English (United Kingdom)Indonesian (ID)

Land of the Ancestors

All of our needs have been provided by this earth which we live in.  The earth’s elements of dirt, water, air, fire and all kind of vegetation and animals provide a conducive climate for men.

Of course, back then the  air is still fresh and clear.  The forests and all kind of plants grew everywhere, and there were still very few human beings.  Food and dwelling were provided by the earth.  All year through in any season, there was not a lack of food.  There was also enough protection for mankind to survive and to continue their existence.


Irrigation of paddy field

One of the many technology founded by the ancestors was the irrigation system for the paddy field or the wet rice cultivation.

The progression of this irrigation system grew in time as according to the needs of the people.  Small villages started as men beings started to feel the need to live as a group.  These villages were located in low terraces where there was plenty of water available to them.  This water is used to farm, to plants and to grow paddies.

Men also started to build houses for their dwellings and protections, leaving the caves behind.  The houses were built by resources provided by the earth such as bamboo, wood, coconut leaves, dirt, stone etc.

Dwelling, Food and Clothes

Men have been largely provided by the earth, to continue their existence.  There have always been plenty of resources to build dwelling and food to eat.  Our physical body we cover with cloth to protect us from the cold weather, or other threats,  such as animal bites and thorns.  We then learnt  to cover for politeness as well.

The above needs of dwelling, food and cloth are the same needs we have today.

Mudita and Men

The seniors of Kejawen explained that men live in the habitat of the world of mudita (meaning men and women, the most perfect being in the world, which existence in this world is by the will of God).

The existence of mudita started when the earth has been completed with resources needed to support the life of men.

God, the Creator, gave mudita the right to name everything there is in this world, everything from an object to feel to taste.  So then, men started to create words.  Imagine without mudita in this world, there will be no words.

The world is now filled with mudita, this goes along with the Kejawen philosophy, ‘witing rame saka sepi, witing gumelar saka sonya’ –nothing was the beginning of many, the earth is the result of what once was emptiness’.

Since then on, the mudita is considered as the most important being who own the life of this earth.

Human being (Manusia)

With time, the seniors of Kejawen referred to human being as ‘manusia’.   This word came from the word ‘manu’ which means shame and ‘swa’ which means animal.  Meaning that manusia is a person who understands shame.  It does not mean that manusia is an animal without shame.  

The real understanding of ‘manusia’ is one of the core teachings of Kejawen philosophy.  A person who understands shame, is a person with integrity.  If a person does not understand shame, he lost his value as a human.  

The land of Kabuyutan (Ancestor)

Men grew to be smarter.  The way of living is now being handled strategically, by working together to create a life that is orderly, safe and neighborly.  

Since 10,000 BC, the farmers in Java have started implementing irrigation system.  Since they learnt to live by groups in villages, they also learnt a small form of government.  A respected and obeyed leader was the most senior of the people in the village.  The Javanese tradition to respect the elderly have started since ancient time.

So where is this land of Ancestor led by a group of the elderly is located?  It is normally built in a fertile land, where the river flows, or by a lake or swamp, this would be where the land is, the country with the Kabuyutan system.

A Kabuyutan country consists of five villages.  The locations of each village is determined by compass points.

The center of the country is the village located in the middle of the other four villages which surround it.  All five villages known as the country of Kabuyutan is led by a leader of the country which is referred to as Kliwon, which means the wise one.  The middle village is also referred to as Kliwon.  The leader of the country is referred to to as Buyut by the people.

Buyut means great grandparent, it is of course a title for the elderly, those who have children and grand children.  The other four villages are referred to as follows:

The village in the east is called Legi.
The village in the south is called Paing.
The village in the west is called Pon.
The village in the north is called Wage.

The above villages are each led by a leader referred to as Lurah, or known to the people as Ki, short for grand father.

All of the leaders, Kliwon and Lurah, were the elderly of the country, they were those seen as the respected seniors, everything they said were obeyed and every advice followed.

Other titles in the government

Kliwon and Lurah in their daily responsibilities were assisted by other government officials, among others:

Carik, in today’s world Carik is the Secretary General, the person with the notes of all the rules and any matter that has been decided by the Country.

Mentri Ulu-Ulu, is the official who is responsible of irrigation.  This is one of the key title, the one who made sure that each farmer received their portion of water.

Mantri Jagabaya, the official who is responsible of order and safety.

In these days danger and obstacles came from animals and from the people who were lazy but wanted to live comfortably.  These people became thieves.  Evil and good prevail in this world from ancient days.

In a ritual ceremony, the implementation of it is trusted to a Pandhita (priest), a person who is able to describe the mission and goal of spirituality and understands the steps for it.  In the future the spiritual ceremony is often led by an elderly.

When the wayang story is well known in society, stories like Ramayana and Mahabarata were famous and known by all, there was a title called “Juru Udhalan”.  What this title mean is that the person can explains the meaning of a ritual ceremony.  The word ‘udhalan’ turned into ‘dhalan’ and finally ‘dhalang’, which is later known as Ki Dhalang, a respected and trusted elderly.

When wayang started to be performed and gained popularity, Ki Dhalang led the ritual ceremony of the wayang performance which signified the learning and the guidance of an orderly life.

Since the old days, there had been a person, called dhukun, whose activities includes healing or assisting those who are in misery or suffering and need help.  Dhukun is a an expert or master in physical healing utilizing both herbs (jamu) or medicine and mantra to bring in healing energy.

Basically, a dhukun utilizes his expertise, knowledge and intelligence to assist others.  This knowledge is based on his or her super natural talent, intuition or based on the teaching of the elderly.  In carrying his or her duties everything is based on the blessing of Lord, God.  Therefore, dhukun in general acts as the channel of Divine Energy.

In the society, there are different type of dhukuns:  the dhukun of birth, who assists  the women during delivery of their babies, the massage dhukun who assists those who sprain their muscles or want their bodies to be fit, the healer dhukun also known as the alternative healer who helps those who ill. 

There are also dhukuns who give advice on life matters, eliminate mental problems.  These dhukuns are referred to as paranormal or psychic.  A traditional bridal and groom beautician or make up artist, who also runs the wedding ceremony, is also referred to as a dhukun, a bridal dhukun

Basically, the dhukun professions are needed and acknowledged, as long as it is seen from a positive point of view.   The dhukun who uses his knowledge as “black magic” to do bad deeds such as voodoo, or to gain wealth by evil doing, is walking against his or her calling.  It is wrong to use one profession to do evil in this world.


Market Days

The villages mentioned above: Legi, Paing, Pon, Wage, Kliwon mean East, South, West, North and Center.  These names are also known as market days.  And also known as the five days.  This is the original and oldest calendar in the land of Java.  There were only five days instead of seven in the ancient times, Sunday and Monday did not exist.

In the old days, trade for products was needed, until money in the form of coins was invented.  The place to conduct the trades was called the market.  In the past, since it was relatively quiet, the market was conducted every single day in different areas.  Every Legi, the market was conducted in the east, every Paing day the market was located in the south, etc.

These terms were also used for invitations of the country’s meetings.  When the meeting is held on Kliwon that means that the meeting would be held in Kliwon village.  So it was easy for everyone to understand.

The five original days of Java also have philosophical meanings which will be explained in a different chapter.

Merti Desa or Village Cleansing Ceremony


The most important ceremony known is the Merti Desa or Village Cleansing ceremony which is carried out after paddy harvest time, once a year.  Prior to village cleansing ritual, everyone worked together to prepare everything that is needed to clean the village and fix facilities in the village such as road, water pipes, buildings, ancestor graves etc.


During Village Cleansing time, everyone with awareness and happiness, together carried out the following:


  1. Worship towards God, the Owner of Nature.
  2. Respect towards the ancestors of the village.  All the ancestors who had successfully built the village to be a safe, prosperous and an abundant place allowing the people to live a good life.  Thus, the ritual of Village Cleansing always begins with prayers to God, along with the request to palilah- request to the ancestors who domiciled in Punden- the grave of respected ancestors.
  3. Submit of requests to Danyang Smarabumi to protect the village and its people from any evil or malice attack, whether from human or bad spirits.


Located at the village meeting hall or at the yard of the meeting hall, or other location that was previously agreed together, in each Village Cleansing a puja-puji ceremony is carried out.  In this ceremony prayers and mantram sakti (magical mantras) are recited along with offerings served and the lighting of incense.  Fragrance is a form of respect in praising the name of God, ancestors, all of the people who live in the village, and the village itself.


In Kejawen rituals, foul smells such as rancid, musty, or stinks like the smell of a goat are considered as a bad thing, low level and must be avoided.  On the other hand, for fragrances, we must pick scents that are soft and soothing, not a strong and over powering sharp scent.


During the Village Cleansing Ceremony, places that are considered as sacred and beneficial for the people such as worship areas, river, springs, wells, paddy field, garden field, roads, paddy barns, and punden- ancestors graves- are cleansed and presented with offerings.  Offerings were made with permission requested from God the Creator of Nature and Life.  The intention of offerings was to direct the energy of the universe to protect the locations and everything that were there, to maintain or even increase the energy level in the locations.

While offerings presented on the graveyard or PESAREYAN is meant to honor the ancestors while they are in the eternal world.


Besides those places, farming equipments such as hoe, sickle, pestle, mortar, whip etc were also cleansed and presented with offerings.  There are many generations who do not understand the meaning and intention of offerings done by the ancestors, many considered these offerings as inappropriate and even forbidden from the point of view of some religions.  However, there are those who continue to keep the tradition, to preserve the customs of their parents.  This is known as the term GUGON TUHON which is short from DIGUGU lan DITIRU - to follow and to continue on as a custom that is on going.


The hope is that the generation of today, after reading this and with the new understanding of the actual meaning and intention of offerings, s the children and descendant of the people of Java, Nusantara, I hope that you are inspired to appreciate and to continue on these valuable heritage of our ancestors.  If not their own descendant, how do we hope for others to respect these legacy? Please reflect on this.



Village Cleansing did not only consist of rituals and offerings, this event also included festivities and kembul bujana- a meal together, with plenty of food and dishes prepared together.  This festivity is the time where everyone gathered together merrily, and enjoyed a stage with singing and dance performances accompanied with sweet sound of music.  During the time before bronze was found, musical instruments were made out of bamboo and wooden mortar such as kothekan. These were used to accompany kidung-kidung (tembang or songs).  The songs are known as pitutur- advices and mantras- to bring safety and prosperity in life.  Later on with the invention of gamelan set, all the music is always accompanied by gamelan creating a more festive atmosphere.


Besides musical instrument, during Village Cleansing time dances were also presented to worship God.  Thus, boys and girls who were virgin and holy were appointed to do the dance.  In its progress, the shadow puppet started to grow, thus Village Cleansing Ceremony is completed with Shadow Puppet Show and the stories would be adjusted with meaning and intention of the ceremony.


Another important aspect to note with the ritual of Village Cleansing is the spirit of GOTONG ROYONG/CO-OPERATION which is all people working together spontaneously and voluntarily with happiness and awareness to achieve a noble goal.  In the beginning it was only in a small community, between neighbors or villages.  Now this has grown into a spirit of co-operation between countries in the world.  This is a contribution of the Kabuyutan nation in the island of Java to the international world.


Daily Lives


Every evening, the adults, especially the Head or the Mother of the family, conducted puja-puji known as Sembahyang (prayer).  In some of these occasions offerings were presented.  Routine prayers were done every evening, because day time is the time to carry out worldly duties that are positive and kind.  Of course malice or evil actions are not allowed.


Besides prayers, the people of Kejawen also carried out spiritual activities to grow a closer connection with God, or when someone had a worldly wish that is good such as the wish to own a home.  These are some forms of spiritual acts:


Cegah Dahar:  To reduce food or to fast, or to eat very little in a couple of day.


Cegah Sare: To reduce the hours of sleep.  Go to sleep only after midnight and wake up before sunrise.


Nyenjirik: To avoid certain type of food or spices, for example nganyep- to only eat a small amount of fruit and vegetable without any spices, salt or sugar.


Abstinence from sexual activity:  To abstain from any sexual activity for 21 days.


While in spiritual act, the person needs to continue on with his or her daily activities such as going to work, continue to be polite and continue to do good deeds.  While at night, after prayer, activity can be continued with doing samadi and breath work in complete surrender to God the Most Loving.  Before prayer, the person needs to clean certain parts of the body such as face, hands, feet or take holy shower.


Since the day of Kabuyutan, the Javanese believes that water is an effective vehicle to cleanse the inner and the physical body.  There are many who chose to do their spiritual act by dipping in the river, lake or the ocean, or in Kejawen term known as Semadi Tirta.

Semadi Tirta usually takes place at night when it is peaceful and quiet.  During bright moon, especially during Purnamasidi which falls on the 14th each Javanese month and during the Full Moon on the 15th of each Javanese month, people would be out of their houses on the lawns to sit around and enjoy a chat with their neighbors. Children play happily, and sometimes there would be a sing along - nembang- together.  The intention of this merriment is, besides a bond with one another, is also to ngalap berkah- to receive vibration/energy from the moon light and other stars.  This is beneficial to strengthen the mental brain and the spiritual inner sense, and also because in truth the life of a human being is connected and is a part of this universe.


Locations, constellation of the planets and the stars inspired the people of Java to learn about Astronomy and weather forecast.  The sun with its bright light that illuminated the earth, gave warmth and fire, and considered vital for life on earth.  Thus, the sun is very well respected.  Every morning during sun rise the people of Kabuyutan woke up to greet the sun.  The same with the practitioners of Kejawen spirituality, we stand in front of our houses or by the side street or in the field, we face east, towards the sun rise.  When the sun arise we stand tall with our arms folded in front of the chest, head bow down to request God’s guidance and to recite holy mantra.  We look at the sun while we cary out our breathing exercise, we praise the name of God.  Spiritual exercise under the sun in Kejawen term is known as SEMADI SURYA.  Semadi Surya is beneficial for the physical body because we inhale morning fresh air and the sun light is good for our health.


As they greeted the morning sun and a bright new day, people began to carry out their activities: doors and windows were wide opened so that morning breeze and sun light can enter the house, animals were being let out from the barn, house and lawns being cleaned, plants watered.  As they started a new day, the adults carried on with their daily activities:  some went to the paddy fields, some to the garden, markets and other activities that were useful for themselves and their community.


The Javanese ancestors during the Kabuyutan days lived a very simple life with a very simple mind.  Throughout their lives they saw and experienced that the lives of all beings depended on the health of nature and earth where they lived.  They understood that without earth elements there is no life.  Clothing, food and dwellings were all produced by materials provided from earth, from the element of dirt.  Earth was dug, planted, used to build dwellings.  The paddy field which produced rice was also from earth.  There was the wind element, without it human and other beings would not be able to breathe, which means there will be no life.  Without the wind, weather and temperature would not be fresh and would not be comfortable to live.  There was also the fire element to cook and to make equipments out of metal.  Fire is also a natural element that is from the sun.


The main elements of life according to the Kejawen terms are Angin, Banyu, Geni lan Lebu - wind, water, fire and dirt- these are all very real facts.  Therefore, we must pay attention to all of these four element and take care of them.  The four elements also exist in the human body: from the sky, the sun, the moon and all the planets arise the Light of Life or the Essence of Holiness.  They come down and merge with the earth elements perfectly, thus the Light of Life, the True Life, Suksma now has ‘clothing’ which is the physical body.  They become humans, and this is God’s order in perfection.  The existence of humans in earth is connected to the items in the sky:  the sun, moon, stars and other planets in the universe.  In the Kejawen term this is known as BAPA ANGKASA, IBU BUMI (FATHER SKY, MOTHER EARTH).




To remind ourselves of this sacred process, which is Bapa Angkasa, Ibu Bumi, the ancient Javanese placed Alu (pestle) on top of Lumpang (mortar) in front of their houses.  This is a symbol of Manunggaling Kawulo Gusti - The unity of Creator with the creation.



The above was the beginning of life during the Kabuyutan time, a life that is safe, in abundance and without greed.  Everyone was able to fulfill their simple needs, the people live in harmony with co-operation, egalitarian with the nature and environment being perfectly well taken care of.  In the ancient days prior to 3000 BC, the Kabuyutan people had already understood astronomy, irrigation system, woven, batik, fishing, gamelan and shadow puppet which until today continued to be preserved in the life of the Javanese.

Jagad Kejawen,
Suryo S. Negoro
Translated by Nurul Kartikasari