The Gamelan Sekaten and Grebeg

The term sekaten encompasses at least two related but different concepts. First, it describes festivities held annually between the fifth and twelfth days of Javanese month of Maulud to commemorate the birthday of the prophet Muhammad SAW. Secondly, it refers to a specific ceremonial Javanese gamelan set played at these festivities which, until the 1970s, was owned by only three royal courts : Surakarta, Yogyakarta and Cirebon (Kasepuhan).


Grebeg is a major event involving almost all the royal family, the officials and employees of the kingdom, and the community in general. In Javanese, the word means procession, support, and an impressive and noisy event. All these are expressed in the Grebeg ritual, which revolves around a procession of several gunungan (mountain-like heaps) made of rice decorated with vegetables and other foods. Hundreds of soldiers and palace employees take part in the procession, which is attend by the King and his family and watched by thousands of people.
Three kinds of grebeg festivities related to royal ceremonies are the Grebeg Maulud (marking the birth of prophet Muhammad SAW), Grebeg Syawal (the end of the Fasting month), and Grebeg Besar (the completion of the haji). Each consists of a procession that carries a pair (or its multiple) of gunungan from the palace to the Grand Mosque.
As the procession passes the sitinggil – the open pavilion where the ruler receives courtesy calls – two palace-herloom gamelan (Kodok Ngorek and Munggang) are played in its honour. Upon arrival at the mosque, prayers are said for the well-being of the community and a selamatan (well-wishing ritual) is held. Afterwards, everyone tries to take something from the gunungan, as to have a piece is believed to bring blessings.


The word sekaten is often associated with sekati, a measure of weight formerly used by the Javanese. It is also linked to syahadatain, meaning the two sentences of the syahadat or the acknowledgement of acceptance which is the primary requirement for conversion to Islam. The gamelan sekaten is very large and heavy, three times the size and weight of a normal Javanese gamelan.
The gamelan is seen as being part of the Hindu culture. In the translation from Hinduism to Islam in the mind-15th century, the wali or religious preachers cleverly used such products of the Hindu culture as means to attract people and convert them to the teachings of Islam.

The gunungan are tokens of gratitude to God The Almighty for the abundance of food that has bestowed upon the community. They are moulded from rice and decorated with vegetables and cakes.
The male gunungan or gunungan lanang is covered with fringes of snake beans and red chilli peppers, the top hidden under a layer of flat rice cakes that culminates in a plume of fish-shaped cakes. The more rounded female gunungan or gunungan wadon is elaborately decorated with rice cakes in a variety of shapes and colours, and bristles with bamboo skewers holding tiny cakes.

Gamelan Sekaten

In order to attract the people, the gamelan sekaten was designed to be as big and spectacular as possible, and very loud. To withstand the hard material, most hammers were made of durable material like water-buffalo horn.
The gamelan sekaten consists of :
One Bonang (set of 10 to 14 kettle-gongs) played by three musicians (pengrawit)
One or two pairs of demung (low-toned xylophone).
Four saron (mid-toned xylophones) with four musicians playing the same melody.
One bedug (large single-headed drum) use to signal a chance of tempo or speed.
One set of kepmyang (pairs of small kettle-gongs).
One pair of gong ageng (big gongs), played by a single musician.

Taken from ____, Indonesian Heritage ; Performing Arts. Archipelago Press, Singapore. 1998.