The Flickering Palace's Backyard At Night

Jl. Alun-Alun Kidul Yogyakarta, Indonesia
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At night, the Southern City Square located behind the King's Palace-is always full of people looking for affordable amusement. The flickering lamps of odong-odong driven around the square adds to the merry.

Updated on 16 September 2019

Javanese traditional architecture holds a principle known as Catur Gatra Tunggal (catur: Javanese for "four"; gatra: Javanese for "element"; tunggal: Javanese for "single/integrated"), which means "four elements in one single integrity". The principle is manifested in the architecture of Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat King's Palace, which comprises a palace, a mosque, a city square, and a traditional market. Each of the place functions as the center of authority, prayer and worship, social activities, and economic activities respectively. Yogyakarta has two city squares one located in front of the palace, known as Alun-Alun Utara (alun-alun lor/Northern City Square), while the other one is located behind the palace and is known as Alun-Alun Selatan (alun-alun kidul/Southern City Square). The King's Palace is itself situated at a spot along the imaginary line connecting Mount Merapi, the King's Palace, and Parangtritis Beach.

The backyard of the king's palace is a place full of stories. Two of the folklores most identified with the Southern city square is its establishment; the city square was built to make the back side of the palace looks a lot like the front yard so that it doesn't stand backing the Southern Sea which is believed to be guarded by the Queen of the Southern Sea, who is said to have a mystical connection with the King of Mataram. The second story is the myth of walking pass the twin banyan trees planted on the city square, with eyes blindfolded. The game is known as masangin, which stands for "masuk dua beringin" (entering two banyan trees).

The rule of the game is very simple; we would only need to be blindfolded then walk straight about 20 m from the front of Sasono Hinggil (Javanese words, literally translated as Higher Place/Ground) and pass through between the ringin kurung (two banyan trees planted on the center of the city square). That's all. But as you come to see, it is not as easy as it seems. Many people have tried to walk straight, but in fact they happened to take the wrong direction, turning their path far from the destination. Certainly, walking with eyes blindfolded is far harder than with eyes open and objects visible. In broader understanding, the game reflects a message that we have to work hard and keep our heart pure to achieve our destination.

Masangin originated from a ritual known as topo bisu (silent asceticism) mubeng beteng (around the fort) on 1 Suro eve, which would be completed by walking pass the ringin kurung. It is believed that the two banyan trees hold a mythical rajah (traditional tattoo) which functions to keep the King's Palace off any perils. It is also believed that only those having pure hearts and not bearing evil intentions can walk pass the banyan trees. To try the game, we can rent a blindfold for Rp 5,000. Apart from the myth, the game has been the Southern city square's icon which gives financial benefits for the sellers around the city square.

There are many other things we can do in the Southern city square. Formerly used by the kingdom's army to work out, the place has now transformed into a public space flocked by visitors; people of all communities and ages are gathering here. In the evening, started at about 5 pm, parents take their children to play around, running all the way chasing the flying bubbles from liquid soap blown by the sellers, or shouting loudly as if calling out the various kites above the sky. Quite at the pavement, numerous sellers are getting ready and spreading out their mats.

Later at night, the atmosphere starts to change; the young children have gone home, and it's time for the teenagers to spend their night over at the city square. The darker the night, the higher the crowd. Tandem bicycles and lighted odong-odong become the favorite objects. We can drive around the city square on tandem bicycle or by renting odong-odong which can accommodate up to six persons. While doing sport by riding on the bicycle or odong-odong, we can also feel another sensation while riding on it cross the crowded street.

Tired of playing, we can then take a break and sit relaxed on the mats while ordering snacks. We suggest you order roasted corns in various flavor options along with wedang ronde which offers the taste of warm ginger. Need more? Just order toasted bread and wedang bajigur. Wedang ronde and bajigur, popular beverages in Yogyakarta, are just perfect to enjoy around the area which formerly had been the heart of Mataram Kingdom. The Southern city square is not a quiet place where you can find tranquility, but its cheerful aura will definitely amuse you. If you come around at the second week in month, you will be able to watch a shadow puppet performance held at Sasono Hinggil Dwi Abad. However, you will need to get all prepared since the show is held all night long. Wanna give it a try?