Traces of Islam, traditions and myths can be found during a visit to the Sumenep Royal Palace Museum in Madura, East Java.
Although it is one of Indonesia’s ethnic groups most
synonymous with Islam, the Madura community is inseparable from its pre-Islamic
cultural influences and ancestral traditions, as shown in the various exhibits
at the Sumenep Royal Palace Museum.
The palace reflects the glory of the sultanate in the easternmost part of Madura Island. It is also the only palace that remains intact in East Java.
A typical rule applies to visitors wishing to enter the palace hall. They are required to remove informal footwear but not if they are wearing shoes, which indicates a formal attitude by visitors.
Museum guide Ryananta Caturyudowicitro describes this palace as a unique blend of religious and mythical nuances.
Located in Sumenep town center, the palace was designed by Chinese architect Liaw Piau Ngo, who combined the cultural elements of Java, Islam, China and Europe. It was built during the reign of Panembahan Sumolo I in 1762 with European-style pillars and Chinese-temple rooftops.
"It indicates that Madura, especially Sumenep, was quite open to cultural assimilation in the past,” Ryananta said.
Among the items representing Madura’s advanced religious awareness is a handwritten copy of Quran on bark sheets by Sultan Abdurrahman (1811-1854). The process of writing the 30-section Quran was believed to have taken 12 hours.
also a giant Quran written by a resident of Bluto village in Sumenep, which is
exhibited along with two golden royal carriages, one of which was a gift from
the British Empire in the period of Sultan Abdurrahman.
The giant Quran, created in 2005, measures 12 square meters and weighs 500 kilograms. Despite its recent origin, the giant size of this religious book has earned its place as one of the unique objects at the museum.
In another part of the building that used to be the king’s place of meditation, we can find the storage of several bundles of old manuscripts of Islamic teachings. Sultan Abdurrahman wrote the manuscripts in Javanese characters on dry palm leaves.
There are also collections of equipment used during Javanese ceremonies to mark various stages of the human life cycle from the womb.
also collections of equipment used during Javanese ceremonies to mark various
stages of the human life cycle from the womb.
"They include equipment for the seventh-month-of-pregnancy and wedding rituals,” Ryananta said, adding that the museum also preserved tools to make traditional herbal drinks and antique storage to keep the dry herbal ingredients.
There is also a replica golden carriage, which is paraded around the city on the occasion of Sumenep’s anniversary every Oct. 31. The duplicate is used so the original one, which is over 150 years old, can remain in a good condition.
Other museum collections range from the royal family’s personal belongings and the sultan’s official attire to different traditional weapons and those presented by foreign guests.
The other unique feature of the palace is the sultan’s private room, which is considered sacred. The room looks like most bedrooms and is furnished with a special praying space. Many locals still believe that those who wish to enter the room should clear their minds from all bad intentions otherwise something bad may occur.
In the palace yard, visitors will find two bungur (Lagerstroemia) trees. One of the trees has a part that resembles the male reproductive organs, while the other has the shape of the female reproductive organs. Some people believe that by touching the trees it will be easier for them to find their future partners.
The palace also has a pool where former princesses bathed, called Taman Sare, with three entrances. Going through the first entrance is believed to keep people young and to speed up their marriage, the second can bring good fortune and promotion in rank, and the third will help increase devotion to God.
Visitors leave the palace through the main gate adorned with a small mask of a smiling face, called Labang Mesem or the smiling door, symbolizing the hospitality of the Sumenep community toward palace guests.
A historian from Malang State University, M. Dwi Cahyono, said such myths and mystical beliefs were inevitable in human life, regardless of the intellectual level of the people.
"The palace itself as part of the heritage of bygone days is already positioned as something sacred and vital,” he said.
Dwi said tourist guides and caretakers played an important role in disseminating the stories and myths. The myths are generally supported by the success stories experienced by some believers, which are later spread by word-of-mouth, even going viral in the present digital era.
"Every community or era has its own mystical beliefs,” Dwi said.
Source: The Jakarta Post