Loro Blonyo: The “Original” Tradition of Java
By Aris Masruri Harahap
Exclusively written for Le Bel Objet (www.lebelobjet.be)
When you visit Yogyakarta, Solo, or other cities in Java island, you may often encounter a pair of bride and groom sitting cross-legged in a form of statues. The pair is named Loro Blonyo. History records that the Loro Blonyo statue has existed since the reign of Sultan Agung in the Mataram Kingdom in 1476, centuries before the idea of Indonesian nationalism came to place (Prasetyo, 2012).
The name of the statue, Loro Blonyo, is derived from Javanese words loro which means two, and blonyo which means makeup. The statue was dressed like a bride and groom wearing a Javanese traditional royal wedding dress. The female statue wears a typical Javanese dress, namely kemben with additional makeup on the forehead known as paes and jewelry on her hair known as sunduk mentul. The male statue wears long cloth known as dodot and a kuluk kanigara or headgear of kings in black with yellow lines.
According to Javanese mythology, the female statue is a symbol of Dewi Sri, known as the Goddess of Fertility. Meanwhile, the male statue is a symbol of Dewa Wisnu (Lord Vishnu), or Prince Sadana as the embodiment of Dewa Wisnu on earth. The two were then brought together and became a couple. The statue is believed as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. The myth further says that the statue can determine the sustainability and prosperity of the family who has it in their home.
According to Arifin and Marianto (2005), Loro Blonyo could serve as an example of the “original” Javanese culture - before Hinduism and Buddhism came to influence. Loro Blonyo may have been often used as a medium to worship ancestors. This is believed to be the case as the Javanese traditions are closely related to the practices of summoning the spirits of ancestors even to this day. There are still some practices that are popular within Javanese society like jelengkung and ninik towong to name a few. Jelengkung is a tradition that summons the spirit through the medium of a puppet while ninik towong uses a designated human as the medium. Loro Blonyo is thought to have originated from such beliefs, worshipping and summoning ancestral spirits.
When Hinduism and Buddhism started to influence Javanese culture, Koentjaraningrat (1994) argued that they did not have many differences with the Javanese culture and therefore the influences were warmly welcomed. The Indian Gods and Goddesses met their significance in the old belief systems in Java. The idea of mountains as the homes for Indian Gods and Goddesses could be easily understood since the Javanese also believed that spirits of their ancestors also live there. The two are different and yet very identical (Holt, 1967). In other words, the names of Dewi Sri and Dewa Wisnu might have replaced the unknown names of the Javanese ancestor spirits which used to be represented in the so-called Loro Blonyo.
Arifin and Marianto (2005) further said that the influence brought changes in the old belief systems as many Javanese converted to Hinduism and Buddhism later on. However, it did not mean that the Javanese lost their original culture. The Indian’s influences wonderfully created a harmonious synthesis in Java in which Javanese culture still had its uniqueness and originality.
The entrance of Islam in Java island and the rise of the Demak Sultanate in the 14th century brought a further transformation in the Javanese culture. Many Hindus and Buddhist Javanese were then converted to Islam following the new religion of the kings and nobles in Java. However, since Islam was brought in with peace and taught with respect to the prevailing belief systems, the practices of the traditions were not erased and forgotten. The Islamic teachers at that time used the tradition practiced by the people as a way to lure them to learn Islam and then to convert to Islamism. This is the very reason why many people of Islam faith hold an enthusiasm towards the old traditions. You can find cities like Yogyakarta and Solo still hold their old tradition and you can also see some practices related to ancestors. The purpose may be quite different as the elders would say they do not worship the ancestor anymore yet they should not forget to pay respect to the nature that has provided everything for the people and to the ancestor that has taught them to do so. Loro Blonyo as the representation of Dewi Sri and Dewa Wisnu or as the representation of Javanese ancestors with unknown names to this day used to hold the old teaching that taught Javanese to respect the mother earth.
One of the teachings was to see that rice cultivation was very important for the traditional Javanese society. This explains why there are rituals in the process from planting to harvesting the rice. The belief is also reflected in the Javanese traditional house, Joglo. There is one space in which Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Fertility, or Mbok Sri (Mbok is a Javanese word for mother) as many commoners in villages prefer to call is thought to live in the house. Mbok Sri is believed to have an important role in the success of rice cultivation. Since she is so important, the rituals were meant to pay respect to her. In some regions of Java Island, some villages still hold the rituals and we can still find sesajen or offerings in rice fields intended for Mbok Sri.
However, the representation of Mbok Sri in Loro Blonyo as known nowadays may come from more recent times. That was when Islamism started to give its influence on Java island. When the Hindus kingdom of Majapahit began losing its control and power in Java due to the rise of new Islamic kingdoms around the archipelago, the socio-political situation was not stable at that time which affected the economy as well. According to Kusen, et al (1993), the people were affected by the situation and were hoping for a better living situation. The emergence of a social movement in which tried to bring back the ‘original’ tradition and belief systems before the foreign belief systems, including Hindu which became a sort of official religion of Majapahit, came to Java were found to be attractive for those who longed for it. Therefore, the longing for the original tradition and the attempts to bring it back were thriving on the last days of the Majapahit era.
Seen from the artistic form of Loro Blonyo, the pair of statues are different from those that are found in Hindus and Buddhist temples on Java island. The artisans were keen to make both male and female statues humanlike without excessive exaggeration like the representations of Indian Gods and Goddesses found in temples in Java. Art, especially sculpture, was used to support the attempts to bring back the original tradition. Sculptors in the eastern Java region were part of this movement. They made statues that look like humans to break what was applied at that time (Soedarmo, 1992). The movement then influenced the artists in Yogyakarta and Central Java to do the same (Arifin and Marianto, 2005).
In the contemporary Javanese society, Loro Blonyo is not necessarily placed in the sacred space in the Javanese traditional house where Dewi Sri is believed to live there. The pair of statues may be placed anywhere in the house including the bedroom. Furthermore, we can often see them in a lobby or a restaurant in hotels in Java. However, it does not mean that the meaning and values of Loro Blonyo have been lost in time. Loro Blonyo is still believed it can bring fertility and prosperity. It was just the values have become more universal than ever. Fertility now is not only related to having kids and a successful harvest anymore. For the hotel owners, their hotels are like paddy fields where they hope Loro Blonyo can give their blessing on their business (Prasetyo, 2012).