Published in Now! Jakarta, January 2009

This month my column is about transitions. Just out a fabulous new book produced by one of Jakarta’s most loyal scribes; Java mourns the death of the King of Batik; and born again Hindu-Javanese community applauds the emergence of an ancient Hindu Javanese temple, Candi Ceto, near Solo, as a pit-stop for Jakarta’s political elite to recharge their spiritual batteries.

• • •

One of the many moody photographs of Jakarta in Leonard Lueras fabulous new book.

Jakarta, 2nd November 2008:
Lueras has been based in Indonesia for the past twenty years, and has never bought anyone lunch. Ha!!!

He came to my house for lunch, recently, with someone else’s dyed raven scalp riding on his head, under the baseball cap but over the silver nomad side-burns: it was a creepy look, but everything about Leonard is borderline creepy, except his wonderful books, now 38 of them, since his first magnum opus, the tragically titled ‘Bali – Ultimate Island’. For years all of us here in Bali’s writers’ and readers’ community have wondered how he does it, without an office, with no visible means of life support (We see him struggling to the surface of the Golden Snail’s back entrance, looking green, daily); there is a permanent spot for him behind the army tank parked on Denpasar’s Alun-Alun). It seems that he makes books like ‘KETOK MAJIK’ (Jakarta’s Mystic mechanics who do everything under a veil of secrecy).

This latest book is a triumph—it really covers the length and breadth and the variety of the city’s cultural life, and the full length of its history, with brilliant photographs and illustrations and a text by a panel of experts.
AsProducer-Director-Designer-Photographer, no-one does it better than Leonard Lueras!! Bravo!!

A Betawi bride in traditional Jakarta wedding costume—a unique blend of South Sumatran, Sundanese and Chinese traditional dress.

One of the many moody photographs of Jakarta in Leonard Lueras fabulous new book.

• • •

KRT Hardjonagoro (Go Tik Swan) had the best taste in Java, and the sharpest tongue. A feisty Chinese, born into an elite family—his grandfather was the town’s opium lord; his father built Solo’s Pasar Harjonagoro—the young Go Tik Swan studied classical Javanese dance at the Kraton Susuhunan palace. From a young age he was a close personal friend of the ruler’s son, the future Pakubuwono XI.
As a young man he started a batik factory which became Solo’s finest—his textiles were always exquisitely worked and often highly original. He pioneered the use of bright colours in classical Javanese batik designs.
During the Soekarno Era he supplied the palace ladies with their batiks, and the palace men with pats on the bottoms.
In 1969 he was asked by Pakubuwono XI to found a palace museum: it quickly grew—through Harjonegoro’s great erudition, and knowledge of the palace’s history—into the finest in Java.

Over the years, Hardjonagoro became the pointman for scholars of Central Java, Javanese mysticism (he was an intensely spiritual man in a very elegant Javanese way, and held the key to many secrets) and Keris-making (his Keris foundation, started by his adopted son Kanjeng Warno, produced some of the fine keris, using the 100% traditional methods and ceremonies).
Amongst all of his achievements, ‘Mas Go’, (as he was known, affectionately, by all his friends) will be most remembered for the sirenely elegant, classically Javanese multi-courtyard house and garden he created behind the superb Dutch Art Deco Bungalow on Solo’s Jalan Kratonan.
At various times Raffles Gamelan, the Bima statue from Candi Sukuh, and many other cultural treasures were political-cultural refugees in his house.
The famed Jogyakarta architect-priest Romo Mangunwijaya had created a 1960s modernist-ethnic’ go-down in one corner of the Zen-like courts; and an ivory and gold Javanese pendopo pavilion, with a few of the best statues from Javanese antiquity, held down another court nearby.
Everything was simple and sirene, except Mas Go holding court at his marble dining table. Ha!
It was his glorious irreverence, interpretations of the classics and secret story-telling (Ningrat-gossip) that will be missed.

My 1979 photo of Mas Go at his home

6th November 2008:
KRT Harjonagoro died quietly yesterday, at home, as he wished.
Today the courtyard is full of friends and family and nobles from Solo’s palaces, and representatives from Jakarta’s cultural elite.
Prince Mangkunegaran IX is here as are princes from the Kraton and hundreds of other Solonese in traditional dress. Soedarmadji Damais is the sole representative from the close Jakarta friends of Mas Go (who has been elevated to Pengabehan on his death, it transpires).

One of the many precious sculptures in Hardjonagoro’s garden.

A batik-artisan works on a Hardjonagoro original in the batik-masters studio-home (1979 archive photo).

The ceremonies at the house and the graveyard are solemn and serene: the umbrella Mas Go designed for his funeral—drop-dead chic Aman—approvable white on caramel—is the final symbol of his extraordinary taste and neo-royal status within Solonese cultural society.

Mas Go’s ‘grandson’, from his adopted family, carries his portrait from the house to the graveyard.

Mas Go’s funerary umbrella, designed by himself 20 years ago.


8th November 2008: To Candi Ceto
Two days after the burial I go to my favourite temple in Java, Candi Ceto, recently constructed and ‘returned’ to the Hindu community as a place of worship (see, September 2007). During the 1980s President Soeharto built a ‘power pagoda’ on the steep slopes above this unique mountain temple, with a copper phallus as roof apex.

The drive up into the tea gardens of Mt. Lawu (Solo’s answer to Mt. Merapi) is sublimely beautiful in the harsh morning light: it is so rare to be in the countryside in Java anymore—the island being the world’s most populous and urban sprawl so prevalent—and I could help think how spirit-lifting the mountain views are without artshops everywhere is metres, along the road, which is the blight of Bali!!
I arrived at the temple at 8 a.m. before the mists had started to descend. There is a new car park and an attendant warung; the rest of the village is as it always was spartan and simple.
I walked up the steep entrance ramp and was thrilled to see that the plaza in front the main gate is, post-restoration, untouched: the magical-mystical layout of the amphibian animals reminds one more of ancient Egypt rather than ancient Java (see below).

The sublime entrance court of Candi Ceto, the last temple built by the Majapahit Raja Brawijaya, high in the hills east of Solo (where the Raja eventually achieved moksa).

The pavilions in the first of the temples some seven terraced courts remind me of the gamelan pavilions on the similarly positioned terraced at Pura Besakih Temple in Bali: it is very rare in Java, to find pavilions in Javanese temples, the timber fames hang along turned to dust. At Candi Penataran in Blitar one can imagine the ‘pavilion scape’ as all the pavilion bases and many of the post-plinths (umpak) are still in place, and one sees the pavilions on the bas relief carved onto the side of ancient temples but its thrilling to see on temple from Hindu Java’s late classical period fully restored and couldn’t help thinking how Mas Go with his love of ancient Hindu Javanese culture must have had some hand in the restoration.

A Hindu villager (all the villagers are Hindu, I was told) took me to the top of the many terraces explaining how Gus Dur, Akbar Tanjung and the Soeharto children are still meditation regulars—the former spending the Jum’at Legi night in the meditation hut (gedong) at the top terrace. “Kembali ke Tanah Jawa,” (“Back to their Javanese origons”) explained my guide.

| back |

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to:

Copyright© 2009,