Bedhaya, Dance As Old As Time

22 07 2011

Dance. A word that has been exist as old as time. A tradition that has always been a part of human existence since long time ago.

And in particular, Javanese tradition is closely related to dances. Every dance has its own grace. It has deep meaning to every movement of fingers to every costume ornaments wore by the dancers’; it symbolized emotions, history, mystery, and even philosophy.

From few Mataram dances (Yogyakarta and Surakarta), some are consider sacred, where it performance are strictly by the presence of the Sri Sultan or Sri Susuhunan, and only selected relatives of the palace (Abdi Dalem) who can perform it.

Bedhaya. The oldest form of dance in every Mataram kingship. Dated to the court of Sultan Agung of Mataram (1613–1645), however the existence of the dance is not clearly documented until the late 18th century.

We’ve been told that Bedhaya has it deep mystical meaning to the Sultans, epitomized the elegant (alus) character of the royal court, and an important symbol of the ruler’s power. Bedhaya is a transliteration of the relationship of the first king of Mataram, Panembahan Senopati with the Goddess of the South Sea, Nyi Roro Kidul.

photo courtesy of

And ever since Panembahan Senopati divided the kingdom into Surakarta and Yogyakarta, both palaces remain to perform the Bedhaya to each court’s special occasion until now. Always performs in odd numbers of dancers, usually 9 (nine) females, although during some period in the nineteenth century, the dancers in Yogyakarta were young men dressed as women. The combination of characteristics of both sexes was thought to have a special spiritual power. Formerly, the nine dancers were the creation of a deity, who were brought to life, and offered the dance to their maker in gratitude. Latter, the dance was created when Kangjeng Ratu Kidul fell in love with the Sultan, and danced the Bedhaya for him; the nine dancers in the modern dance represent the spirit of the goddess.

It sacredness, both the song and the dance associated with it, it is only allowed to be rehearsed every 35 days. All rehearsals, and especially the performance, must be accompanied by offerings; the dancers must fast and undergo ritual purification; they must be in bridal dress and cover the upper part of their bodies in turmeric; and when the text is copied, a few intentional mistakes are inserted to avoid copying a sacred text literally. This is all because during any performance or rehearsal, the deputies of Ratu Kidul are said to be present.

To both palaces, Bedhaya has different forms; Bedhaya Ketawang in Surakarta (Solo), and the Bedhaya Semang in Yogyakarta. In Surakarta, the dance continuously performed at least once a year to commemorate the ascension of the current Susuhunan(prince) of Surakarta. Whilst in Yogyakarta, some Bedhaya dances are kept exclusively to its close relatives and an invitation to anyone outside of the inner circle of the court is a considerable honour.

As the courtesan of Yogyakarta palace from my grandma, R.Aj. Soemartijah, I am well remembered that she took me to the Siti Hinggil (Grand Hall) in 1992 to attend one of the royal occasion and one of the Bedhaya performed there. Latter, I found out that the dance called Menak Nitih Garuda. This dance is taken from The Menak Cina Chronicle (The Ballade of Amir Hamzah), about the battle of two female warriors riding Garuda (mythical creature half human half bird), Dewi Kuroisyin (Persian princess) against Dewi Widaningrum (Chinese princess). This dance was created by HM Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono V (1820-1855) himself in The Royal Court Kraton Yogyakarta.





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