Preserving Traditional Weddings


Javanese weddings have always been placed within layers of history, values, tradition and grandeur. This particular one, as fascinating as they are culturally, carried with it an element of international variety: the groom and his family—who witnessed and participated in the ceremonies—were born and bred in England; while the bride and her family are Javanese origins. This fascinating juxtaposition of cultures brought the Javanese heritage all the more to life.

Story by Sonia Louis Photo by Amry - Alvin Photography

The groom, Craig Hopkinson arrived at the home of Renda Putri, the bride; and Delia Murwihartini, the bride’s mother on the royal carriage Kirab Kereta Kencana—typically used by Keraton, the royal family of Yogyakarta. Renda and Delia had already given the groom and his entourage a tour of Yogyakarta itself—but what they witnessed in the intimate setting of the pre-vow ceremony exceeded all expectations.

Renda and Craig began their Javanese experience by witnessing the placement of the bleketepe, carefully woven coconut leaves as a covering for the entrance to the venue; a symbol for spiritual protection during the ceremony and a representation of two individuals ‘weaving’ a new life together. Then began cethik geni and adang sepisan—translated to ‘fire then rice’—where the parents of the bride lit a fire and began to stir their respective pot of rice. This process is the ultimate welcome: it tells the guests there is an abundance of food and formally thanks them for their attendance. The fire represents the hope of lasting love from the bride and groom’s heart: to be kept alive and protected. Before conventional gas stoves, lighting a fire to cook was more of a difficult process; once a fire was started, it was to be treasured.

This paved the way for the main event: the bride sitting atop a bed of woven coconut leaves (approximately 50cm x 50cm) preparing for the sacred ritual of the bathing ritual (siraman). During this first section, the sungkeman, the bride humbly walks on her knees, bows to her parents and asks for forgiveness, closing this practice by bowing in her parents’ lap. Delia said this was her most precious aspect of her daughter’s ceremony. Langkahan was then implemented—the literal translation means to ‘step over’. Here, Renda asked her older brother permission and forgiveness for being the first to marry in her family. After this act of vulnerability, the bride and groom sat on chairs where their parents poured water on seven different parts of their bodies. This sacred water is supposed to come from seven different sources of natural springs in the area. In this case, Delia chose sources two from her places of preference. The ‘cleansing’ bath, for Renda’s soul and spirit, was also to bless her physical and mental body—her actions and thoughts—in this new journey.

For the groom, his bathing (siraman pengantin putra) differs slightly in its representation: it reflects elements of nature. The first act of pouring represents the sun as source of light, then the stars as source of direction, water and wind—until its full completion. He is expected to adopt these aspects and traits into his new marriage. Craig’s mother, admitted she was surprised with the role she played as a mother; she did not expect such a significant position of honour and attention. The next aspect was mecah pamor where Deliah held a pottery plate and smashed it on the floor. This brought the bathing ceremony to a full close—the brokenness was there to “reveal the beauty of her daughter” in front of all surrounding witnesses.

Potong rikma ritual continued the closing of these vows: a small piece of Renda’s hair in the front, middle and back was cut, symbolising her own life cycle from birth, to life and then to death. Hair from the groom was similarly extracted and together, then placed into a pot (tanem rikma), to symbolise that Craig was officially accepted and welcomed into the family. Lastly, potong tumpeng ended this intimate vow: Craig and Renda proceeded to slice the tip of a yellow rice pyramid and used it to feed each other (dulangan) as a gesture of care, love and affection. The begalan ceremony, at the end, is one that involved all other single females. The ladies were called to fight over vessels for cooking—all brought centre stage by a traditional Javanese dancer. While the kitchen signifies a healthy, energetic and strong family, each person is allowed to walk away with only one item to highlight the importance of sharing and allowing our weaker counterparts a fair chance. Hopkinson admitted she “enjoyed [seeing] the women rush to gather as many pots as possible—it was much more exciting than our bridal bouquet which is thrown for one guest to catch.”

From start to finish, the family and bridesmaids were, of course, adorned with stunning kebaya. The fabric worn by the bride and groom’s parents reflect claw motif (motif cakar) to represent their wishes for the newly-weds: to lead an independent, self-sufficient life together. After a three-hour morning ceremony, the evening portion of the day took place at the Grand Hyatt where a new change of clothes was required for close family. The stunning couple walked beneath an entrance of crossed swords, listening and greeting distinguished guests.

This Yogyakarta fairy-tale took a whole year to plan and was carried out by Pengantin Productions. It was both lavish and meticulous- not only did it celebrate the city of Yogyakarta and its tradition, but it provided an unforgettable education for all who witnessed the occasion.

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