What to wear for an Indonesian royal wedding
Walking with two cameras, a small bag and a ladder is a daily activity for me. But today, I have a different assignment. I must change into a different kind of clothing to cover the marriage of GKR Bendara (youngest daughter of Yogyakarta King Sultan Hamengkubuwono X) to her husband KPH Yudanegara.
Since it’s not an ordinary assignment, today I will need more help in dressing for the wedding ceremony. Usually I wear something simple, but now I need something more traditional. Out of respect to the old traditions of my country, I figure I must dress the part or else I won’t be able to take pictures inside the palace.
The wedding ceremonies don’t happen in just one day, but over the course of three days. Sultan Hamengkubuwono X spread out the 4,000 invitations across two receptions in two different palaces, as well as stationed around 200 street food vendors to serve people out in the streets.
My concerns are not with the reception, but with the Javanese ceremonies during the wedding. The wedding is in Yogyakarta Palace, the center of Javanese culture. The palace has been the capital of the Yogyakarta Kingdom since 1755 with Sultan Hamengkubuwo X as the 10th king of the kingdom.
As for clothing, I must wear the traditional Javanese style, consisting of a blankon (headcover), a blue peranakan shirt and a jarik, which is like a sarong made from batik. Also no shoes or sandals. Wearing these kind of clothes means we must walk slowly and gently. No running, jumping or climbing.
After searching around the city for half a day with Dwi Oblo, a Reuters photographer who lives in Yogyakarta, we finally found the clothes. Not at a shop because they were sold out, nor at a rental place because they were sold out too, but from a friend of ours, Budi Dharmawan, a skinny young photographer who has a lot of peranakan cloth. Problem solved. Or not quite. It turns out the right way to wear the clothes is a different issue.
Carrying two camera bodies, a small bag, and a ladder, I walked slowly to the Kraton (palace). Then, the Yogyakarta Palace guard who stands at the gate gave me a warning because I am wearing the clothes wrong. They guide me to a group of abdi dalem Kraton Yogyakarta, workers at the palace with domestic jobs.
The guard assisted me to a compound called Patehan, its word deriving from the word “teh”, Indonesian for tea. The compound is a special place for the making of drinks for Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and his family. There I met Reksodinomo, a father of five, who had already been working as an abdi dalem for 25 years. He taught me the right way to wear a peranakan, and that’s when I realized it’s different from wearing a jarik. With one click adjustment, I can now run or jump.
Reksodinomo’s job is to lead 35 abdi dalem personnel in serving drinks for the Sultan’s family. They prepare five different drinks everyday: coffee, tea, tea with leaves, boiled tea, and water from the wells. It surprises me that after 25 years of work as an abdi dalem, he is only paid 25,000 rupiah ($ 2.84) a month. As a comparison, a shop worker can earn at least 750,000 rupiah ($85) a month.
He said it’s not a job or a business; it’s a dedication for the Sultan and for Kraton Yogyakarta. He loves the Sultan, he loves Kraton Yogyakarta, and he has love for Javanese culture in his blood. So he decided he wanted to dedicate himself to being an abdi dalem.
Yogyakarta Palace has around 2,640 abdi dalem, who serve the palace and Sultan Hamengkubuwono X’s family as needed. Reksodinomo said we wear blue peranakan on this wedding because, blue is the color of the deep ocean, and it means a deep dedication from our hearts for the Sultan’s family and our traditions. If we do not maintain our traditions, they would disappear with time.
After three days of coverage wearing peranakan, walking without shoes, walking the Yogyakarta streets following the royal couple during their parade, the wearing of blue peranakan clothes has increased my respect for Javanese traditions, even if sometimes they don’t seem relevant to the modern ways of life.