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The Amazing History of Javanese Gamelan

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Gamelan is a cultural product to meet the human need for art. Art is one of the elements of a universal culture. Art is one of the elements of a universal culture. This means that every nation is certain to have art, but its form is different from one nation to another.


Javanese gamelan can be played as a musical performance or used as accompaniment of dance or performance art such as Wayang Kulit and Ketoprak. As a separate show, Gamelan music is usually combined with the voices of the singers (the male singers called wiraswaradan and the female one called waranggana). Here is a history of Javanese gamelan that you should know.

  • The originate word of Gamelan

In East Java’s written sources the group of gamelan ensembles is said to be “tabehan” (the new Javanese ‘tabuh-tabuhan’ or ‘tetabuhan’ meaning anything that beats or sounds with a beating). The word “gamèl” with percussion instruments is a hit instrument (1982). In Javanese there is the word “gèmbèl” which means ‘battering’. In the Balinese language there is the term ‘gambèlan’ which then may be the term ‘gamelan’. The term ‘gamelan’ has been mentioned in relation to music.

Namur in Kediri kingdom (around 13th century AD), a music expert Judith Becker even said that the word ‘gamelan’ comes from the name of a Burmese priest and an iron expert named Gumlao. If Becker’s opinion is true, of course the term ‘gamelan’ is found also in Burma or in some areas of mainland Southeast Asia, but it is not.

See also: Gamelan Orchestra Instruments

  • The relief of gamelan before gamelan made

Initially, musical instrument gamelan made based on reliefs that exist in Borobudur Temple in the 8th century. In the reliefs of the temple, there are several musical instruments consisting of drums, bamboo flutes, harps, stringed and picked strings, and bells.

Since then, the instrument is used as a musical instrument in Javanese gamelan music. Musical instruments that sketched in the reliefs of Borobudur Temple were used to play the gamelan. At the time of influence of Hindu-Buddhist culture developed in Majapahit Kingdom, gamelan was introduced to Javanese society in Majapahit Kingdom.

See also:  Facts about Gamelan music of Indonesia

  • How Javanese gamelan was made at the first time

It is said that, according to Javanese belief, the gamelan itself was created by Sang Hyang Guru Era Saka, as a god who once controlled all of Java. It was this god who invented the musical instrument gong, which was used to summon the gods. The first gamelan musical instrument created was the “gong”, which was used to summon the Devas. It was also used to deliver a special message. Sang Hyang Guru then recreated some other equipment like two gongs, until finally formed a set of gamelan. Until now, the gamelan sets are well known in the world.

See also: History of Gamelan in Indonesia

  • Gamelan in java was also used for spreading Islamic religion

The spread of Islam that since the thirteenth century grew faster and faster in the Indonesian archipelago, mainly due to the efforts of the broadcasters with their Islamic mystical teachings (Sufi), especially will be more pronounced in Kali saga era. The broadcasters became a member of the Islamic mysticism (tariqa) who fled from Bagdad, when the city was invaded by Mongol Man in 1258. The idea of mystic was warmly welcomed in Java, since since the days before the entry of Islam, the Hindu-Buddhist cultural tradition which is found in Java is dominated by mystical elements.

See also: Gamelan Facts

  • Gamelan in the term of Sunan Kalijaga

In Kali Kalijaga there was the addition of tones to Gong, as well as the famous Javanese Gamelan song of the era is Ilir – ilir, and Sufistic values ​​will also be felt in Kali saga Kalijaga. The gamelan was used as a process for mildly Islamicizing Java through their culture and spirituality, although there will be syncretism (Islamic fusion with Javanese or Islamic kejawen) done by the Javanese people themselves. Then outside of the wishes of Kalijaga who wanted a culture primarily Java follows the religion or the understanding of Islam, and not the religion or the Islamic understanding that follows the culture.

The gamelan inherited in Sunan Kalijaga era was usually used for ceremonies (e.g. ceremonies to commemorate the maulid of the Prophet), and there was always a requirement to watch the Javanese Gamelan play inherited by sunan Kalijaga, which consists of washing both feet and reciting the syahadat. This habit began to disappear, when the Javanese society had been affected by Islam’s own understanding.

See also: Importance of Music in Indonesian Culture

  • Gamelan was also used in Sekaten Yogyakarta

The gamelan was usually played at night, or after the Java community returned from their work during the day, and was not played every Friday night, because it had its own sacredness for the Muslims. There was a belief that Gamelan Sekaten as a royal heirloom also changed hands following who will rule next. Since Majapahit, Demak, Pajang and Mataram, and so many Gamelan Sekaten changed hands from one ruler to another leader, or passed down from generation to generation. However, the journey of history has not ended, because Mataram Hadiningrat itself then also broke into two, in 1755 AD through the agreement Giyanti, or become Surakarta and Yogyakarta.

See also: History of Batik Yogyakarta

  • Gamelan and the split of Mataram Kingdom

The treasures including the Sekaten Gamelan were then divided in two. However, it can not be ascertained which of the two Mataram Hadiningrat fractional kingdoms that got Gong Kiai Sekar Delima of Brawijaya V heritage and Gong Kiai Sekati Sunan Kalijaga heritage. The result of the historical research conducted by Depdikbud (Ministry of Education and Culture) in 1991-1992 stated that Gamelan Sekaten must be a pair, each of Mataram Hadiningrat (Surakarta and Yogyakarta) fractions, and make new Gong as their partner (Kiai Nogowilogo and Guntur Sari).

See also: History of Malioboro Yogyakarta

  • The history of Karawitan

The music of Javanese gamelan in Java itself is called karawitan. Karawitan is a term used to describe the soft music of gamelan. Karawitan art using gamelan instruments is found in the art of dance and sound art of Javanese, which is as follows:

  1. Sound of art consists of sinden, bawa, gerong, sendon, and celuk.
  2. The art of puppetry consists of wayang kulit, wayang golek, wayang gedog, wayang klithik, wayang beber, wayang suluh, and wayang wahyu.
  3. The art of dance consists of srimpi dance, bedayan, golek, wireng, and pethilan

Javanese gamelan art is not only played to accompany the art of sound, dance, and wayang attraction. When there was an official event of the kingdom in the palace, it usually used the strains of gamelan music as accompanist. Especially, if there are members of the palace that married the Javanese tradition. Javanese people also use the gamelan music when holding a wedding reception.

Those are the long history of Javanese gamelan. Gamelan is the traditional music in Indonesia that is inherited from the former Javanese people. However, unfortunately, there are not much Javanese people who could play this kind of music. Meanwhile the foreigners in Australia are interested to learn and study to play this kind of music.

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Kategori : Art, Instruments