By Aris Masruri Harahap
Exclusively written for Le Bel Objet (www.lebelobjet.be)
In Javanese culture, there is one ceremony that is carried out a day before a wedding. The ceremony is known as siraman. The term is from the Javanese word "siram" which means splashing water or bathing. The ceremony is conducted in the bride and groom's own house. That means the bride will have her siraman in her own house and the groom will have it in his own house. During the ceremony, the parents of each bride and groom will pour water onto their body using a dipper made of coconut shell.
Bathing in daily life is done so that people become clean, all dirt on the body will be washed away by water and soap. However, the essence of siraman in the Javanese traditional wedding ceremony is not only to cleanse the body but also the soul. It is to clean ourselves from sins and bad qualities before the wedding takes place. It is also mean to clear all the distractions that may happen during the procession of solemnization of a marriage on the wedding day. According to Pringgawidagda (2006), siraman in Javanese can also mean 'to purify'. Each step in the siraman ceremony can be interpreted as an attempt of purification before having the wedding on the next day. Therefore, the bride and groom can start a new life in a clean and holy state (Irmawati, 2013). The bath is just a symbolical ritual intended so that the bride and groom become spiritually clean and each has a pure heart upon their marriage (Hariwijaya, 2004).
According to Astuti and Marvelia (2019), the siraman ritual originated from a tradition in the Kediri Kingdom. It was started when Dewi Chandrakirana, the wife of a crown prince of the kingdom namely Prince Panji Asmarabangun, was kidnapped by his enemy. The prince's troops were looking for her day and night. Long story short, they finally found Chandrakirana. Unfortunately for her, she was not accepted by her own husband because he thought she had become "unholy". It was only after an elder of the kingdom advised Chandrakirana to bathe using water from seven different springs that had been mixed with setaman flower; the prince believed that she was still holy.
The process of the siraman ritual includes various stages, starting from determining the place where the ritual is held, who pour the water onto their body, the number of people take part in the ritual, preparing tools and offerings for the siraman ritual, etc. The ritual can be done in the yard of the prospective groom's or bride's house and the place of the siraman ritual must face east so that it is exposed to the sunlight.
A dipper made of coconut shell is one of the most important things to prepare and it just cannot be missed. It cannot be replaced with a dipper made of other elements like plastic or iron. It has to be made of coconut shell since it has symbolic meaning for the ritual. The coconut dipper is known as siwur in the Javanese language. The term siwur is short from nek isi ora ngawur which means if you're knowledgeable, you can't be nonsense or you can't be arrogant. Siwur consists of three parts namely coconut shells, a stick of wood, and buttons. Besides that, it also symbolizes that humans should be like a coconut tree in terms of its benefits and advantages to others. All parts of the coconut tree from its roots to its leaves are useful for humans (Rokhim, 2013). The use of coconut shells teaches Javanese to be close to nature so that the creator will give his blessings (Astuti & Marvelia, 2019).
Besides its use in siraman ritual before a wedding day, siwur is also used in other important circumstances in Javanese culture. Siwur is also used in siraman for a pregnant woman known as mitoni which is held after pregnancy is seven months old. The term mitoni is from the word pitu in Javanese which means seven. The siraman ritual in mitoni is done by seven women who are most respected using siwur. The water used is from seven different springs which are then mixed with seven different types of flower (Suliyati, 2017). Number seven has a symbolic meaning in Javanese culture that is why it appears in many cultural ceremonies. Seven in Javanese is pitu which is believed to be short for pitulungan which means help or asking for help (Irmawati, 2013). Therefore, the use of the number seven in any rituals represents a prayer to God that people who hold the event are asking for help. Siwur is also used to bathe people who have died (Siwur, 2010). The use of siwur in these important events shows its significance in Javanese culture. It appears in three events considered the most important events in human's life according to Javanese culture: wedding, pregnancy as the beginning of human's life, and death as the end of a human's journey on earth. One of the uniqueness in the Javanese culture is the abundant use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities (Irmawati, 2013). Symbolism in number seven and siwur in siraman ritual are just two examples from many.
Javanese people are known to strongly believe in supernatural things and this can be seen in various practices including in their traditional ceremonies. Siwur or coconut dipper in this case appears in a quite number of ceremonies or rituals. Siwur is also used in the old tradition which calls supernatural being or spirit to be present in a doll. The tradition is known as Nini Thowong or Nini Thowok. In Panjangrejo Village, Bantul Regency, the old tradition is still kept alive by the people there. To make the doll, people use siwur which is dressed up like a woman wearing kebaya (traditional dress for women). The coconut shell functions as the doll's head. Leaves and flowers from the cemetery are used to be the doll's hair and makeup. According to Hartono Hangno, a Javanese cultural researcher from the Cahaya Nusantara Foundation (YANTA), Yogyakarta, when the puppet is already possessed, the people believe that it can tell the cure for the sick (in Ige, 2019).