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The Garebeg Processions in Royal Palaces of Java





The Garebeg Ritual ceremonies are very popular and loved by the people. The Karatons, Royal Palaces of Yogjakarta and Surakarta organize Garebeg processions three times in a year, namely :

  1. Garebeg Mulud, held in the Javanese month of  Mulud on the 12th, on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad SAW.
  2. Garebeg Sawal, held on the 1st of Javanese month of Sawal, after the month of Pasa(fasting).
  3. Garebeg Besar, held on the 10th of Javanese month of Besar, The Day of Sacrifice, The Idul Adha .





In the Garebeg ceremonies, the Karatons/the Royal Palaces of Yogyakarta and
Surakarta instructed by their respective King ( The Sultan of Jogjakarta or The Sunan of Surakarta) to make a traditional Gunungan offerings i.e an offering in the form of mountain. (Gunungan in Javanese language means mountain-like). These offerings reflect a pray to Gusti Allah, God for the safety and welfare of the Country, the Kingdom and the People.

The Garebeg Procession

Early in the morning of Garebeg day, thousands of people are in front of Pagelaran, the front hall of the palace in Alun-alun Lor (North Square).Between Alun-alun Lor and Mesjid Ageng(Great Mosque), approximately  500 meters.

Northwest of Pagelaran there are also crowd  of people waiting for Garebeg Procession. The sound of music, drums and trumpets are coming out from Pagelaran, then march the court soldiers in their specific colorful uniforms armed with their traditional weapons and old rifles.





The soldiers holding different banners are marching elegantly in front of the Gunungan offerings brought from Karaton to The Great Mosque. In the mosque yard, these offerings consisted of rice cone, vegetables, fruits and other food are distributed to these people attending the ceremony. They believe that food, as a gift from the King should bring fortune and happiness in life. In the mosque yard, after a prayer is said, many people are fight to get a piece of the food . The “lucky man” bring the food home happily and eat it together with his family members.

The purpose of Garebeg Ceremonies

As explained earlier, it is clear that  Garebeg Event is a court rite where the King makes offerings for the safety and welfare for the country, the kingdom and the people.

The word “Garebeg” means to escort the king or high-ranking court officials to receive audience from his families and subordinates during Gunungan Offerings Ritual.

The biggest Garebeg is Garebeg Mulud in the Javanese Dal year.

In the Javanese Calendar, there are eight revolving years namely : The Year of Alip, Ehe, Jimawal, Je, Dal, Be, Wawu and Jimakir.
This year of 2023 is equivalent to Javanese Ehe Year of 1956.

This year Garebeg Events celebrated as follow :

Garebeg Mulud is on  September 27, 2023.
Garebeg Sawal is on April 12, 2023.
Garebeg Besar is on June 29, 2023.
( It is advisable to check the correct time with the travel agent).

The Garebeg ceremonies are ancient court rites dated back since East Java/Majapahit era in the 12th century. After the fall of Majapahit Empire in the 15th century, the Garebeg ceremonies were stopped in the beginning of Demak Kingdom in Central Java.

The people who adored the Garebeg tradition, were disappointed. Sunan Kalijaga, the famous Wali, Islamic saint advised the King of Demak to revive the Garebeg. Since then, the event was also used to spread the teaching of Islam. The gamelan music was played nearby the mosque to attract people. Sunan Kalijaga was a wise Wali, in his speeches he invited people to confess to  Islam without besmirching other beliefs.

The playing of Gamelan during Garebeg is named “Sekaten”. Since the old days up to present date, Sekaten always attracts a lot of people.


The spotlight of Garebeg Rite is the mountain like food offerings named “gunungan”. There are six types of Gunungan, namely :

Gunungan LanangMale Gunungan

The 1.5 meter high gunungan put on the big wooden tray of 2 x 1.5 meter.

Mustoko –  the top of the gunungan is decorated with Baderan, cookies made of rice in the form of fish. Five garlands of melati-jasmine and kanthil-magnolia flowers are hung to the Baderan.

Bendhul rice cookies in the form of small balls and raw salted eggs also embellish the top of  Gunungan. The Gunungan is entirely covered with kacang panjang- long green peanuts and several red chili peppers.  Tips of each long green peanut is decorated with kucu- glutinuous rice cookies in the form of rings and upil-upil-  triangular cookies.

The wooden tray is covered with a cloth with pattern of Bangun Tulak. Bangun Tulak cloth is used to ward off evil spirits. 12 sets of rice cones and 4 banana leaf bags contain  various side dishes, 4 young coconuts and a pair of young banana leaves are placed on the tray. At each corner of the tray, a garland of  jasmine flowers is hung.

Gunungan Wadon Female Gunungan

Top of Gunungan Wadon is like an opened umbrella. It is decorated with a big flat cake, surrounded by smaller rengginan cookies in the form of leaves and buds of flowers. The body of this gunungan is decorated with glutinuous cookies in the form of stars , rings and triangulars. It is also dressed up with other glutinuous rice cakes of eblek which has a square form, betetan with the form of parrot’s beak and wajik, a brown color cake and various kind of fruits.

Like other gunungan, its wooden tray is covered by Bangun Tulak pattern of cloth to ward off evil and any kind of disturbance.   Gunungan Wadon resembles a very big flower.

Gunungan Gepak – Flat top Gunungan

The wooden tray of this gunungan is also 2 x 1.5 meter and it is also covered by  a cloth of Bangun Tulak design to ward off evil. There are 40 baskets of 5 kinds of cookies with 5 different colors- red,blue, yellow, green and black and various kinds of fruits are placed on the tray of the Gunungan Gepak.

Gunungan Pawuhan

Gunungan Pawuhan resembles with Gunungan Wadon- The Female Gunungan. On Its flat top  several white flags are implanted, the body is embellished with black round flag ornaments.

Gunungan Darat

This gunungan has also a flat top. Several black flat cakes are put on top of it,  encircled with glutinuous rice cookies in the form of human lips.

Gunungan Kutug/Bromo





Kutug means to burn incense. Many people believe that burning incense, kutug in Javanese language, is a mean to communicate with spiritual world.

This gunungan resembles with  Female Gunungan, only it is decorated with cakes, cookies and fruits like  Male Gunungan. It is also placed on the wooden tray covered with Bangan Tulak cloth. On the top of it,   there is a hole to place a brazier for burning incense.

During the parade of the gunungan, a continuous smoke of incense comes out  from the brazier which is placed on top of this gunungan. Gunungan Kutug or Bromo is only made for Garebeg Mulud of Dal year. It means once in every eight years. The offerings of this gunungan are distributed to the princesses and female court employees.

Every gunungan is carried on shoulder by 16 court officers paraded from The Royal Palace to The great Mosque. For Gunungan Lanang, 2 additional men are needed to hold two long canes to support the  gunungan.

How many gunungan offerings are made for Garebeg Rite?





In the old days, for Garebeg Mulud in every Dal year, 31 gunungan were made, consisting of :

  • 10 Gunungan Lanang
  • 4 Gunungan Wadon
  • 4 Gunungan Pawuhan
  • 4 Gunungan Darat
  • 8 Gunungan Gepak
  • 1 Gunungan Kutug/Bromo

During Garebeg Sawal, 12 gunungans were made.

During Garebeg Besar, 30 gunungans were made ( like in Garebeg Mulud minus Gunungan Kutug/Bromo).

Nowadays, fewer gunungans are made. Karaton Yogjakarta usually makes 6 gunungans consist of 2 Gunungan Lanang, 1 Gunungan Wadon, 1 Gunungan
,1 Gunungan Pawuhan, 1 Gunungan Darat.

The court of Pakualaman receives 1 Gunungan Lanang from The Palace of Yogjakarta.

Karaton Surakarta usually makes 4 gunungans

The Preparation of Garebeg Ceremonies

Numplak Wajik Ceremony





A ceremony called Numplak Wajik marks the beginning of Garebeg Event.

The ceremony takes place in South Kemagangan Pavillion in Karaton witnessed by relative of The Sultan, a senior court officer.

In the afternoon, several days before the Garebeg Day, some court officials play a traditional music of “gejogan”. They make music by hitting a lesung ( wooden mortar for pounding rice) with alu(rice pestle), they sing Tembang Tundhung Setan – an old traditional Javanese song to ward off evils.

To Make Gunungans

The gunungans are made by some artists who work for the Karaton.

Honoring the tradition, first they have to make Gunungan Wadon or Gunungan Putri– The Female Gunungan. This is an ancient teaching of our elders to honor the holy duties of women in the process of life creation.





Some special offerings are given during the making of The female Gunungan, consist of : Cosmetics, a mirror, a comb, a complete set of suruh ayu – betel leaves, areca nut, lime,gambier and tobacco, bangun tulak cloth, mori – a white sheet of fabrics and sumekan- a cloth to cover woman chest.

After it has been completed, the other kind of gunungans are made. The gunungans are kept in Omah Gunungan – The House of Gunungan in the East and West Kemagangan in the Karaton compound.

Gamelan Sekaten





In Garebeg Mulud, 2 sets of gamelan must be prepared. These gamelans are known as Kyai Sekati, consist of 2 sets, namely :

  • Kyai Gunturmadu symbolically means : to be blessed by good gift.
  • Kyai Nogowilogo means : always win the war.

Kyai Gunturmadu is originated from The Royal Palace of Majapahit, Kyai Nogowilogo is newly made as duplicate of Kyai Gunturmadu.

Each set of gamelan consist of 1 saron demung, 2 saron barung, 1 saron penerus, 2 bendes, a set of kempyang, 1 bedug and 1 gong.

Before the 5th day of month Mulud, the gamelans were prepared by cleansing and give them offerings. The Wiyogo, the gamelan musicians,  have to purify their bodies and souls by doing one day fasting and take a bath and wash their hairs. Afterward, they have to attend Kenduri or Selametan, ceremonial meal, a praying done by several people with food offering, requesting selamet- safety from GOD.

In the evening of 5th of Mulud, the gamelan is played in the palace compound to mark the beginning of Sekaten.

Started with the music comes from  gamelan Kyai Gunturmadu with the opening song of Gendhing Wirangrong.





At the same time, several princes will spread udhik-udhik consist of coins, petal of flowers, yellow rice and pieces of pandanus leaves to the gamelan and the musicians. At 23.00 sharp , the music stops and at midnight, the 2 sets of gamelan carried on shoulders to the mosque yard.

Kyai Gunturmadu is placed in Pagongan Kidul, the south pavilion, whereas Kyai Nogowilogo is placed in Pagongan Lor, the north pavilion.

The gamelans are played continuously except during the time of Adzan, a call to perform duty prayers, five times a day.





On the 11th of Mulud at midnight sharp, the two sets of gamelan brought back to Karaton/Royal Palace.The processions of carrying the gamelan from Karaton to The Ageng Mosque vice versa are very solemn processions, guarded by some princes and other court dignitaries as well as units of court soldiers. Obviously, these processions  attract a lot of onlookers.

Palace Regalia

The Karaton has to prepare also The Palace Regalia, the nine golden objects of grandeur, namely :






  1. Banyak(goose),  symbol of holiness.
  2. Dhalang(deer),  symbol of skillfulness.
  3. Sawung (Rooster),  symbol of courage.
  4. Galing (peacock),  symbol of authority.
  5. Ardawalika(dragon),  symbol of responsibility.
  6. Kacu Mas( golden handkerchief),  symbol of cleanliness.
  7. Kutug( a kind of fish),  symbol of a attraction.
  8. Kandhil(lantern),  symbol of brightness.
  9. Saput(a box of jewelry),  symbol of readiness.

The above Palace Regalia will be brought by Manggung, special women court employees during Garebeg parade.






Ampilan are Sultan’s accessories considered as sacred, consist of :

Dampar Kencono – golden chair, Pancadan- feet supporter, Cepuri- golden box for betel leaves, Wijikan – golden finger bowl and Badak- fan from peacock’s feathers.

Pusaka/ Heirlooms





Some pusaka/heirlooms belonged to Royal Palace such as krises/daggers and tumbak/spears are brought by special court guards to protect the Sultan.

Abdi Dalem Polowijo

Abdi Dalem Polowijo are special unit of Sultan employees, they are physical defect but mentally normal people such as crippled men, albinos etc. Some are cebolan , very small people/dwarf. It is a proof that Sultan takes a good care to all his people including the invalids.

Although they have physical defect but they can serve the country.

Visit of Sultan to The Mosque





In the eve of Garebeg Mulud, the Sultan make a visit to Ageng Mosque. First he goes to Pagongan Kidul and Pagongan Lor to scatter udhik-udhik of coins and petals of flowers to the musicians of gamelan.

Then the Sultan is escorted to enter the mosque. At the gate of the mosque’s veranda, he is greeted with full  devotion by The Chief Penghulu (priest) by kissing his hand.Sultan and all the audience listen attentively the reading of Prophet Muhammad biography and do selawatan/ invocations . Before the rite , Sultan goes inside the mosque and give some donation and udhik-udhik nearby the four main pillars of the mosque.

After the selawatan/invocation, The Chief  Penghulu offers melati/jasmine and kantil/magnolia flowers to Sultan. Sultan put each flower on both side of his ear, others do the same. This old tradition is called “Caos Sumping”symbolizing holiness. Before midnight, Sultan and his escorts return to the Karaton/Palace.

The Parade of The Gunungans

Early in the morning of Garebeg day ,all court officials are ready to implement Garebeg ceremony. The procession starts inside the Karaton.

Sultan sitting on his throne in Bangsal Kencono ( Golden Pavillion) instructs the most senior prince assigned to lead and begin the gunungan procession. The parade of court soldiers and officers, gunungans and other court objects such as Palace Regalia, Heirlooms etc started to roll from Bangsal Kencono to Bangsal Manguntur Tangkil in Sitihinggil.

Sultan sits on his throne above Selo Gilang-The Square Stone, accompanied by some princess and court dignitaries.

The Karaton music corps plays an ancient song “Munggang”, then various units of court soldiers with different glamourous uniforms and coat of arms march and salute to the king. They march downward to Pagelaran on the way to Ageng Mosque. The unit soldiers of Mantrijero, as last unit in the parade of court soldiers who bring and play music with the gamelan set by the name of Kyai Guntursari during the procession.





Then, two set court gamelans  Kyai Keboganggang and Kyai Gunturlaut play the  song “Kodok Ngorek”. Accompaniment with this music, the gunungans appear, preceded by a huge Gagarmayang, a beautiful bouquet of flowers and leaves .

First , gunungan Kutug/Bromo appears with its smoke of burned incense, followed by other gunungans.

The appearance of the gunungans is greeted by salvos from all soldier units and a cheerful applause by the attendance. The people in Alun-alun Lor/ North Square are shouting happily, people believes that they got “Berkah Dalem”- The blessing from Sultan, they will have a fortune in life and the villagers who attend the event believe that this year they will have a good harvest.

The parade is entering the North Square. At first is the court souldiers, followed by court high officers, some princes, the special employees with defect bodies of Polowijo and Cebolan, the heirlooms and The King with his security guards.( Some heirlooms are protected with golden umbrellas and incense burning).

Nowadays, Sultan does not participate in the Gunungan procession, the last Sultan who took part in Gunungan procession was The Late Sultan Hamengku Buwono VIII.

In the mosque, a Kenduri (ceremonial meal) is led by Chief Penghulu. This is a food offering for Wilujengan Nagari ( for the safety of the country). After the  pray, they eat together ( Selamatan dahar kembul in Javanese language).





Meanwhile in the mosque yard, hundreds of people enthusiastically fight for small piece of gunungan food offering, believing to have a better and peaceful life.

After lunch, the King or his representative and other court officers bring home a small portion of food ( it is called “berkat” in Javanese language) to be consumed by their families. It is traditionally believed that every one who consume “berkat”, will be blessed by The Creator of Life, GOD. 

Puro Pakualaman





In the Garebeg Day, early in the morning, some dignitaries of Puro Pakualaman the court of Pakualam, flanked by Pakualam court soldiers, stand in display in the spacious and tidy front yard of Pakualam court.

They are ready to receive the messengers from The Royal Palace of Jogjakarta who are assigned by The Sultan to deliver an offering of a Gunungan Lanang, Male Gunungan.





The court of Pakualam does not make gunungan, instead it honorably accepts the gift from Jogjakarta Royal Palace in every Garebeg Event. The Gunungan Lanang is sent from Karaton of Jogjakarta to Puro Pakualaman through a colorful attractive parade. The Gunungan is escorted by Karaton cavalry soldiers including elephants and 2 platoons of Pakualam court soldiers from the corps of Lombok Abang and Plangkir. Along the two kilometers route, thousands of people applaud the royal parade enthusiastically.





There is a solemn and happy ceremony in the process of the gunungan handover.

A senior Pakulam court Prince, on behalf of Sri Paku Alam IX accepts gratefully the gift of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X.





The gunungan is brought on shoulder by Pakualam court employees  to the yard of Pakulaman Mosque.The offering distributed immediately to the people and the needy.

Audience in Karaton

In the events of Garebeg, especially in Garebeg Mulud and Sawal, an audience with the King is held in the Royal Palace.





This event is called “Pisowanan” where the King is receiving the visit of his family members, relative, high ranking court officials and subordinates.

In the Pisowonan, the visitors honor the King in a special way as in accordance to the court protocol.They do “sembah bekti” to the king.( Sembah : Respectful greeting, made with two palms together, fingertips upward, the two thumbs touching nose. Bekti : Full of devotion or obedience).

The king and the visitors wear traditional costume. The king is sitting on a chair with straight body, bent legs, both knees exposed in front of him.

The man who gives ‘sembah bekti” to the king,  kneels in front of the king, greets him with” sembah”, then kiss the right knee of the king, his tip of nose
touching slightly the king’s knee, his both palms hold the king’s knee, saying : “ I give you my “sembah bekti”, kindly apologize my mistakes and I request your blessings”. Usually, the king will touch slightly the upper back of the man while saying his blessing.

In Surakarta Royal Palace, the”sembah bekti” to the Sinuwun, King is different. They do not kiss the right knee of the king but the thumb of his right foot. ( Up to now, members of the royal families who still hold to tradition, do the same “sembah bekti” to their parents and grand-parents in the event of Lebaran, the day to forgive each other during the Javanese month of Sawal).

There is a different court protocol for the elder relative of the king for doing sembah bekti.

An uncle of the king , standing on feet ,comes forward to the king, around two meters away from the king, he slightly kneel whilst saying his greeting, he touches his left and right ears with his left and right hand thumb, the king does the same to reply.

In the old days, during the absolute monarchy, any subordinate who did not do “sembah bekti” to the king, was considered as unfaithful or rebellious and would be punished accordingly.

In Puro Pakualaman , the court employees give “sembah bekti” to Sri Paku Alam IX and in Puro Mangkunagaran, the court employees give “sembah Bekti” to Sri Mangkoe Nagoro IX.

Karaton Surakarta Hadiningrat





The Royal Palace of Surakarta also organizes Garebeg Ritual Ceremonies three times a year, the same time with Garebeg Events in Jogjakarta.

The gunungans are prepared in the karaton compound, in the terrace of Koken, Kitchen, four days before every Garebeg days in the Javanese months of Mulud, Sawal and Besar.

Some court officials are assigned to organize  the implementation of Garebeg Events. Garebeg ceremonies are ordered by the Parentah Karaton ( The Palace Authority). The King, Susuhunan Pakoe Boewono XIII, in his domain, orders a Karaton Officer, Mas Tumenggung Bupati to transmit to related officials in Bangsal Marakata to carry out Garebeg ceremony.

For Garebeg Mulud, the court gamelan sets of Kanjeng Kyai Sekati consist of the gamelan set Kanjeng Kyai Gunturmadu and the gamelan set  Kanjeng Kyai Guntursari are taken out from Parangkarso hall.

The court employees of Semut Ireng ( Black Ants) unit, carry on shoulders these gamelan sets to Great Mosque located west of North Square. The gamelans are then be placed in Bangsal Pagongan in the Great Mosque compound. During Sekaten Fair to commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad, the gamelan music is always played except during the times of Islamic pray, five times a day. The gamelans will then be brought back to the royal palace to mark  the end of Sekaten Fair.

The gunungan food offering are distributed to all people in the Mosque yard and to the court employees in the palace.





Many people ,  commoners  and  villagers of Surakarta, they like very much to enjoy the sound of these Sekaten gamelan. They come and stay in the Pagongan for hours to enjoy their favorite “gendhing”, gamelan musical composition of  “Rembu” and “ Rangkung”.

Rembu” song symbolizes a praise to Gusti Allah, GOD, while the song of “Rangkung” is a desire for people to have a great soul in life.

For these people, the sound of Sekaten gamelan is enjoyable tranquilizer in this hectic world, useful to preserve the balance of life.

During Garebeg of Mulud, Sawal and Besar, there are audiences to the king, the Pisowanan in Javanese language, where the abdi dalem- court employees are obliged to take part in these audiences as a sign of respect and loyalty to the King.

Suryo S.Negoro
Edited by Arie Suryo