Indonesia has many diverse cultures (an estimated number of 300 cultures and languages, among 200 million Indonesians, living on 13.677 different islands). This enormous variety in cultures has a great impact on marriage ceremonies. Every wedding in Indonesia has a different ceremony, each of them influenced by the cultures of the families involved. Every ceremony is a step in the creation of a new bound between two families.
The parents of the man (would-be-bridegroom) send an envoy to the parents of the woman (would-be-bride), proposing that their son is willing to marry their daughter. Nowadays, for practical reasons, the parents of both sides can talk directly. The parents of the couple have to approve the marriage.
Usually, the parents of the would-be-bride have a greater say, as they are the ones who will organise the ceremonies (a big wedding will require a Paés Agung (kings make-up), a small one will require a Paés Kesatrian (knight's make-up)). They are responsible for the wedding ceremonies that will be followed, such as Siraman (bathing ceremony), Midodareni (ceremony on the eve before the wedding), Peningsetan (traditional engagement ceremony), Ijab (religious marriage consecration) and other Javanese ceremonies following the wedding celebration. They will also organise the wedding reception to give family and friends the opportunity to send their blessings to the newly wed couple.
The PEMAES and the WEDDING COMMITTEE:
A complete Javanese wedding ceremony has several complicated traditional rituals. In that event, the role of a Pemaes, a traditional make-up woman who leads the whole ceremony, is very important. She takes care of the make-up and dressing of the bride and bridegroom, the different kind of offerings, the different kind of ceremonies during the event, etc. Usually, she can also lend a complete wedding dress, ornaments and equipment necessary for a wedding party.
The wedding party should be prepared carefully as it contains many things to do, no matter which ceremony is chosen. A small wedding committee of close relatives and friends from both families is set up. The size depends on how big the party has to be and on how many guests will be invited (300, 500, 1000 or more guests). In fact, a wedding ceremony is a big show, reflecting the families' standing in the society.
This committee has to organise the whole wedding: the wedding protocol, food and beverages, gamelan music and dance, decoration of the reception hall, master of ceremony, witnesses for Ijab, welcoming speech during the reception, transportation, communication, security, and so on. The most important thing to prepare is no doubt the execution of Ijab (the religious and civil registration which legalises the couple as legitimate husband and wife).
Usually one day before the wedding party, the gate of the house of the bride's parents is decorated with Tarub (plant decorations), which consists of different Tuwuhan (plants and leaves).
- Two banana trees with stem of ripe bananas meaning: The husband will be a good leader of his family. As banana trees grow easily everywhere, the couple can also live well and happy everywhere, in good terms with the environment.
- A pair of Tebu Wulung (reddish sugar cane) meaning: The whole family comes together with a strong and a wise mind.
- A Cengkir Gading (half-ripe coconut) meaning: The couple loves each other and they always will take care of their loved ones.
- Different fresh leaves, such as of beringin (banyan tree), mojo-koro, alang-alang (tall, coarse grass), dadap srep (flowering trees) meaning: the couple should live in safety and protect the family.
KEMBAR MAYANG Decoration:
Kembar Mayang is a kind of bouquet made of different kind of leaves (mainly coconut leaves stuck into a banana trunk). It is a very beautiful decoration with a broad symbolic meaning:
- It has a mountain like shape: A mountain is high and big, symbolising a man should have a lot of knowledge, experience and patience.
- Keris (kris, double-bladed dagger): The couple should be careful in life.
- Whips: The couple should be always optimistic with the desire to have a good life.
- Umbrellas: The couple must protect their family.
- Grasshoppers: The couple should be energetic, quick in thinking and making decisions in order to keep the family safe.
- Birds: The couple should have a high life-motivation.
- Beringin (banyan tree) leaves: The couple should always protect the family and other human beings.
- Kruton leaves: The leaves protect them against evil spirits.
- Dadap srep leaves: The leaves could be used as a cold compress to lower fever, symbolising the couple should always have a clear mind and calmness to solve any problems (calm down the feeling and cool down the head).
- Dlingo Benglé herbs: These herbs cure infection and other diseases; they are used to get protection against evil spirits.
- Patra Manggala flowers: Used to beautify the bouquet.
Before the installation of Tarub and Bekletepe, a special Sajen (offering) must be made.
Traditional Sajen (offering) in Javanese ritual is considered very important. The symbolic meaning of the Sajen is to get blessings from the ancestors (for their souls should live in peace eternally) and to get protection against evil spirits. The Sajen should be placed in all the places where a ceremony takes place, such as in the bathroom, in the kitchen, under the gate, under the Tarub decoration, in the street nearby the house etc.
Normally Sajen consists of:
- Tumpeng Robyong, a yellow rice cone with decoration.
- Tumpeng Gundul, a yellow rice cone with no decoration.
- Chicken, meat, tempe, bread and eggs.
- Seven kinds of porridge.
- Fresh fruit: bananas and other fruits.
- A peeled coconut and some coconut sugar.
- Sweet cookies made of glutinous rice.
- Tea and coffee.
- Cigar and pipe made of papaya leave.
- Jamu (herbal medicine).
- A lantern, which is lighted.
- Telon flowers (cananga, jasmine, magnolia) in bowl filled with holy water.
Siraman means to take a bath. For the couple in the wedding ritual, it means to become clean, their bodies as well as their souls. The Siraman ceremony is usually organised in the afternoon, one day before the Ijab and Panggih rituals. Siraman of the would-be-bride is conducted in her parents' residence. For the would-be-bridegroom, it is conducted in his parents' residence. The place of the Siraman is usually in the family bathroom or in a place specially designed for this purpose (garden). Nowadays the second alternative is more common. The list of persons bathing the couple is important too. Besides the parents, some elderly and distinguished women are invited. They are selected on their good moral behaviour. The number of people giving Siraman is usually limited to seven. Seven in Javanese is Pitu, so they are giving Pitulungan (meaning help).
Several items have to be prepared:
- A big bowl, usually made of copper or bronze, filled with water from a well or a spring.
- Setaman flowers - rose, jasmine, magnolia and cananga - to be put in the water.
- Colourful powder - five colours - functioning as soap.
- Traditional shampoo and conditioner (ashes of rice straw, coconut milk and tamarind juice).
- Two coconuts, tied up together, to be used as a water dipper (gayung).
- A small chair, covered with: old mat - white cloth - several kind of plant leaves - dlingo benglé herbs (plant used in medicines) - bango tulak cloths (four patterns) - lurik (striped woven materials with Yuyu Sekandang and Pula Watu design).
- White cotton cloth to be worn during Siraman.
- Batik cloth of Grompol and Nagasari design.
- Kendi - earthenware flask with a neck and a spout.
The execution of SIRAMAN:
The would-be-bride/bridegroom comes from her/his room accompanied by the parents. She/he is escorted to the place of Siraman. Some people walk behind them, carrying a tray of batik cloths, towels etc. She/he is seated on the chair. A prayer is offered. The first person to bath her/him is the father. After him comes the mother. Only after them, other (usually older and respected) people can do the ritual.
She/he sits, with both hands in front of the chest, in praying position. They pour water on her/his hands and she/he rinses the mouth three times. Then, they pour water on the head, face, ears, neck, hands and feet three times each. The last person to bath her/him is the Pemaes or a special person assigned. She uses the traditional shampoo and powder to clean her/him. When the Kendi is empty, the Pemaes or the person assigned breaks the kendi on the floor saying: 'Wis Pecah Pamore' - meaning that she/he is handsome (beautiful, is a grown-up now, ready to get married).
After the Siraman, the bride is lead to the wedding room. Her hair is dried with a towel and smoke of perfumed powder (ratus) is passed over her hair. It is combed backwards and strongly tied up in a bun (gelung). After her face and her neck are cleaned, make-up is put on by the Pemaes. At the end, the would-be-bride is dressed with a traditional woman's blouse (kebaya) and batik cloths with a Sidomukti or a Sidoasih design. It symbolises a prosperous life and adoration by other people.
This ceremony takes place in the eve of Ijab and Panggih ceremonies. Midodareni is derived from the word Widodari meaning goddess. That evening, the would-be-bride becomes as beautiful as a goddess. According to ancient belief, goddesses should visit her from heaven.
The bride has to stay in the room from 6.00 p.m. to midnight accompanied by some elder women giving her useful advice. The family of the would-be-bridegroom and her very close friends should also visit her for a while; all of them must be women.
The bride's parents should feed her for the last time. As from tomorrow, she is at her husband's responsibility.
Items that are put in the wedding room:
- One set of Kembar Mayang (identical palm blossoms).
- Two earthenware vases (filled with spices, medical herbs, rice, peanuts etc.) covered with Bango Tulak cloths.
- Two kendi's (filled with holy water) covered with dadap srep leaves.
- A tray with several kinds of perfumed leaves and flowers (Ukub) put under the bed.
- Betel leaves (Suruh Ayu).
- Areca nut.
- Seven kinds of cloths with letrek design.
Peningsetan or Srah-Srahan is derived from the word singset (meaning to tie up). The families of both sides have to agree on the wedding. The parents should become 'in-laws'. The family of the would-be-bridegroom visit the parents and the family of the would-be-bride. They are bringing some gifts:
- A set of Suruh Ayu (beautiful betel leaves), wishing for safety.
- Several batik cloths with different patterns, wishing for happiness and the best things in life.
- Materials for Kebaya (women shirts) .
- White waist sash for women as a sign of a strong willingness.
- Fruits, wishing a good health.
- Rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil, etc. symbolising the basic needs in life.
- A set of rings for the couple.
- Some money as a contribution for the wedding ceremony.
In fact, the would-be-bridegroom arrives together with his family, but he is not entitled to enter the house. While his family is inside the house, he sits in the veranda of the house accompanied by some friends or relatives. During that time, he is only given a glass of water, and he is not allowed to smoke. He may eat only after midnight. It is a lesson that he must be able to resist hunger and temptation.
Before his family leaves the house, the parents tell that they hand over the would-be-bridegroom to the responsibility of the host and the hostess.
After the visitors have left the house, the would-be-bridegroom is allowed to enter the house but not the wedding room. This is called Nyantri. It is done for safety and practical reason, considering that tomorrow he has to be dressed and prepared for Ijab and the other wedding ceremonies.
In Java, people often say that birth, marriage and death are the wish of God. It is easily understood that wedding rituals are implemented accordingly, as an exhibition of traditional art and culture, an integral part of the nation's identity, where the noble symbols of life are exposed with pride and dignity. This great tradition, inherited from ancient time, is strongly preserved by the people.
The Ijab Ceremony is the most important requirement to legalise a marriage. The implementation is in accordance with the religion of the couple. At the place where the Ijab is conducted, a Sanggan or Sajen offering is put.
The bride wears traditional make-up and bun (gelungan), shining brilliant, golden jewellery's and a special dress for this occasion. The bridegroom also wears a special dress for this ceremony. The couple has to appear on their best.
They are honoured by those who are present at this wedding party as King and Queen of the day.
The wonderful and mystical sound of Gamelan (a Javanese music instruments) accompanies a traditional sacred Panggih or Temu (means meeting) between a beautiful bride with her handsome bridegroom in front of a house decorated with 'Tarub' plant decoration.
The bridegroom, accompanied by his close relatives (but not his parents who are not allowed to be present during the ritual), arrives at the house of the bride's parents and stops at the gate of the house.
The bride, accompanied by two elderly women, walks out of the bridal room. Her parents and close relatives walk behind her. Preceding the bride are two young girls, Patah, holding a fan. Two elderly women or two young boys are carrying two Kembar Mayang (bouquet ornament), about one meter of height. One woman from the bridegroom's family walks forward and gives a Sanggan (a gift in the form of banana fruits and flowers put in a tray covered with banana leaves) to the mother of the bride, as a sign of appreciation to the hostess of the ceremony.
During the Panggih ceremony, the Kembar Mayang are brought outside the house and thrown away in a crossroad nearby the house, depicting all evil spirits should not disturb the ceremony in the house and its surrounding area. For decoration, one pair has been put on the right and left side of the couple's wedding chair during the reception. Kembar Mayang is used only if the couple was unmarried before.
BALANGAN SURUH Ceremony:
The bride is meeting the bridegroom. They approach each other. When they are about three meters from each other, they start throwing to each other seven small bundles of betel leaves with lime inside tied together with white yarn. They do it eagerly and happily, everyone is smiling happy. According to ancient belief, betel leaves have the power to chase away bad spirits. By throwing betel leaves to each other, it should be proved that they are really the genuine persons, not some ghost or another person who pretends to be the bride or the bridegroom.
WIJI DADI Ceremony:
The bridegroom crashes a chicken egg with his right foot. The bride washes the bridegroom's foot using water mixed with several kinds of flowers. It depicts that the bridegroom is ready to become a responsible father and the bride should faithfully serve her husband.
SINDUR BINAYANG Ceremony:
After the ritual of Wiji Dadi, the father of the bride leads the couple to the wedding chair, the mother of the bride covers the couple's shoulders with Sindur.
Both the bride and the bridegroom are sitting on the bride's father's lap, while he says that they have the same weight, meaning that he loves them both equally.
The bride's father seats the couple in the wedding chair. It depicts that he approves the marriage. He gives his blessing.
TUKAR KALPIKA Ceremony:
Exchange of wedding rings as a sign of love.
KACAR KUCUR or TAMPA KAYA Ceremony:
With the help of the Pemaes, the couple walks arm in arm, or more precisely holding each other with their little finger, to the site of the ritual. There, the bride gets from the bridegroom some soybeans, peanuts, paddy rice, corns, yellow rice, herbs, flowers and coins of different values (the quantity of the coins must be even). It depicts that the husband should give all his income to his wife. The bride carefully receives these gifts in a small white cloth, above an old mat that has been put on her lap. She should be a good and caring housewife.
DAHAR KLIMAH or DAHAR KEMBUL Ceremony:
The wedding couple is eating together, feeding each other. The Pemaes, as the leader of the ceremony, gives a plate to the bride with yellow rice, fried eggs, soybean, tempe, and fried meat. First, the bridegroom makes three small balls of rice with his right hand and gives it to the bride. After the bride has eaten, she will do the same for the bridegroom. When they are finished, they drink sweet tea. The ritual depicts the couple should use and enjoy their belongings together.
The bride's parents pick up the parents of the bridegroom in front of the house. They walk together to the place of the ceremony. The mothers walk in front, the fathers behind. The parents of the bridegroom sit on the left side of the couple. The parents of the bride sit on the right side of the couple.
While they kneel, the couple will ask for the blessing of their parents: first from the parents of the bride, then from the parents of the bridegroom. During the Sungkeman, the Pemaes takes out the keris from the bridegroom. After the ritual, the bridegroom wears again his keris.
It should be noted that the couple's parents are wearing the same design of batik (Truntum), meaning the couple should always have enough fortune for a good living. They are also wearing Sindur as waist sash. The red drawing in the Sindur with its curved edges means that life is like a river running through the mountains. The parents are escorting the newlyweds to the real life so they can build a strong family.
After the wedding rituals, the reception follows. The newly-weds flanked by their parents receive blessings and greetings from the guests.
In the meantime, one or two Javanese classical dances are performed (the classical love dance Gathot Kaca-Pergiwo, a fragment from a wayang story or the more modern love dance Karonsih).
While all the guests are enjoying the party and the lunch or diner offered, the sound of gamelan music echoes through the reception hall.