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The History of Gamelan in Indonesia

by Tri Setiya

Gamelan is literally from Javanese “gamel” which means strike a musical instrument, followed by suffix “an” that makes it as noun word. In conclusion, Gamelan is the traditional musical instruments of Indonesia with the pentatonic intonation. A set of gamelan instrument usually consists of Kendang, Bonang Penerus, Demung, Saron, Peking, Kenong and Kethuk, Slenthem, Gender, Gong, Gambang, Rebab, Siter, and Suling. The components of the main gamelan are bamboo, metal, and the wood. Each gamelan instrument has its own function.

Actually there is no one who knows the discoverer of gamelan. However, you could still get the information about The History of Gamelan in Indonesia.

  1. In Hindu-Budha kingdom era

There  is no clear information how gamelan found at the first time. However, gamelan has been played since Hindu-Buda culture dominated Indonesia. Gamelan has the same characteristic with the Indian music on its way to sing a song. The man singer usually called”wiraswara” and the woman singer called “waranggana”.

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  1. Invented by Sang Hyang Guru

Based on Javanese myth, gamelan was found by Sang Hyang Guru in Saka year. He was a God of Java Island. He had a kingdom in Mahendra moun in Medangkamulan (now it is Gunung lawu). The first gamelan that he made is ‘gong’. Then, he made two more gongs to send a specific message, until he could finally make a set of gamelan instrument. The function of gong is to recall the Gods.

  1. The first illustration of Gamelan found in Borobudur Temple relief

In 8th century, the illustration of gamelan has been found in History of Borobudur Temple, Central Java. The musical instrument likes bamboo flute, bells, kendhang in various size, and the string musical instrument were illustrated in relief of Borobudur temple. In conclusion, the relief illustrated the history of gamelan in Indonesia.

  1. In 9th century, gamelan spread to some regions of Indonesia

It was started in 9th century when almost of regions in Indonesia uses gamelan for their musical instrument. Some regions which use gamelan are: Batak, Bali, Minangkabau, toraja, and so on. However, some of regions didn’t use the full set of gamelan. The regions which consistently use the full set of gamelan are Java and Bali.

The development of gamelan depends on the social life of each culture. As the example, although it has the same function to accompany puppet performance, gamelan that played in Sundanese and Javanese culture is different.

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  1. Javanese culture gives much contributions of Gamelan development

 The “Pagelaran Wayang” is a Indonesian Traditional Puppets, especially in Java.  The most popular of puppets show is in Yogyakarta and Central Java. As its development, gamelan started accompanying the “Pagelaran Wayang”. In a puppet show, the collaboration of some gamelan instruments could create a beautiful music. Gamelan accompanies not only puppet shows, but also Javanese Traditional Dance.

The gong is also often used for the opening of an even in Indonesia.  It has already been a tradition of Indonesia.

  1. Gamelan today

Gamelan today has been famous in abroad. Many foreigners come to Indonesia to learn how to play gamelan. It could be such honor for Indonesia because many people in the world are interested in learning gamelan as one of the culture Indonesia. However, some of foreigners join in gamelan school. Their enthusiasm of learning gamelan is so big. That is why when a tourist come to Java, the most thing that they interested is the traditional art of Java.

In conclusion, gamelan in Indonesia is already well known to abroad. It should be a task of Indonesians to maintain the culture. Ironically, many local people never interested in gamelan, while there are many foreigners want to learn to play it. It could be one of the reason why some of traditions in Indonesia claimed by another country. So, love your own traditional culture!

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