Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gatotgaca Nyungging by Purjadi

Last night (22 December) at the invitation of Purjadi, my friend and former assistant, I went out to Desa Leuwilaja (Kecamatan Sindangwangi,  Kabupaten Majalengka), a small village just outside of the town of Jatitujuh, which was celebrating its annual Sedekah Bumi ceremony. This is an agrarian area which produces some tasty fruit, including durian. People coming from Bandung sometimes make a detour through this area to taste the local delicacies, and the main road from Cirebon to Jatitujuh is lined with fruit stands.

Sedekah Bumi in Majalengka are celebrated in style, and this was no exception. Not only was there an impressive range of gantungan hanging from the stage roof, including locally-crafted numerous containers that would be distributed among the musicians at the end of the show, the performance also featured the two most popular sinden in the Cirebon region, Itih and Iwi, who dressed in matching green outfits and sat on several layers of pillows through the show, like queens on their thrones.

The song requests started nearly as soon as Iti and Iwi arrived on stage and were constant until I left, fulfilled in medleys of four or five songs. The play, Purjadi warned me in advance, would take second place to the musical attraction on this occasion. The Bupati, who hailed from the nearby kecamatan of Ligung, where Javanese is also spoken and wayang kulit enjoyed, was scheduled to attend, but cancelled at the last minute as he had to appear before the governor. The audience was extremely attentive throughout - Purjadi commented to one of the musicians that if it wasn't for the fact it was so dark we would see a sea of faces around the stage. There were also a good range of vendors selling noodle soup, batagor, tahu goreng, bapao and the like.

As Purjadi predicted, there was not much drama on the screen last night. The play was Gatotgaca Nyungging (Gatotgaca Illustrated), an old branch story. In Purjadi's telling an ogre king's daughter is desired by many suitors and a sayembara or contest is established - whoever can defeat the king's minister will gain her hand. Before the contest has concluded, however, the princess tells her father to call it off as there is already someone special in her life. Her father the king asks what his name is and she says she doesn't know for she only had glimpsed him a dream. She draws the man of her dream (see photo above) and the king says he will now have to institute a new contest - whoever can bring this man to the court will receive a certain award. The dream man, as the title suggests, is Gatotgaca, who is also the object of other desires - specifically a descendent of Naga Percona who seeks revenge for his killing. At the time I left at 1.15am, the battle between the descendent of Naga Percona and Gatotgaca and the punakawan clown servants seemed about to start.

Purjadi, as always, did a fine job in singing sulukan and the puppet voices, and his puppet dancing has improved considerably in recent years, with tight coordination with the kendang player. Battle scenes were formulaic, however, and there was far less topical commentary than usual. He seemed less than inspired. Perhaps he felt that people weren't looking at him but at the sinden. I was tired and restless, and though I enjoyed playing with my iPad and displaying pictures I was taking to the musicians, sinden and spectators, in the end I left at roughly 1.15 am, more than 2 hours before the end of the show.

There were still lights on in the durian stands on the main road nearby, and I was tempted to stop by and try some. But I went back to my hotel instead.

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