Viewing diversity: Yadnya Kasada Festival in Indonesia

Rituals in remote parts of the world become visible to us through the magic of digital photography. All Eyes posted a series of photographs of a Hindu religious festival that takes place in the high mountains of Java; most of us will never see the location or the rituals.  The photos show us not only the ritual worship, but the socio-economic traditions that have grown up around it.

Tenggerese prophets pray at a Temple during the Yadnya Kasada Festival; Hindu religious festival
Tenggerese prophets pray at a Temple during the Yadnya Kasada Festival (Photos by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Historical source and meaning of the ritual

According to All Eyes, “the festival is the main festival of the Tenggerese people … who make the journey to Mount Bromo to make offerings of rice, fruits, vegetables, flowers and livestock to the mountain gods by throwing them into the volcano’s caldera. The origin of the festival lies in the 15th century when a princess named Roro Anteng started the principality of Tengger with her husband Joko Seger, and the childless couple asked the mountain gods for help in bearing children. The legend says the gods granted them 24 children but on the provision that the 25th must be tossed into the volcano in sacrifice. The 25th child, Kesuma, was finally sacrificed in this way after initial refusal, and the tradition of throwing sacrifices into the caldera to appease the mountain gods continues today.”

Hindu worshipper offers sacrifice to gods, villager captures it
Worshipper tosses sacrifice, villager snags it with a net.

Socio-economic transfer of wealth through the ritual

The custom of making offerings remains: but the spirituality has changed. Villagers now post themselves in locations where they can snag the precious food items tossed to the gods.  Some camp over the rim of Mount Bromo, pitching tents so as to be in place to catch or to retrieve the offerings made to the Gods.  The ultimate destination of the offerings is clear. People bring nets and baskets to haul away the offerings; no one hides the fact that the offerings are not immolated by the heat in the center of the crater.

There is an interesting spiritual and sociological economy here. The Hindu worshippers have carried out the ritual, and have freely given gifts that have both monetary and utility value: they have sacrificed.  Yet the 15th century notion of appeasing the appetite of the gods must be absent: they make no effort to prevent the villagers from snagging and consuming their offerings. In a very modern turn of thought, the giving has itself become the sacrifice that brings appeasement.

What of the villagers? They live near this mountain and would be the people most likely to have an ongoing sense of reverence for the gods in the mountain, if anyone does. Perhaps they see this as the way the gods have of providing for their well-being.

There are nearly a dozen photos at All Eyes, well worth the time to view.

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