Photo Essays

Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

Before the month of Ramadan begins, Javanese Muslims hold what’s known as the Nyadran ritual.

By Agoes Rudianto for
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

Javanese Muslims have a ritual that is held regularly every year before the month of Ramadan, one of the communities practicing this tradition lives in the mountainous region of Central Java.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

Before dawn, women in each house prepare a variety of foods required in the ritual.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

The Javanese people believe that their ancestors who have died actually still exist in another world and influence the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

The Nyadran ritual is not only attended by Muslims. Many others consider this activity a form of friendship and an aspect of religious harmony.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

Residents who have left their home villages to work take time to return to their hometowns, with the aim of attending this ritual.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

In Javanese society, a cemetery is a holy place. Visitors go barefoot when treading on such holy ground.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

A man prays for his deceased family in front of their tomb.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

A hundred men gathered in front of the gate of the tomb complex. Lead by an indigenous elder, they recite verses from the Quran.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

After praying, they open containers containing various types of food that were distributed free of charge to all participants.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

A number of containers called Tenong contain various foods. There are snacks, traditional cakes and crackers.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

Villagers believe that they will achieve wealth and prosperity if the food they bring is consumed and the containers that they carry home are empty.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

The ritual is also a means of gathering with relatives who may be separated because they have to migrate to other areas to work.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

Yadi, one of the local residents posing for a photograph in the cemetery. Yadi said that even though the ritual has changed slightly compared to when he was a child, he said he would maintain the ritual.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

After the ritual at the cemetery, the villagers visit their neighbor’s houses in turns from day to night. Often they receive guests from other villages.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto
Nyadran: A Unique Javanese Tradition Welcoming Ramadan

Through this ritual, villagers prepare to fast in the month of Ramadan with a clean feeling, full and having honored their ancestors.

Credit: Agoes Rudianto

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Every year, Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan. They abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk.

Two weeks before Ramadan, Javanese Muslims held what’s known as the Nyadran ritual, a tradition of cleaning and praying at their ancestors graves. The ritual blends local culture and Islamic traditions. Each year, villagers who live on the slopes of Mount Merapi and Merbabu, Boyolali, Central Java, Indonesia conduct the ritual. Thousands of people from 15 villages hold the ritual in turns at each village cemetery.

There are many stories and versions related to this tradition, one of which is a philology study which mentions that Nyadran comes from Sanskrit word, namely “Sradha.” The term used by Hindus for a ritual performed for a person’s ancestral spirits by means of a tomb pilgrimage.

The local villagers start the ritual by cleaning the cemetery. They then proceed with praying for their deceased families and relatives. The ritual varies by place, but generally includes readings from some parts of the Quran.

When villagers come to the cemetery, they bring various of foods and arrange them neatly in bamboo or aluminum containers, called Tenong. The food includes snacks, traditional cakes and fruit. After praying, the food is eaten together.

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The Nyadran tradition contains cultural values and togetherness to enhance harmony among religious people. Not only Muslims who welcome Ramadan, but also followers of other religions such as Christianity. All are tied together by traditions.

Agoes Rudianto is a Jakarta-based independent photographer.