By: Wilis Rengganiasih Endah Ekowati, M.A.*
Central Java is well-known for its sophisticated arts and cultures, especially those coming from the courts of Kasunanan Surakarta and Kasultanan Yogyakarta as the principal courts. Bedhaya, a genre of dances of Central Java, is believed to be the oldest dance and acclaimed to be the privilege of the courts. The history of its conception tells that all the bedhaya and (the later genre) srimpi dances have their ancestor in the most sacred bedhayas: Bedhaya Semang in Kasultanan Yogyakarta and Bedhaya Ketawang in Kasultanan Surakarta. Some literatures record these sacred dances originating in the New Mataram era with its Islamic tradition, and the Panembahan Senapati or Sultan Agung as the founder. But there are other records suggesting that the history of the bedhayas can be traced back to the older period of Hindu kingdoms, though the form of the dances are no longer available.
One interesting point of the sacred bedhayas is that their present forms are reflecting the find blend of at least three sources: Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic heritage, but it is interesting that scholars barely mentioning the Buddhist influence. So far, I found only two scholars point out that Buddhism does have contribution; Judith Becker notes the floor pattern of the dances representing the Tantric teachings, while Sardono W. Kusumo only briefly mentions the movements are inspired by the Theravadin?s vipassana philosophy. From the historical perspective, at least two traditions hold different accounts: the Hindu version suggesting the celestial Hindu pantheons as the creators of the dance, and as abovementioned, the Islamic tradition holding the Sultan Agung as the founder. It?s even more interesting that some Javanese babads (traditional historical records) include Sunan Kalijaga and the Queen of Indian Ocean (Kangjeng Ratu Kidul) also assisted the Sultan in the creation process. The evolution of the bedhaya has, indeed, involved some aspects of power and politics, also religion in addition to its elements of art. As a preliminary research, I would like to share some, though very limited, of my findings and questions on this sacred dance of Java.
* Wilis Rengganiasih earned her M.A. program at CRCS, UGM with the thesis, ?The Controversy of Bhikkuni ordination (upasampada) within Theravada Buddhism Indonesia?. She also spent a one-year Exchange Student Program at Florida International University where she got her second M.A. in Religious Studies. Being a Buddhist woman, Wilis is now teaching and assisting students at the Sylendra Buddhist College in Semarang and also at CRCS UGM.
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