Java Island, which is part of Indonesia, has great cultural heritages,
especially in architecture. Examples are Hindu and Buddhist temples,
Javanese sacrifice places and holy cemeteries. These great cultural
heritages, which are maintained as the cultural heritages of the
concentric kingdoms periods, are well kept and considered sacred
places that are the centres of supernatural power.
Javanese as an arcbaice or preliterate community has their own
characteristic budding design (architecture), which mostly keeps the
harmony of nature and life, not only in the physical dimension but the
metaphysical dimension as well . Therefore, the Javanese
architectural concept is mostly based on the beliefs, myths, and views
of life in their cosmology.
There is one interesting distinction of the architectural concept of
the sacred places in Java. Most of the places (temples, places of
sacrifice, and holy cemeteries) are located on the hills or mountains.
Probably, this is caused by the Javanese beliefs and the function of
those buildings in the concept of site selection in Javanese
architecture, which is full of symbolic and mystic values.
Selection of a site for a building is usually the first step and often
one of the most important aspects of the entire design process. In
order to select and plan a site for a special building (e.g. temple,
place of sacrifice, and holy cemetery), it is also important to
understand various site considerations that are particularly relevant
for the unique type of building.
This paper has developed from the crux of the writer’s research
entitled ‘Javanese Cosmology and Its Influence on Javanese
Architecture’, which chooses Astana Imogiri (Mataram Kings’ Cemetery)
as the case study. The major investigation focuses on the connection
between the beliefs in supernatural power of the sacred places and the
concept of site selection of Javanese Architecture (with its
underlying spiritual meaning and myth).
This paper has three purposes. Firstly, to provide insight into the
belief in supernatural life and supernatural power of the sacred
places, which is mostly related with myth of mountain. Secondly, to
provide insight into the concept of Javanese architecture in relation
to selection of a site. Thirdly, it discusses how the concept of site
selection in Javanese architecture for sacred places, which are
mentioned as the great cultural heritages of the concentric kingdoms
periods, are associated with the beliefs in supernatural power, which
are influenced by Javanese Animism, Hindu, and Buddhist.
The Myth of Mountain in Javanese Mystical Life
Mountains are considered an important part of nature by Javanese
people in their cosmology, which has two forms of space boundary.
Firstly, microcosm called jagad alit that represents the daily
existence of people; secondly, macrocosm called jagad gede, that is
all parts of the universe, including physical dimension and
metaphysical dimension . In the Javanese mystical life mountains
are mostly mentioned as gods’ places or the centres of supernatural
powers. This myth has been developing well since the period of
Javanese pre-historic (Animism).
Historically, the concept of veneration of a mountain can be
considered as a cultural heritage of Javanese original religion
(Animism). During 7th – 15th centuries, named Old Mataram period or
Hinduistic Mataram period, it was influenced by Hindu and Buddhist
religions (Hinayana and Mahayana). In this period, Hinduism, which
believes in gods, has been mixed with Animism and they existed
together. As a result, the old concept of veneration, which was
addressed to the mountain and the power of a king in which he has to
keep the harmony between microcosm and macrocosm, has been combined
and related with the concept of veneration of gods as the ruler of
heaven and earth, such as Shiva mentioned as the ruler of Mahameru
Again, the highest mountain in Java (Mahameru), which is considered
the gods’ place, is mentioned as the centre of supernatural power of
the universe. This myth has been espoused by the structure of the
system of Javanese community that is hierarchical community, in which
a king is mentioned as god’s representative in the worldly life. The
king has functions not only as the central ruler (panata praja), but
as religious leader (panata gama) as well. He is even considered as
the centre of cosmos power . As such, his existence is greatly
honored; whatever he says, is exactly what is going to happen (sabda
pandbita ratu) .
During the period of Old Mataram (9th – 15th centuries), in which the
javanese culture was strongly influenced by Hindu and Buddha, there
were candis produced by the kings of the Old Mataram Kingdoms. There
is a significant difference between Hinduistic candi-s and Buddhist
candis. For the beginning, a Hinduistic candi-s was considered as a
sepulchral monument , but a Buddhist candi-s was considered as
a kuil or a place of sacrifice . The Hinduistic sepulchral
monument then became the outward symbol of the relationship deemed to
exist between the living people and the dead. This fact was based on
the belief in the existence of a king in Javanese paradigm. Under this
belief, it should be right to say that a deceased king did not lose
his status as the representative of god; in addition, a deceased king
was also regarded as an ancestor.
In the next period, named New Mataram period or Islamic Mataram,
Hinduism did not die but existed together with Islam, which believed
in God (Allah) and Animism (Javanism). The previous period of Javanese
culture was not disliked by the next period, but each period’s
characteristics blended peacefully, mixed with others.
Similar to the period of Old Mataram, the king was considered the
representative of the ruler of earth and heaven (God or Allah). During
the Mataram Islam period those concepts became further expanded with
the titles used by the King, namely Panemba ban, Sultan (for a King of
Kasultanan Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat) or Sunan (for a King of
Kasunanan Surakarta Hadiningrat) Senapati Ing Ngalaga Sayidin
Panatagama Chalifatullah (supreme commander of war and the organising
head of religious affairs, the apostle of the prophet).
According to the belief in supernatural power of Javanese mystical
life, they believe that after a king dies, his soul will turn into a
supernatural creature (spirit) which can still be in touch with living
people. Therefore, the relatives of the dead king find it necessary to
let the spirit rest in a proper place. One of the ways to respect the
spirit of a King is by providing him with a special place called
Astana, which is considered as a holycemetery or a sacred place.
An example of the astana is the Mataram Kings’ Cemetery (Astana
Imagiri) in the Merak Hill (Kota Gede-Yogyakarta). Javanese believe
that the cemetery is the last palace of Mataram Kings’ spirits.
Therefore, it had to be as highly respected as the King’s palace,
where the King stayed and lived . Javanese believe that Astana
Imagiri is a holy place or sacred place, which always gives many
blessings to the living people and always keeps the harmony of nature,
the preservation of nature, and the provision of descendants’ prosperity.
The Mataram Kings’ cemetery is also called Pajimatan Imagiri. The
meaning of pajimatan is a place that will give a lot of favour, divine
powers, and things like that. Imagiri is a word formed from two Old
Javanese words, i.e., ima and giri. The meaning of ima is sky. In this
case, ima can also be considered as a place located on the high place
or heaven (nirvana). The meaning of giri is hill or path. So, the
meaning of the phrase Pajimatan Imagiri is a nice and silent-place for
Kings’ spirit to enhance the happiness of life in the heaven or nirvana.
In addition, Javanese people, in their religious life, often meditate
and pray in silent places, which are considered the places that have
supernatural power. The places usually can be found in the hill of
mountain. For example, Kawi Mountain in East Java, Pringgondani in
Lawu Mountain, and Khayangan in Dlepih Hill – Wanagiri, etc.
A Traditional Concept of Site Selection
The traditional concept is here used in a specific manner to refer to
Javanese culture where the sense of the sacred is paramount. It also
refers to Javanese beliefs and myths, which are sometimes irrational,
such as the concept of Javanese cosmology, the belief in life after
death and supernatural life.
Cosmology can probably be described as human belief about the space
boundary where people live (universe or cosmos). This space boundary
can be seen in two ways, the rational way and irrational way. Firstly,
the rational way is a way of thinking about space characteristics,
size, activities, process and functions. Visually, space is a
dialectical connection between the human and the cosmos, which can be
organized to be a symmetrical composition or an asymmetrical
composition. Secondly, the irrational way is away of thinking about
space manifestation tied in with human belief of the cosmos .
Discussing the concept of Javanese cosmology is like discussing
beliefs, myths, and views of Javanese life. In other words, Javanese
cosmology is the concept of Javanese philosophy that looks to
metaphysical dimension and deals with the origin and general structure
of the universe, its parts, elements, and laws, especially with such
characteristics as space, time, and causality.
Javanese architecture is a reflection of human cosmos and also
transformation of mystic and symbolic values of Javanese culture .
Beside looking for safety in the human community and, based on the
human nature, that creates the world-life in the concept of sense
abstraction, Javanese architecture is based on balance (keseimbangan)
and harmony (keselarasan) .
In the beginning, a site is seen only as a location for making a
building. The words site and locality should convey the same sense in
which the rooms of a place, which is the beginning of architecture,
will be carried out in the process of architectural design. Selection
of a site for a building is usually the first and often one of the
most important aspects of the entire design process. The location of
the existing site and the intended purpose are two sources of design.
They are sometimes curiously interrelated .
Generally, in the process of analyzing a locality, the purpose for
which it is wanted depends on the limitations that the site will
impose, and the site analysis that will be carried out depends on the
purpose. Javanese traditional architecture, in order to select a site,
employs site analysis that has two import ant elements. The first one
is oriented to human purpose and the other to the site itself as an
ongoing system. The site itself, in Javanese traditional concept, is
mostly related to the human power influenced by four powers of the
compass, God’s supernatural power, and the belief in supernatural life
(Fig. 4). It has unique considerations that look at the site not only
based on the physical dimension but also metaphysical dimension. For
this term, the concept is more influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism,
than Islam. Even, the Javanese site criterion is not influenced by
Islamic orientation, except for the mosques. There is an interesting
mater for this case, for example, in the Javanese site criteri on is
said that the direction to the wet has a bad meaning , but the
orientation of mosques in Java are directed to the west, where the
holly Mecca is located.
Javanese architecture has a pattern called primbon (Javanese
geomancy), in which the concept of site selection has a norm, which
groups the kinds of sites into two groups. These are good sites
In addition, in the Javanese mystical life, people sometimes meditate
in order to select a site. It was probably influenced by the old
stories of Javanese Concentric Kingdoms, which profess Animism. An
example is the legend of the 2nd Kasunanan Surakarta Hadiningrat
King’s (Susuhunan Pakubuwono II) efforts to find the new location of
The Mystic and Symbolic Values
Javanese architecture is a reflection of the human cosmos and also the
transformation of mystic and symbolic values of Javanese culture in
their life. The whole system of architecture reflects the natural
environment. It keeps harmony with nature, preserves nature, and
predicts a better future .
In the concept of Javanese architecture, symbolism is considered to
promote Javanese culture. Myth, magic, religion, mysticism, and
science are mixed and live peacefully together, and have become
traditional life, which will provide eternal peace in Javanese life.
Consequently, the forms of Javanese symbolization become dominant in
all sectors of Javanese life, including architecture.
As an example of the Javanese architecture in which symbolic and
mystic values are transformed, consider the use of the representation
of the concept of Javanese mystical life in the selection of a site –
as in the case of Mataram Kings’ Cemetery (Astana Imagiri), which is
mentioned as a sacred place, located in the mountain, considered as
the palace of Mataram Kings’ spirits. A mountain has become a symbol
of veneration of a ruler’s place in Java. It is also considered as a
place with supernatural power.
In Javanese culture, a king is considered as the centre of cosmos
power, and kraton (palace) is considered as a centre of the numinous
kingdom. This means that a king is a man, to whom a divine revelation
is given by gods or God, so there was no one who competed for his
power. In regard to their belief, after a king die, the deceased king
did not lose his status as the representative of god. Therefore, the
relatives and the court families of the deceased king built and
decorated the cemetery as the manifestation of their devotion
(ngabckti) which has no limitation of space, time, and situation.
The Mataram Kings’ cemetery is named Astana Imogiri. According to the
previous discussion, the name of Imogiri shows that a mountain is the
best location selected for the palace of kings’ spirits. The site of
Astana Imagiri is located on the top of Merak Hill, and surrounding
the hill were other hills too. That site has characteristics as follows:
* The surface of the land was on the side of the ravine.
* The surface of the land was flat.
* The Surrounding land was higher.
Based on the norm of site selection of Javanese geomancy (primbon),
the site of Mataram Kings’ cemetery has not only Bumi Langupulawa’s
characteristics, but Endragana’s characteristics as well .
Both Bumi Langupulawa considered as a symbol of getting the wisdom and
Endragana considered as a symbol of peacefulness show that the Kings’
cemetery, which is located in Merak hill, is expected to be the palace
of Kings’ spirits that always gives the wisdom and peacefulness, not
only to the Kings’ spirits but living people as well.
Based on the discussion above, a number of conclusions can be reached,
1. Generally, the concept of site selection of Javanese architecture
in respect to sacred places was mostly focused to the belief in
supernatural power of Javanese mystical life influenced by Animism,
Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islamism.
2. Tied in with the existence of a king in Javanese culture, which
considers him as the representative of the ruler of earth and heaven,
a mountain, which is considered as the spot closest to God (Allah), is
considered as the best location for a King’s spirit’s palace (King’s
3. Based on primbon (Javanese geomancy), the site of Astana Imagiri
(Mataram Kings’ Cemetery) located in Merak Hill, was considered as the
Mataram Kings’ spirits’ palace and it was hoped it would always give
wisdom and peacefulness the Kings’ spirits and living people.
The good sites in Javanese geomancy.
Name of sites Characteristics
1 Manikmulya or Bayasangar – The surface of the land was
spread on an angle to the east.
2 Indraprastha, or Telaga Ngayuda – The surface of the land was
, or Bathara spread on an angle to the north.
3 Sangsang Buwana, or Kawula Katubing Kala, or
Lamurwangke – Around the land were hills.
4 Bumi Langupulawa – The surface of the land was
on side of the ravine.
5 Darmalungit – The surface of the land was
flat and stretched along a length from the north to the south.
6 Sri Nugraha – The west side of the land surface was higher than the
7 Wisnu manitis – The surface of the land was not flat, especially in the
8 Endragana – The surface of the land was flat.- Surrounding the land washigher.
9 Sri mangampel – The surface of the land was in the middle of valley.
– There are many water resources.
10 Arjuna – The surface of the land was spread on an angle to the right.
– Both north side and south side are hills.
11 Danarasa – The surface of the west
side of the land was higher
than the north side.
12 Suniyalaya – Around the land was valley
13 Tiga warna – Around the land were hills.
– One of the hills stuck out
into the land.
Name of sites Benefits for the occupants
1 Manikmulya or Bayasangar * peaceful
* good fortune
2 Indraprastha, or Telaga * get happiness
Ngayuda, or Bathara * good opportunities
* get satisfactions
3 Sangsang Buwana, or * always be loved
Kawula Katubing Kala, or * always be trusted
4 Bumi Langupulawa * get the wisdom
5 Darmalungit * good fortune
* good opportunities
6 Sri Nugraha * get many blessings from God
7 Wisnumanitis * get a lot of riches
8 Endragana * peaceful
9 Srimangampel * get a lot of food
10 Arjuna * always be respected
11 Danarasa * get a lot of riches
* get a lot of children
12 Suniyalaya * get a lot of children
13 Tiga warna * peaceful
* get the wisdom
The bad sites in Javanese geomancy.
No Names of sites Characteristics
1 Sri Sadana – The surface of the land was
spread on an angle to the
2 Dhandang Kukulangan – The land is ex-cemetery.
3 Kalawisa – The surface of the east side
of the land is higher than
the west side.
4 Gelagah – The surface of the land was
spread on an angle to the
5 Sekarsinom – The surface of the land was
spread on an angle to the
south and in front of
6 Siwahboja – The surface of the land was
up and down to the south.
7 Sigar penjalin – Around the land was
8 Asu ngelak – The landwas in the west of
9 Singameta – In the middle of the land
was water resource.
No Names of sites Determinates for the occupants
1 Sri Sadana * noisy
2 Dhandang Kukulangan * conflict
3 Kalawisa * unhealthy
4 Gelagah * poverty
5 Sekarsinom * Their properties
will often be
6 Siwahboja * get some disasters
7 Sigarperujalin * conflict
8 Asungelak * conflict
9 Singameta * unhealthy