs east-west near the coast. The major rivers in the district are the Oyo and the Progo which flow southward into the Indian Ocean. Agriculture and fishing are the principal means of livelihood of the people of the coastal lowlands. Their products include rice, rubber, copra, and sugar.
Yogyakarta is one of the more industrially developed areas in Indonesia, and its industries include railroad workshops, printing, textile making, tanning, food processing, and the production of transport equipment, paper, chemicals, and electrical machinery. A network of roads and railways links Yogyakarta city, the capital of the special district, with nearby Bantul, Magelang, and Surakarta. A severe earthquake in 2006 centred near Bantul killed several thousand people and caused widespread damage. The total area covers 3,133 square km.
We very much like this old Dutch map of the whole centre section of the island of Java showing Jogja at its very heart.
UNDERSTANDING YOGYAKARTA – FROM THE VERY BEGINNING
Yogyakarta is a much more complex place than may first meet the eye and will take more than a two-day visit to uncover even the most obvious of its secrets but let us lead you around the province a little starting at the palace which is itself much more of a symbolic and philosophical place than just the residence of the Sultan or King of Jogja who is also the Governor of the Province at the same time.
In Java, symbols, rather than concepts, govern, and this is most obvious in the organization of space in the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, where the fury of the southern sea and the violence of Mount Merapi in the north impose their presence to the symbolic world: this axis of an imaginary line from the mountain to the sea determines the orientation historically chosen for the planning of the city, and the details refer to Indo-Javanese cosmological notions rooted into the island traditions. The aim of the whole system, inscribed in the urban lay-out, is to lead humans toward mystical liberation. So you see from the start, even the layout of the palace and the city are more mythologically based than our average city plan!
THE VISION OF THE FOUNDER
The founder of Yogyakarta, Hamengku Buwono I, devised the city and palace lay-out in such a way as to symbolize the life-cycle of a human being – including the Sultan—striving toward spiritual enlightenment.
In the north is the looming shape of Mount Merapi, the “Mountain of Fire”. 2900 m high, Mount Merapi which is said to be the abode of the gods, originally cut, the story goes, from the mythical Mount Meru, and thence transported with its gods to Java. Mount Merapi is believed to provide protection and prosperity to the people of Yogyakarta. From its slopes run the streams that irrigate the land. From its ash comes the fertility of its earth. Yet, when in anger, its gases cover the land in a shroud of death.
Corresponding to the height of Mount Merapi to the north of the city are the depth of the Southern Sea to the South, with similar ambiguities: the sea brings the monsoon winds but also the tempests and raging waters. So, in order to shield oneself from the wrath of these two poles of nature and obtain their protection, it behooves the people of Yogyakarta to perform the right rituals, at the right time. These rites aim at maintaining harmony in the area between the two poles: the Sultanate of Yogyakarta Hadiningrat. This system was first put into practice in Kota Gede, the first capital of the Mataram empire, at the end of the 16th century.
New developments occurred in the 18th century when the king of Mataram, manipulated by the Dutch into granting ever more concessions, faced resistance from his brother Prince Mangkubumi. A war ensued, which came to an end in 1755 when the kingdom was divided into two equal parts: the kingdom of Yogyakarta Hadiningrat, whose ruler Mangkubumi inherited the title of Sultan Hamengku Buwono I; and the kingdom of Surakarta, whole ruler got the title of Pakubuwono III.
Hamengku Buwono I had now to build his capital, Yogyakarta. He turned it into a demonstration of symbolic power. What did he do? First, he based, as usual, the orientation of his capital-to-be on the basic axis mundi: that of mountain-sea. Then, within this system, and instead of taking up, as usual, the structure of the human body (a microcosm) as his symbolic reference, he decided to use the living human being, as it goes throughout the phases of life, from embryo and birth toward spiritual enlightenment and merging into the Supreme One (Manunggaling Kawula Gusti). The human life process would thus imprint itself in his city and one could unveil it through an imaginary walk. By devising what the Yogyakarta authorities now call the Philosophical Axis (Sumbu Filosofis), Hamengku Buwono I made of his capital-city planning an extraordinary tool and a symbol of mystical achievement.
Everything ensued: walls, gates, yards, building, trees and other vegetation elements were all selected, named and constructed so as to each symbolize a step toward enlightenment.
How does this manifest itself in the field? First there is a clear definition of the space in which the capital is set: the city-wide axis between Krapyak and Tugu. Krapyak, in the south, symbolizes the female yoni, whereas Tugu (known as Tugu Golong Gilig) in the north, symbolizes the male lingam. Their unity makes up the city, with the kraton (palace), and its eternal fire, in the middle. From one pole to the other are 9 gates to which correspond the nine orifices of the human body: the city is definitely a living human body, a microcosm.
We certainly recommend that you start your search for the meaning of life by walking through the streets of the city and then into the palace and see for yourself how the space has been created to allow spiritual and well as physical enjoyment.
THE TREASURES OF THE TEMPLES
Most people visit the spectacular historical monuments that are Borobudur and Prambanan, sites which attract tourists from all over the archipelago and around the world, the vivid proof of the greatness of Mataram kingdom engraved in the volcanic stones of Merapi.But if you want to do something different, get off the beaten track to the heart of today’s Javanese villages. In the surroundings of Prambanan – this immense complex of Hindu temples – there are a large number of secondary temples, which, right alongside the magnificent Hindu temple are all Buddhist temples.
The first is Candi Kalasan right in the middle of a village.
This impressive temple by its size and the richness of its decorations, is considered by archaeologists as one of the major works of art of its time. This large stone square was originally surmounted by a large stupa. There are only 52 small stupikas left on the summit. If two side chapels have collapsed, it is on the facade of the temple that you can see the most beautiful kala representations in the whole region. Kala, mythical monster, with a gigantic demon head with round eyes like marbles, without lower jaw but with sharp incisors teeth.
As for the villagers of the surroundings, they say that the spiritual guardians of this temple are a lovely woman accompanied by a long snake but who is extremely peaceful. They are offered offerings and cigarettes from time to time, on the occasion of a marriage or a circumcision.
From Candi Kalasan to Candi Sari, there is hardly more than 800 meters of distance. This small temple regained all its splendour during its restoration in 1930. Although built at the same time as Kalasan (roughly between the 8th and 9th centuries) its architecture is totally different. Rectangular, it consists of three cells divided into two floors. And if luck is on your side, you may be able to meet, Nyai Copati and Nyai Nowati, two spirits who, according to regular visitors of this place, live inside the temple and protect it from deterioration, human or natural, and to whom sometimes people come to offer offerings of flowers and incense.
Next is Candi Plaosan. To get there, you will have to walk along the gates that protect the entire Candi Prambanan and you will have glimpsed Candi Sewu, the temple of a thousand stupas, another very beautiful Buddhist temple which is part of the park. But you continue your wandering by going a little further east. It is in the heart of the rice fields that the Plaosan complex is located, consisting of two square courtyards each containing a temple of the same shape as Candi Sari. These courtyards are themselves surrounded by 58 secondary chapels and 58 stupas in three rows thus forming a rectangular enclosure. Most are in ruins but several have been rebuilt. According to an inscription discovered during archaeological excavations, Plaosan was sponsored by a princess of the Sailendra dynasty (the same people who built Borobudur) of Buddhist faith, married to a king of the Mataram dynasty, of Hindu Shivaite faith. Plaosan would therefore be the result of this pious cooperation and would date from the middle of the 9th century.
End your visit by discovering a little further north a reconstructed terrace on which a set of statues are gathered: Buddhas, boddhisattvas, Indo-Buddhist deities, etc.
By taking this walk, you will be able to discover less frequented temples, taking you back in time, to get lost to better find yourself. These marginal sanctuaries are all invitations to daydream.
TAMANSARI, THE WATER GARDEN
If there is a place in Yogyakarta which no one should miss to visit. It is the 18th century Tamansari royal garden. Even though part of this 10 hectare garden has been damaged by time, is being illegally occupied or is under restoration, Tamansari still offers visitors a fascinating entry into the Javanese world view on the eve of modernity, when the Sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengku Buwono I (1717-1792), was still contending for power and prestige, with the expanding Dutch East India company.
Tamansari is certainly not a garden in the western sense of the word, that is a place dedicated to nature. It was designed as a resort-cum-water garden where the Sultan could retire with his wives to rest or meditate. Many elements in its structure still bear witness to this meditation function. Most were inherited from the Hindu-Buddha pre-Islam Javanese tradition.
Built by Sultan Hamengku Buwono I between 1758 and 1766, Tamansari was a place of marvels, called by the Dutch “The Water Castle of Yogyakarta”. The king had there his private quarters, with bath-house, and flower gardens. Water flowed through a multi-level water pool and canal system built in accordance with the highest technical standards of the day. The Sultan had for the purpose sent his architects to Batavia to learn water techniques from the Dutch, and they were successful.
Yet, Tamansari truly functioned as a resort palace only for a short period, between 1766 and 1812. In that year, a revolt by English spahis caused the first damage. A succession of earthquakes followed with further damage. Tamansari would have continued its long decay if it were not for the recent concerns shown in Yogyakarta for heritage preservation.
One gains entrance to Tamansari through a magnificent gate leading, one hundred meters further down the path, to the royal bathing area, the Umbul Winangun. Renovated in 2004. It is divided in two parts, with a three-story square tower in between, where the sultan had a private refreshment room, The pools have each a path all around with big flower pots. The northern one was used by the sultan’s wives and concubines– the long and low building on sees to the north was for them to rest and change clothing. The southern pool was used by the Sultan and his queen. The exit gates of the Umbul Winangun are all decorated with intricate relief of birds and flower buds. From the name of theses birds and flowers on can decipher the time of completion of Tamansari.
By building the Tamansari, was the Sultan dreaming to revive the image of Java’s archipelago past? Before him, the Majapahit kings had ruled over the seas as far as India and China. His ancestor Sultan Agung (r.1613-1645) had built an artificial lake surrounding his Plered Palace and made ships to train his soldiers for maritime battles. Yet, by the end of the 18th century what remained of the Mataram Kingdom of fame had been definitely pushed inland by the Dutch and hence and alienated from the sea. There now remained only a water palace for the Sultan king to dream about Java’s maritime tradition.
These are just some of the marvelous places to be discovered and explored on your trip to the special region of Yogyakarta, which is indeed something very special.