Karo Ritual of Tenggerese in Bromo Tengger Semeru, East Java, Indonesia

Karo ritual is held annually by Tenggerese, on 2nd month of Tenggerese calendar. Similar to Ied inIndonesia, Tenggerese visit each other to relatives or neighbors to forgive each other. This celebration ends 2 weeks. And during the celebration they slaughter livestock, mostly chicken, goat, cow, and pig for meats. For normal family, they will slaughter livestock together and share it.

For Tenggerese, Karo celebration is a celebration that they always wait. This celebration is like party, as if they want to pay for all the hardwork to their mundane activities at farm lands for the whole year. All Tenggeres, whether they are Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Moslem are together happily celebrate this celebration. The celebration will be more vibrant when Tenggerese crop is good.

Karo celebration and thanksgiving was from agreement between Ajisaka and Prophet to commemorate their followers Setya or ALif and Satuhu or Hana. Tenggerese consider karo is defined as nylameti wong loro or holding thanksgiving for 2 persons, Hana and Alif. Few Tenggerese think that the story about agreement between Ajisaka and Prophet is just a make up story.

Here is the background of Karo celebration.

Long time ago lived a couple and they had one son, the couple is Ki Kures and Nyi Kures. The one and only son name was  Bambang Dursila, who has an evil behavior and he liked gambling.

Oneday, Ki Kures went to forest and met a dragon, Antaboga. The dragon said to Ki Kures ‘ Ki Kures, a generous man. If you want to live well, adequate meals and clothing, give me one bamboo of milk everyday’. Ki Kures was so happy, and he went home. The next day he went to cave where the dragon lived and brought milk in a bomboo pot. When he pour the milk to dragon mouth, the dragon asked him to take gold in his mouth.  Ki Kures gave dragon milk everyday and he became rich.

Seeing that his father is getting richer, Bambang Dursila was suspicious. He wanted to know where his father wealth came from. One day quietly he followed his father. He saw his father gave a dragon milk. The nest day, Bambang Dursila went to the cave and gave the dragon milk, and he planed to kill the dragon, and took the gold from the dragon mouth. Antaboga knew that Dursila went closer to him and then moved his tail that made Bambang Dursila fell and hit tree and died. Next morning Ki Kures arrived at the cave and asked what happened. Antaboga answered that Bambang Dursila was killed as he tried to murder him. Ki Kures explained that Bambang Dursila’s wife was pregnant. Anraboga said that Ki Kures should not be sad about this, if the baby was a girl then Ki Kures could name her whatever he wanted and if the baby was a boy, he asked Ki Kures to take the baby to Antaboga and he wanted to see the baby boy.

Few days later, Bambang Dursila’s wife‘s baby was born, and it was a boy. Ki Kures took him to Antaboga and the dragon raised him and taught him to disappear, curving steel, martial art and other skills. The boy grew up as handsome and powerful man, and Antaboga named him Aji. Ki Kures was so happy knowing that his grandson had good quality as man. Ki Kures said that he had never seen any man was as handsome and his grandson. Antaboga replied that there was a man that was more handsome than Aji, and he was The Propeht and that Aji should learn from him.

Aji went to Mecca and he learned from The Prophet with other 4 students. One day The Prophet asked him to go somewhere and suddenly Aji disappeard. His friends was surprised and told The Prophet. The Prophet told them not to worry as someone that disappeared would appear again.  Then The Prophet pointed at one of pillars of mosque and yelled ‘From now on, you will be known as Ajisaka and you are my trusted fellow. If you are man I will be a woman and if you are day I will be night. 7 days a week will be mine and 5 Javanese days will be yours.’

The Prophet named his 7 days with Senin, Selasa, Rabo, Kamis, Jemuah , Sabtu and Ahad. While 5 days of Ajisaka are Legi, Pahing, Pon, Wage, and Kliwon. But Ajisaka name his days with his terms, Dite, Soma, Anggoro, Respati, Sukra and Tumpak. When The Prophet and AJisaka was having chit chat, suddenly two men came. One man came from west, his name was Setya and the other came from east, Setuhu. Setya became companion of The Prophet and Setuhu became the companion of Ajisaka.

The prophet said to Ajisaka ‘ Aji, now you should go to Medangkamulan Kingdom. Please take a prophecy book and calendar to check the lucky day. King of Medangkamulan eat human flesh, his name is Dewotocengkar’

Ajisaka went to Medangkamulan as he was in hurry, he forgot to bring his kris. In the middle of his trip, he remembered that he forgot his kris.He asked Setuhu to take his kris and reminded him that he should not let anyone have the kris. The Prophet found that Ajisaka left his kris and asked Setya to submit the kris to Ajisaka only.  In the idle of the trip, Setuhu met Setya. Setuhu asked Setya to give kris to him as Ajisaka has asked him to take kris. Setya said that no one should carry the kris except Ajisaka. They both then fought.

The Prophet and Ajisaka were worried as their trusted messenger did not return for days.  They looked for their messenger and they met at where Setya and Setuhu fought and died. They agree to commemorate Setya and Setuhu and created 30 Arabic alphabet and Ajisaka created 20 Javanese alphabet. Medangkamulan people were very retarded, so Ajisaka taught them to write and built Sanggar as worship place. Ajisaka taught kalomah loro (two sentences) or testimony of faith (related to Islam testimony of faith)

Karo is celebrated by Tenggerese in Malang, Lumajang, Probolinggo, but the ritual in Malangand, Lumajang do not perform Sodor or Sodoran, a sacred dance. In Malang and Lumajang, they perform Ojung dance and then followed by Tayuban dance where woman dancer dancing among males audiences.  The woman dancer is called as ledhek or tandhak.  Tandhak also presents beer and other alcoholic drink that this event can be an event to get drunk until late at night.

According to active inherit of Tengger tradition, ghosts love tayub dance, so in Karo celebration tayuban is the main priority. If it is not performed, disaster will come to their villages, plague or natural disaster.  The disasters are caused by angry ghosts guarding their villages.  If they don’t provide what the ghosts like, there will be many people die in Karo month.

Karo celebration involves all village inhabitants and separated into two parts. The first part is communal celebration that is supported by all villagers and the individual part that is supported by family. Karo ritual is started by sameninga ritual held at dukun house. In few places are held at village hall. This ritual is aimed to let gods know that Karo ritual is started.

Few days after the opening ritual, each family leader brings food and money support called torus or pupon to villge hall. That is where dukun Tengger pray for the offering preparation.  Village leader calls all well respected men to the village hall and gives them assignment in Karo ritual and then eat together. They prepare the place used for tayuban and dining venue, as the peak of the celebration and invite tandhak or ledhek from lower area.

Before tayuban started, tandhak brought to sanggar padhanyangan that is guarded by spirit. In this place dukun prayed and burn incense. Gods are invited to the village. Tandhak, village well respected people, and dukun are involved in this session.  Tandhak dances and sing Javanese song that is loved by the ghost.  Dukun and other participants give offering and pray so the ghost will protect their water spring that is not far from sanggar padhayangan.

From Sanggar Padhayangan then Dukun leads the group to grave of  village founding fathers. In this sacred place, tandhak dance and sing Javanese song that is liked by spirit. After ritual at Padhanyangan, spring and grave, all villagers go to the village hall to eat together. At village hall, dukun blesses sanggar ageng offering or dandosan resik that is prepared by the village leader. This offering is made special for ancestor spirits so they will not bother their descendants that are still alive.  There are other offering called tumpeng ageng that is dedicated to god and ancestor spirits. This later mentioned is prepared by villagers that are brought from their houses for this celebration.

The prayer at Karo ritual slight similar to that of Kasada ritual.  After praying session finish, all villagers eat together. Women and children eat first and then the men.

Tayuban dance begins after one or more tandhak sing welcome song for all villagers present. Wifes stand in live and watch their husband dance with tandhak. Women in this village do not drink alcohol and do not dance. Husbands sit in a room and wait until tandhak put sampur (long scarf) as invitation to dance. Men with higher social status will be given first chance to dance. They sing and dance until morning comes.

Before those ritual, there is one small important ritual, banten gedhe ritual hekd in village hall. Banten gedhe offerings are sugar cane as support, flower, coconut leaves, and small branches. This ritual is very short. All dukun stand facing the offering, pray, and burn incense, and let gods to accept the offering.

After banten gedhe ritual, dukun begin to circle from house to house to bless the offering that is prepared by each family leader.  This is when individual ritual  begins. As the villages are wide and there are many houses, dukun is helped by few people for this assignment. And then Tenggerese visit each other and shake hands and forgive eachother.

Every house of Tenggerese, though they have different religion, they celebrate Karo, with sesanding or sesanti offering. This ritual is held individually to ask blessing and prosperity for all family members. Sesanding offering consists of 22 rice tumpeng, offering of 22 kinds of cookies in bamboo basket or takiran withpetraand agem.Petra is a doll or effigy made of leaves amd flowers as symbol of died family members. Agem is chair of spirit made of flower.Petra number subject to family members that are died already.

Tenggerese also prepare offering in bedroom. This offering are made of banana (gedhang ayu) and other offering.  This offering is made for ancestor spirit so they will not disturb family members who are still alive. To bless the offering, dukun bow at petra and then rub with fragrance and pray that the family will be protected. The last session is asking the spirit to return to their own place.

A week after tayuban or sodoran, Tenggerese hold Nyadran ritual in their family and relative’s grave located ot the fringe of village. Nyadran derives from sraddha, means ceremony to commemorate passed away people. Sraddha Agung was held in Hayam Wuruk era to commemorate 12 years after the death of Rajapatni. In this event all Tenggerese together gather in cemetery bring food and drink and wearing new cloth.

Nyadran is also led by dukun. Spirits are entertained with food, drink, and kencak dance with gamelan music. In the middle of cemetery, dukun tell folklore of Ajisaka, their ancestor. And then they go home after the ritual is done.

Karo is very important for Tenggerese. To celebrate Karo they save money for new cloth and shopping. Village also coordinates a bull that is slaughtered together to share.

No one knows when Ajisaka and The Prophet legend entered Tengger. In a research in 1867, Meinsma reported that when asked about Ajisaka arrival in Tengger, they had no idea at all. Ajisaka and The Prophet came for the first time in Jasper book, Tengger an de Tenggereezen in 1926. In this book is mentioned that Tenggerese related Karo and Sodoran dance with Ajisaka and The Propohet. Similar thing also stated by Singgih Wibisono in his book ‘Tengger’ as published in Majalah Bahasa dan Budaya, by Indonesia University.

Social dichotomy that are familiar such as ‘rubuh ngalor’ (fall northward) and ‘rubuh ngidul’ (fall southward) or ‘become Buddha’ (Ajisaka follower) or become Islam (The Prophet follower), do not remove tolerance among Tenggerese. When Karo celebration comes, all Tenggerese celebrate this, visit each other, even they have different beliefs. And when Ied comes, same thing, Tenggerese  celebrate this and visit each other.

The history about Karo that involves Ajisaka and The Prophet is very controversial. But the legend has a wise message that Tenggerese should build empathy and tolerance among Tenggerese or other people outside Tengger with different cultures and religions.

When Alif died, in the legend, his head faced north (rubuh ngalor) and Hana faces south (rubuh ngidul). The dichotomy of rubuh ngalor and rubuh ngidul show religion preference of Ajisaka and The Prophet’s follower.  Ajisaka’ s follower should be buried with head on the south, facing Gunung Bromo, while The Prophet follower should be buried with head on the north. For Tenggerese, south was not like south direction like enywhere else in Java, but south with Gunung Bromo as the center. In reality, many of Tenggerese buried with head on the east. In Javasese, east is wetan derives from kawitan or wiwitan means the beginning, or return to the beginning.

Rubuh ngalor and rubuh ngidul also refer to Ied and Karo celebration, and Buddha. The agreement between AJisaka and The Prophet had already been agreed and should be done and respected. They should tolerate and respect each other. It created peace, and prosperity to avoid fighting such as what happened to Setya and Setuhu or Hana and ALif. To reach the goal, there should be a thanks giving ritual or celebration, for Ajisaka the celebration is called as Karo and for The Prophet is called as Ied. If they don’t make celebration, disaster as happened to Alif and Hana will come to Ajisaka’s and The Prophet’s followers.

Hana and Alif reflect the background of both cultures. Alif is the first alphabet in Arab while  Hana is a mix of the first and second alphabet in Java. The death of Hana and Alif has a deep cultural message, as the gone of oral tradition and replaced with written culture in Java. Tengger land is not only occupied with Ajisaka followers having tradition of Ha, Na, Ca, Ra, Ka but also ovvupied with The Prophet followers withg alphabet Alif, Ba, Ta, Tsa and so on.