Weddings Magazine – October 2004
I’ll start with a disclaimer. I am an American and while moderately acquainted with Indonesian culture through books and ten weeks of travel from Sumatra to Bali, I carry the cultural soul and perceptions of a Westerner. Also, I just got un-engaged, which normally isn’t even worth mentioning, but this is Weddings, so I find it ironic that an American guy who couldn’t make it from the diamond to the altar is writing an article on how to throw a great wedding in Java’s cultural heartland – for an Indonesian magazine. But I know a good wedding when I see one. The best braid multiple elements – setting, ritual, and indulgence – into an inspiring, colorful and unforgettable weekend. The trick is that if even one element is either missing or poorly executed then your guests will notice that something is missing. Oh, they won’t ever tell you this, but they’ll sense it. Therefore, since I’m not a groom, nor an Indonesian, I’m afraid the only thing I can offer is an elemental guide to a truly wonderful wedding from a guest’s perspective.
Setting is the single most important piece of the puzzle. A great location harmonizes your guests into bliss before they’ve even sampled the wine. It is the balm that heals all wedding wounds. Other things can fall through the cracks, but if the property is gorgeous and natural then you can overcome anything, and if Yokyakarta is the place where you want to say “I do” then there is only one place to I do it.
Rumah Sleman is an exquisite boutique hotel nestled in the rice paddies of Sleman village, twenty minutes from downtown. It is essentially a big, one-story, ranch house with four guest suites. Built in 1814 in Solo by the sultan’s descendent, it is all tropical hardwood and Italian marble, accented by one of a kind antique décor – think Louis XIV tapestries, handwritten letters penned by Raffles himself, and Han Dynasty China. This is, quite literally, a house of royalty. In 1998 the house was moved from Solo to its current location. The marble and wood were preserved and the place reassembled as it originally stood, with vaulted ceilings, two spacious sitting rooms, an inviting foyer, a long dining room and expansive veranda. A few little things were added, like Bohemia crystal chandeliers, a billiards table, and decadent fusion bathrooms, where you can cleanse like Javanese royalty or a Beverly Hills starlet.
Of course, that’s all secondary to the view. The place is perfectly oriented west. Golden afternoon sun bakes the rice fields and jungle that spread out like a quilt below the property. At dusk it is bathed in a pervasive orange light, and at night dozens of stars blanket the sky.
The thing to do here is to rent the entire space. The happy couple, can stay in the suite of your choice and family members can fill the other three. You will be waited on hand and foot by a sweet, patient and jovial staff, and the yard provides plenty of space to hold a wedding – ceremony, reception and all, attended by 100 people. It won’t be cheap, barapa somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million rp, but hopefully you will only do this once and you’re worth it.
Your setting should also include plenty of hotel and activity options for your guests, and Yokyakarta definatley does. This is the cultural heart of Java, a splendid melange of old and new. It boasts the quaint, old walled city – the Kraton, and two outstanding universities. Downtown, the main drag is Jalan Malioboro. During the day it is a treasure trove of batik and silver as the sidewalks are lined with hawking merchants. At night Malioboro transforms into one long alfresco café. Temporary warungs set up and serve by candle light on the sidewalk. There are several charming places to stay and a number of antique shops stocked with cultural artifacts and art-deco treasures. The best are on Jalan Prawirotaman.
Just outside the city are two ancient national treasures that hearken back to the great Javanese Empire and can be easily explored in a few short hours. Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist stupa. Built in the 8 th century, the pyramid tells the story of Buddha’s enlightenment and leads visitors on a walking meditation that winds around the stupa ten times before reaching the top. It is believed to be a journey from the base desires of earth to the spiritual peace of heaven at the top of the pyramid. From there you can sit with the many stone buddhas and contemplate the palm covered hills in the distance.
The Prambanan Plain holds the area’s last Hindu relics and they are extraordinary. Three intricately designed temples skyrocket toward the sky just outside a tiny village surrounded by paddy fields. The temples honor the three deities of Javanese Hindu lore, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and were built in the 9 th century. In case you were wondering, Shiva’s is the biggest. It stands 47 meters tall. Needless to say, if your guests are bored, it’s their fault.
Every couple has a ceremony, but not every ceremony is an authentic ritual that binds the couple with God and the community. That’s why ritual is key. Some cultures light candles or incense, in mine the couple marries beneath a tree and breaks a glass, others pray together. The point is that the ceremony should include a ritual that is personal and relevant to you, and it should involve your guests in some way. Don’t just have them sit in rows behind you. Let them encircle you, or at least face you as you pronounce your love. There should also be traditional music and dancing. Rumah Sleman often hires a marvelous Gamelon orchestra and Javanese dancers for events. Don’t just go through the motions or do what you think you’re supposed to do. Imbue your service with, tradition, spirit, and your own creative energy.
Rumah Sleman has a beautiful gazebo on the property that if decorated with flowers would be a lovely place to tie the knot. Ritualize at sunset beneath a painted sky, and your guests will be awestruck.
There are two facets to proper nuptial indulgence. First and foremost, the bride must be indulged properly for the wedding to work. Think of the bride as the moon and everyone and everything else as the stars in a night sky. The moon must shine the brightest. But, as we know, women like the moon have many phases, but moon phases are predictable, unlike those of woman. Indulgence will insure that the bride is in a sweet, happy, warm phase and that she looks hot! I understand that in Javanese tradition women receive massage, lulur and other beauty treatments everyday for 40 days prior to their wedding. Go with that. Let’s get her smelling, looking and feeling wonderful. She is after all a goddess (and if you’re the groom, she’s your goddess). Let her know how wonderful she is. Make that testimony a sensory experience. A relaxed, peaceful, confident bride, will get the guests buzzing. Rumah Sleman’s spa will not be operational until 2005, but there are other options. The Mustika Ratu Spa at Sheraton Mustika will be more than happy to begin, continue or finish the indulgence process. Send the bride along with her best maidens to the spa. Alternatively, Rumah Sleman can call in their massage therapist to attend to the goddess. Both massage and lulur are available as in-room services. Men, I say do both.
Secondly, indulge your guests. Guests are a simple breed. All we want is great music, better food and an open bar. And if you have to choose one, make it an open bar. I once went to a wedding where I had to pay $3 US for a Coke. I still haven’t gotten over it. Much better are the weddings that are wet and loose. Cost does not have to be prohibitive. Simply buy the liquor yourself and hire a private bartender. The food should also be memorable. Rumah Sleman offers one intriguing option – a fish grill, and their fresh fish is tasty, but other than that their kitchen may not be the best choice. You may want to consider outside catering services when you plan your event, and there are plenty of wonderful restaurants in the Jogja area. Food could be set up in Rumah Sleman’s elegant dining room with seating arranged on the lawn. My final suggestion is to make the music matter. If you can’t hire a top end band then burn your own CD mixes and rent a sound system. The hotel is yours for the night, It’s the party of your lifetime. Blast the tunes and dance until your feet hurt or until its time to retire to the honeymoon suite. I’ll leave the rest to you.