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Home » Demak » Grebeg Besar Festival in Demak

Grebeg Besar Festival in Demak

 

Overview

Annually, every 10 Dzulhidjah according to the Islamic Calendar, on the Islamic religious day of Eid Al Adha, the town of Demak in Central Java revives its former glory as an important Cradle in the spread of Islam on Java through the Grebeg Besar festivities


In the Javanese language, Grebeg means to be assembled or gather and Anggrebeg is a term used for a procession of the King and royal family or for a wedding couple.  Therefore, Grebeg can be described as a procession and gathering of a large number of people for a special purpose. Besar, on the other hand, is a Javanese term for the Islamic month of Dzulhidjah. Therefore Grebeg Besar is the time of the year when Muslims in the city of Demak and surrounding areas assemble in the spirit of religious festivities.


The festival has its roots in pre-islamic era on Java, when the Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit empire ruled over the larger part of Java. During that time, kings of Java would conduct rituals and festivals participated by all levels of society. When the Majapahit empire fell, and the Demak Sultanate rose, the Islamic culture began to spread throughout the island. Initiated by the Wali Sanga or the 9 Apostles of Islam, some of the earlier ritual traditions merged with the Islamic culture and transformed this as media for spreading the religion. Such cultural fusion is best portrayed through the Grebeg Besar, where Islamic religious rituals in connection with the Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Adha Prayers involving the sacrifice of cows and goats are merged with early Javanese traditions of heirloom cleansing and Tumpeng (cone shaped rice) processions.


The sequence of Grebeg Besar actually commences 10 days before Eid Al Adha with a pilgrimage to the tombs of the Sultans of Demak around the Grand Mosque of Demak and to the tomb of Sunan Kalijaga (one of the Wali Sanga) at Kadilangu. The pilgrimage is led by the Regent of Demak followed by other government officials and the elders of Kadilangu. After the pilgrimage, the Regent of Demak officially opens the folk bazaar at the Tembiring Jogo Indah Square. During the bazaar, various products ranging from handicrafts, households wares, to traditional food and drinks stalls are presented, while a number of art performances on stage will also entertain the audience.


On the eve of Eid Al Adha, the Tumpeng Sanga Procession takes place, moving from the courtyard of the office of the Demak Regency to the Grand Mosque of Demak. Tumpeng Sanga or the nine rice cones represent Wali Sanga or the nine apostles of Islam who pioneered the spread of Islam on Java. The tumpeng procession is preceded by a sermon and prayers for God’s blessings. At the same time, at Kadilangu, the ritual of selamatan Ancakan takes place.


On the morning of 10 Dzulhidjah, same as all Muslims around the world, Muslims around Demak congregate to conduct Ied Al Adha prayers at the Grand Mosque of Demak and the Demak square facing the mosque. The Eid Al Adha prayers will then befollowed with the slaughter of cows and goats to be distributed to the needy.


The main highlight of Grebeg Besar is the Jamasan or the cleansing of Sunan Kalijaga’s Heirlooms which takes place after Eid Al Adha prayers. The ritual of heirloom cleansing begins at the courtyard of the Demak Regency, with a dance performance of the Budhoyo Tunggal Jiwo.  The dance is performed by 9 teenage girls and is a symbol of “Manunggale Kawula lan Gusti” or divine unity with God.


The procession carrying the oil for the cleansing of the tomb of Sunan Kalijaga then commences. During the procession, the oil is guarded by what is known as the “Prajurit Patangpuluhan” or the 40 soldiers of the Demak Kingdom. The entourage will also be accompanied by Javanese distinct traditional gamelan music played by an ensemble of musicians. The Regent of Demak and other government officials in royal horse carriages will also be involved in the procession.


Upon arrival at the tomb of Sunan Kalijaga, the cleansing oil is then given to the elders of Kadilangu before conducting the Jamasan. Kutang Ontokusumo and Keris Kyai Coblok are the heirlooms of Sunan Kalijaga that are cleansed annually. Uniquely, the cleansing ritual which is conducted by the elders and descendants of Sunan Kalijaga is performed with closed eyes. It is said that those who cleanse it are seeing with their inner eyes and not their physical eyes, representing their wholehearted submission to Islam. The heirloom cleansing itself also symbolizes the true meaning of purifying the heart and soul, and the full submission to the one and only Almighty God.

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Grebeg Besar Festival in Demak

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