Centrally located in Yogyakarta, the Kraton or Sultan’s Palace, takes a prominent place in a city, renowned for its links with the venerable Javanese culture. The building is one of the most brilliant examples of a past when kings ruled the masses in a rather benevolent way. How else to explain the sheer reverence that all people of Yogyakarta share when they refer to Sultan Hamengkubuwono XII, the actual Sultan of Yogyakarta, the Special Autonomous City Region ?
The elegant, low-rise building is located in the heart of Yogya’s old city, amidst popular markets and simple homes of people who were once directly governed by a revered Sultan and his royal household. Some of these houses were transformed into curiosa shops, harboring an amazing array of antique masks, daggers, old Javanese puppets and tempo dulu paintings. Nearby and locked into a web of small alleys, the Taman Sari, a series of ancient pleasure domes, feels slightly haunted… But chances are that you will approach the Kraton from the the northern alun-alun or city square.
Two giant temple guards, must give you their blessing upon entering the inner courtyards. The serenity inside the castelled walls, contrasts pleasantly with the hustle and bustle of modern traffic outside. While the set of buildings is remarkable unostentious, they are rich in symbolism. The entire single-storey palace, was designed as a scale model of the Hindu cosmos. Indeed, the present day Sultan, just like his forefathers, drew inspiration from by the rich, mythical Hindu heritage of Java, without ever forsaking Islam! Visitors are allowed to enter many of the scattered buildings, where ancient paintings of past generation rulers, chariots, precious china and some of the heirlooms are on display. Some of those are believed to be so powerful that they can protect the first family and the entire people of Yogyakarta from all misfortune. They are considered to be so sacred, that only a few chosen ones are allowed to even have a look at them!
The mostly elder men all carrying a kris, are the ritual guards of the Kraton. They discreetly protect the living quarters of the Sultan and his family and will friendly but insistently point visitors, wandering into a forbidden direction, the other way.
On given weekdays, the Kraton becomes a cultural centre in its own right. You might stumble into a rehearsel of century old palace dances. You will be intrigued by the slow movements of the male and female dancers and the hypnotizing tones of the Javanese gamelan. Or observe the incredible movements of a dalang, blazing life into the leather puppets behind a paper screen, using his hands, feet, hands and whining voice to re-create a world of ancient myths…
Up to this day, this masterpiece of Javanese architecture, remains the epicenter of all things true Javanese.