Imogiri is the name given to the royal cemetery located 20 km to the south of Jogjakarta. The cemetery complex was build by Sultan Agung, one of the Moslem kings of Mataram, Surakarta and Jogjakarta Kingdoms. He passed away in 1645 and was the first buried there. After the separation of Surakarta and Jogjakarta in 1755, kings from both kingdoms have their own grave here. Although the role is merely symbolic, Sultan Agung’s ancestor is now still ruling as the king of Jogjakarta and Surakarta.
Sultan Agung, the greatest Moslem king in Java, built this cemetery in 1632. It took almost 8 years to finish it. Although the king is a Moslem, the architecture of the building has a lot of Hindu style.
The name Imogiri itself literary means mist hill. The complex consist of 3 major royal houses, namely Mataram, on the centre; Surakarta, on the left; and Jogjakarta, on the right. Each houses contains 8 graves with hindu-styled gateways.
The aim of my visit to Imogiri is to see how Javanese people respect their kings.
You should prepare yourself to walk up to the stairs. The stairs are almost 45o and 200 meters long. Total number of the stairs has never been precisely counted. That’s why local people called these stairs as thousand stairs. To lessen the exhaustion, I was been advised to zigzag walking up.
Javanese people have long been known that they honor and worship their ancestors. It appears in the practice of visiting the cemetery where the ancestors are buried. A visit to the royal cemetery means a pilgrimage for the Javanese. The purpose of a visit is either a contemplation to take good examples for the persons buried there or asked for good luck blessing.
Since Imogiri symbolises Javanese connection to their ancestors and their rulers on important occasions such as a month before the fasting month of Ramadhan, the Javanese clean up the graves and send their prayer.
It is believed that the late kings were supernaturally powerful. Therefore, a lot of people make some request for their blessing.
There are four pitchers that you could see on your way up to the grave of Sultan Agung which are believed have magical healing power. These pitchers were presents that were given from neighbouring kingdoms of Sriwijaya, Aceh, Turkey and Thailand. The Javanese believe that the water flowing from the pitchers has the highest healing power on Friday and Tuesday.
The Sultan Agung’s tomb located in the highest place is believed to be the most sacred one. The fragrance of flowers and burning incense, and the candle lit the tomb render a mystique aura to the place. A guard sitting crossed legged in Javanese cloths ask visitors to sit beside the tom and raise both hands to send a prayer. After a short service, he gives flowers wrapped in banana leaves which believers think can give a good omen.
Another popular destination for pilgrims is the tomb of Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, father of the current king of Jogjakarta, who passed away in 1988. Many visitors coming to his grave is a testimony to his immense popularity.
Time and Manners to Visit
The grave houses aren’t open everyday for public. Only on Sunday, Monday (10am-1pm), and Friday (1:30pm-4pm) public could visit the tomb. During the fasting month, the cemetery is closed. The royal family usually visits the tomb on the birthday and the death day of the king. Ordinary people may visit the tomb when it’s open for public.
People wanting to visit the Sultan Agung and other royal family tombs must wear unique traditional cloths. The men wear a batik sarong wrapped around the waist. The women wear batik sarong, batik bustier. You could rent the cloths from the guard who lives there. It’s really interesting that my friend and I could have a chance to wear the traditional clothes together.
Another interesting thing about the cemetery is people who live there. Those people are the king’s guards who are from generations to another become the King’s employee. Some of them are very old already, but they’re very nice. Although they don’t expect us to give a donation, they would be very happy to receive some money. The King cannot give a sufficient salary for them, but their devotion to the King is more than enough to feed them and their family.