My Zeitgeist

It's amazing to know that Google Chome has just launch their development on the well-known Ramayana story, an epic from Javanese culture, at Chrome Experiment. Take a look here, though it's written in Bahasa (Indonesian language) we could still feel the ancient of Javanese from the music background. Awesome! :D

This imaginary story is some kind of bringing me back to my architecture school time where I was so keen on learning about traditional architecture. And I somehow miss how I was so eager to know more and more about Javanese by reading literature and writing resume during the Ethnic Architecture class.

Here is one of them, my review writing on Josef Prijotomo's 105 pages book titled "Ideas and Forms of Javanese Architecture" (Gadjah Mada University Press, 1984). It's almost five years ago, wasn't it?

For Prijotomo, architecture is a manifestation of complex issues, such as cultural, social, and technologies. How people and the way they live can be seen from their architecture, since as it can be perceived as an expression of how they address those issues. It is not only being an answer for microclimatic problem happens in an area. There are more other questions can be asked to get to know about the purposes of architecture by some issues. Here, in his thesis, Prijotomo tried to raise a question what are the specific cultural purposes of architecture?
He gave the cultural purposes as ideas and the architecture as the generated forms. And it is really like this, so the relation between the two becomes very clear. But his emphasis is not about it, instead of how the “ideas-forms” relationship happens in Javanese architecture. He hopes by the inquiry he did here, we can learn and understand Javanese architecture, especially in the period of transition from Hindu-Javanese into Islam (ca 15th-17th century).
To begin his investigation, Prijotomo collected series of historical outlook of what are important things going on in that period. He started to expound from the Indian civilization (Hinduism and Buddhism) that brings a very great impact on Javanese culture in the fifteenth century. Continued then by explaining how Islam firstly get contact with Java and establish. But, in a way, his result in collected the original copy about history of the transition period is just nothing, all are only speculations. Different from the Hindu-Javanese period, there are several recorded data in the form of architectural buildings, art and literature, in the transition period, the only thing can be seen is the religiosity obviously influenced Javanese history and architecture also, in spite of the fact that it did not reveal a big alteration to architecture itself except the absence of Hindu-Javanese monuments. Then Prijotomo thought that Javanese architecture, as a phenomenon in culture-transition, shows an anomaly in the process of change, where the change of culture from Hindu-Javanism to Islam did not really effect a single manifestation in architecture.
His objectives in this history of Javanese architecture investigation are including history of mankind; his culture and beliefs. And to get a two-directional view and to give this investigation a sounder view toward the history itself, and to keep the data obtained by this investigation secured, Prijotomo followed A.H John’s model that uses Javanese literature from both contexts in his investigation of how Sufism contributes to Islamization. Here, Prijotomo’s approach pointed on the comparison both the idea and form between Hindu-Javanese architecture and Islamic architecture.
The next chapter after the introductory is all about the background of this investigation, which are the history, people, and architecture of Java around the fifteenth to seventeenth century that will be focus on the Islamization. The attitude of the Javanese people toward the transition phenomena which is based on their beliefs and world view is seen in a glance here. And in a way, this chapter also becomes an overview to the writings and studies that deal with Java in this period of transition to Islam. Some studies he wrote here, for example, are Moeljana(1976)’s local chronicles of Raden Patah’s first Islamic sultanate establishment in Java, Anderson(1965)’s Javanese sense of relativism, Anthony Christie(1978)’s Javanese symbolism for cosmological dualism, Djauhari Sumintardja(1978)’s three studies in Javanese architecture for different periods, etc.
In the third chapter, Prijotomo reveals the idea from both Hindu-Javanese and Islamic architecture and its contents; elements and organization. There is a conception where the terrestrial order mirrors and embodies the celestial; therefore the King is a God. That only a god-king can arrange the earthy society by engaging it to the cosmic harmony. So the king’s palace is the microcosmic copy of the macrocosm, as it also works in the family, where the head of the family is the king of his realm. Thus, the Javanese cultural ideas are manifested to the people’s life. In Javanese, each element of an order is dependent on all to others. Hence, the centre is an important position and meaning in Javanese cosmology; where it is the central part of the Cosmos, the cosmic mountain Mahameru as the seat of gods. And again, centre has become the direct manifestation of the Infinite, the Supreme God.
Then again, Islam is a complete philosophy of life and government where is no differentiation in the thinking between religious and secular things. Moreover, the creed of Islam “There is no god but Allah” expresses the concept of Unity of Being; the unity of multiplicity, as to see that all circles have center, where it as a unity containing all the multiplicities. Also, the important concern of Islam is not only what the relation of God to the world is, but also how the relationship between the Creator and the Creation takes place. For Islam Sufi, shrines are important religious symbols where each of them contains a symbolic meaning to the pilgrim’s concept; its physical and spiritual level is opened only to God.
The architectural forms investigated are the Javanese house as dwelling space, Wantilan and Meru as places of worship, and The Candi as sepulchral monuments and will be emphasized more on the capacity of forms to communicate ideas than ideas to generate forms. The Javanese house, in principle, is the separate structure, forming a whole. The first structure is the pendapa, an open pavilion to receive guest, the second is kampong, a passageway erected when the wayang play, the third structure is dalem agung, the only walled-in structure. The dalem agung is divided into three important rooms., and the central room called Krobongan is the most sacred are of the whole house, for the reception of Goddess Sri, the divine and ancestor representative of Javancese people. The house, basically have a North-South axis that connects krobongan with pendapa. Furthermore, the idea of centre is manifested in two ways here, firstly in the dalem agung, the rectangular plan manifests it as a central focus, and secondly, the pendapa is a manifestation of centripetality. From his overview, it is now clear that Javanese is not purely secular but also a sacred building. The wantilan and the meru are the sacred building, where can be seen by the layers of its pointed roof forms. The meru represents the cosmic heavenly mountain Mahameru. The Candi and other Hinu-Javanese monuments are the symbols for relationship between the living and the dead. But in the transition to Islam period, they are no longer constructed.
In Javanese architecture, meru-type roof and its supported pillars saka guru are major elements of form. And seen in a way, the Islamic architecture is also having these elements. Though threatened in different manner, they still have the meaning of sacredness within.
        Through the investigation of the Javanese architecture Prijotomo wrote in this book, can be seen obviously that there are no big changes in the manifestation of forms and its elements from the transition to Islam besides the value and meaning beyond. Prijotomo stated again that the investigation has not clarified the anomaly of architectural appearance as ideas manifestation of Javanese architecture which was obvious. But here has been showed that the establishment of Islam in Java mark by the continuation of meru form and discontinuation of Hindu-Javanese monuments, which is encouraged by natural conditions and social evidence. Until this, in my opinion, Prijotomo’s effort in examining the history of Javanese architecture in the transition period is really a good start in rescuing this crumbling traditional architecture. We sure need another scholar to do research and investigation like this, since the Javanese historical literature is still unclear and it was just all mere speculations, therefore the history of its architecture is still always can be learned.

PS. construction and management world has drag me too far from the architecture sphere I was once ever passionate about. But the path has been chosen, let's just enjoy the ride.  :D