On our second day in Yogyakarta we visited the Office of the Governor of the Special Region of Yogyakarta. His Royal Highness, Sri Praduka Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Adipati Ario Paku Alam VIII, Vice Governor of the Special Region of Yogyakarta welcomed us and listened to Bapak Syahri explain the mission and aims of the Into Indonesia tour. Sri Paduka was disheartened to hear that numbers of students studying Indonesian was decreasing in schools in Australia and encouraged more people to come to Yogyakarta to learn the Indonesian language and deepen their understanding of the culture.
Our school leaders introduced themselves and spoke about their school and how they have already integrated Indonesian in their schools or hoped to do so in the near future. For the group, it was wonderful to experience being a guest in a such formal context and to precisely follow the Javanese customs such as referring to his Royal Highness as “Sri Paduka” (rather than “Bapak”), to wait to drink until being invited to do so by the host and to exchange gifts in the proper fashion.
This visit emphasized the attention to hierarchy and devotion paid to the royal family of the Sultan of Yogyakarta and was an important preliminary step before visiting the Sultan’s Palace, or Kraton. As it was Friday morning, a female pesindhen (solo singer) was singing excerpts from the Al-Quran in Javanese and was shortly replaced by an elderly male singer, each taking turns throughout the morning to present uninterrupted religious teaching. However, it soon became apparent that Islam was not the only religion evident at the Kraton. Hindu practices such as the giving of offerings and Buddhist influences in the architecture, as well as mystical beliefs reflected the religious syncretism of royal life and of the wider Javanese community.
We then proceeded onto the Taman Sari, a water park used in former times by the Sultan and to the Sumur Gumuling, an underground mosque built in 1761. This Escher-like structure was designed by a Portuguese engineer and was initially only for private use of the Sultan and his family. It is claimed that there is an underground tunnel that runs from the Taman Sari to the South Sea. One participant, Peter, commented that “The complex history of Indonesia is fascinating and I’m starting to appreciate the various influences that have shaped the people.”