Hamengkubuwono is the traditional title of the Sultans of Yogyakarta, and has been so since the ruling royal house was carved out, c. 1755, during succession wars of the Mataram Kingdom and the vast Majapahit Empire. The current Sultan is Hamengkubuwono X. The royal title can be variously interpreted:
Hamangku: pleased to serve the people
Hamengku: protect the people in a just way
Hamengkoni: ready to take the responsibility of a leader
Hamengko: holds on his lap
Buwono: from Bhuvana, Sanskrit for World.
A fuller title is Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono Senopati Sayidin Panatagama Kalifatulah. Senopati means General. Sayid is an honorific title denoting males accepted as descendants of the prophet Muhammad through his grandsons, Hasan ibn Ali and Hussain ibn Ali, sons of the prophet's daughter Fatima Zahra and his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib. Agama -- 'that which came from the outside' in Sanskrit -- was used to denote the Hindu religion at first, but then became a term for religion in general (Islam, too, came from the outside.) Panatagama means holder of religion, and Kalifa (or Caliph) is Allah's representative on earth.
As a reminder of his subservience to his people, the Hamengkubuwono is required in his own palace to carry only a wooden kris, though others may sport bejeweled blades.
When at times the future seems to elude us we are tempted to look to the past; this is not only visible at the extreme of salafism, you also see it in the middle of Uzbekistan where the future retreats away across desert or mountain, and cults of Timur or Bobur rise from the graveyard to fill the gap. The Sultans of Yogyakarta tried, for much of the last century, to keep alive the ritual of the past. Rabindranath Tagore's visit to Yogyakarta was during the reign of Hamenkubuwono VIII, who is said to have ushered in the Golden Age of courtly dance and drama -- much of the income from the Sultan's vast sugar estates was lavished upon refining the styles and holding regular performances featuring at times hundreds of dancers.
The Sultans continue to be 'folk' monarchs. Their kraton - compound - is low-rise, filled with traditional trees, and is the center of community ritual. Despite the repeated attempts by Saudi Arabia to ban the practice, the birthday of Muhammad is celebrated as a central ritual, the Garebeg Malud or Mawlid (from Eid-e-Milād-un-Nabī.)
From Kingship and Ritual in Yogyakarta:
The Sultanate of Yogyakarta is an Islamic state, though not in the sense that the term is now generally used. The Garebeg Malud is predicated upon a complex set of cultural and religious presuppositions concerning the nature of kingship. These include the equation of kingship and sainthood, the theory of power (kesekten), and dynastic myths linking Yogyakarta with older Javanese states, Muslim prophets, and the Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The equation of kingship and sainthood is based on local interpretations of Islamic concepts of revelation and miracles, both of which are viewed from the perspective of the Suﬁ theory of the “Perfect Man.”
Kings, and in post-colonial Indonesia, presidents, are thought by many to be chosen by God and to be endowed with wahyu (Arabic, wahy), “revelation.” Wahy is revelation and the means through which God communicates with his prophets and, according to some Suﬁ traditions, with saints. Javanese understand wahyu as a ﬂash or beam of light that confers a divine appointment on an individual assigning him or her a particular task. While there are many types of wahyu, that of kingship is the most important for understanding the Malud and other elements of the Yogyakarta Kraton ritual system. It provides the basis for the most important royal title Kalifatulah (“the representative of God”.)
The theory of the “Perfect Man” (al-insan al-kamil) is closely associated with the great medieval Spanish mystic philospher Ibn al ‘Arabi (1165–1240). ‘Abdal-Karim al-Jili (d. ca. 1408) who wrote in the tradition of Ibn ‘Arabi, produced the classic work on the Perfect Man, which is studied in Javanese pesantren and exists in an interlinear Arabic/Javanese edition.
The idea of the Kalifah (Caliph) and the Caliphate as a governmental institution have long been among the most intensely contested concepts in Islamic political thought. Patricia Crone and Marin Hinds have shown there is a fundamental tension between personalistic and textual authority in the Islamic tradition which dates to the period immediately following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Kings are also believed to have the ability to attain union with God and to be the Perfect Man. While others may also attain union, it is of special signiﬁcance whencoupled with kingship. Union may be attained only for an instant and is referred to as djumbuhing kawula gusti, “the Union of Servant and Lord”. A person who has attained this state has full understanding of the inner (batin) and outer (lahir) aspects of reality and works for the salvation and worldly good of others. In the case of the Sultan this means that blessing is distributed to all of his subjects. Many believe this to be the primary source of the tranquility and prosperity of the state and of agricultural fertility on which it depends.
The Sultans' authority was eroded during the Dutch colonization, to the point where their writ ran only within the kraton wall. The last two Sultans, IX and X, have re-established themselves as proponents of Muslim piety, using the concept of wahyu. Many Muslim reformers consider them both to be supporters of their cause. In the late 1970s mystics often said that Hamengkubuwono IX used his spiritual powers to travel to Mecca for every Friday prayer, and that he appeared simultaneously in numerous Yogyakarta mosques at the same time.
The Javanese term kesekten is derived from the Sanskrit sakti, and is the power associated with Hindu gods or goddesses, particularly Durga. In Muslim Java, it is thought to be co-terminus with the force of nature, and acquired through a combination of tapabrata (vow of asceticism) and semedi (immersive concentration). Power, in the hands of the Sultan, is used to defeat enemies and evil spirits, stop epidemics and prevent pests from harming the rice.
During Malud, or the Prophet's birthday, Hamengkubuwono performs five ritual tasks. First, he attends gamelan performances at the state mosque; second, he grants a royal audience in which he assumes the posture of a mystic; third, he undertakes a procession to the mosque; fourth, he attends there a recitation of the prophet’s biography; finally, a slametan is held for the general public.
The slametan (or selamatan) is the communal feast from Java. The ceremony takes its name from the Javanese word slamet, from Arabic salam, which refers to a peaceful state of equanimity, in which nothing untoward will happen, which is what the host intends for both himself and his guests, for which he petitions for supernatural protection from spirits.
Again, from Kingship and Ritual in Yogyakarta:
In rural Java the Mawlid is celebrated with a slametan called Maludan. The Maludan and the Garebeg Malud have much in common. At both offerings of rice cooked in coconut milk are presented to the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad. Some santri informants explained that this takes the place of the dish of rice and oil believed to have been the Prophet’s favorite. Eating it on the day of the Malud is understood as a sign that one is a true Muslim. It is also a source of blessing and is sold at many food stands on Alon-Alon Utara on the morning of the Malud and at the month long night market that precedes it. Both rituals include prayers calling down blessing on the Prophet and recitation of his biography.
Two myths connect the Garebeg Malud with Demak.
(The Sultanate of Demak was the first Javanese Muslim state located on Java's north coast, at the site of the present day city of Demak. A port fief to the Majapahit kingdom thought to have been founded in the last quarter of the 15th century, it was influenced by Islam brought by Arab and Gujarati traders. Some scholars suggest that the Garebeg Malud/Slametan Maludan pattern derives from the state cult of Demak, and that these state ceremonies were instrumental in the conversion to Islam of rural Java.)
The ﬁrst explains the continuity of the state ceremonies of Demak and Majapahit and hence that of Hinduism and Islam. The second explains some of the duties of Muslim kings and the historical role of the Garebeg Malud as a conversion ritual. Jointly, they provide a basis for understanding the ritual forms and conventional meanings of the Garebeg Malud in Yogyakarta.
The Majapahit/Demak myth is as follows:
The kings of Majapahit [the last Hindu-Javanese kingdom] used to have rituals at which offerings of food were presented to the people. At the time of Demak [the ﬁrst Islamic kingdom] this practice was discontinued and as a result crops were poor and many people went hungry. The Sultan of Demak asked Sunan Kalijaga [one of the nine wali] what he should do about this. Sunan Kalijaga replied that even though he was a Muslim he had a duty to provide for the well being of his people and to teach them Islam. He then instructed the Sultan on how to perform the Slametan in ways which did not violate the tradition of the Prophet and told him to teach it to his subjects.
Hamengkubuwono VIII, whose patronage of dance had led to Rabindranath witnessing enthralling performances, sent his son of 4 to live with a Dutch family; in his youth HB IX was sent to university in Holland. He returned when the old sultan was on his deathbed, and, upon subsequent coronation, said (in Dutch): "Even though I have tasted Western Education, I am still and will always be a Javanese."
In 1942, the Dutch Colonial Government in Indonesia was defeated by an advancing Japanese Imperial Army. Many suggested that Hamengkubuwono IX seek asylum in Australia, but the Sultan refused. He is credited with saving his people from being sent to Burma to become romusha forced-laborers, by persuading the Japanese to allow the building of a water canal (the Kali Mataram).
Immediately after the declaration of Indonesian independence in 1945, Hamengkubuwono IX decided to support the newly formed Republic. The support was immediately recognized by the Central Government, who in quid-pro-quo appointed HB IX to a Life-Governorship of Yogyakarta. After the defeat of Japan, when the Dutch returned to lay claim to Indonesia, Hamengkubuwono IX played a vital role in the resistance. In early 1946, the capital of Indonesia was quietly relocated to Yogyakarta, and during that time the Sultan gave the new government funding, and also lent them his enormous local prestige. When Indonesia first sought a diplomatic solution with the Dutch Government, Hamengkubuwono IX was part of the Indonesian delegation. In December 1948, the Dutch successfully re-occupied Yogyakarta and arrested Sukarno and Hatta, Indonesia's first President and Vice President. Hamengkubuwono IX did not leave his city, continuing to serve as Governor. The Dutch intended to make Yogyakarta the capital of the new Indonesian federal state of Central Java and to appoint the Sultan as head of state, but the Hamengkubuwono refused to cooperate.
In early 1949, Hamengkubuwono IX conceived the idea of a major offensive to be launched against Yogyakarta and the Dutch troops occupying it. General Sudirman, Commander of the Indonesian Army, approved, and chose then-Lieutenant-Colonel Suharto to be the field commander for the offensive. (After they fell out subsequently, Suharto went on to claim it had all been his idea to conduct the offensive.) First, Suharto and Hamengkubuwono started guerilla attacks in villages and towns around Yogyakarta, to make the Dutch move troops outside of town. On March 1, Suharto and his troops launched the 1 March General Offensive. Hamengkubuwono IX allowed his palace to be used as a base. For 6 hours, the Indonesian troops had control of Yogyakarta, before melting away. The Offensive was a great success, inspiring demoralized troops all around the country, and, most importantly, making the United Nations pressure the Dutch to recognize Indonesia's independence.
On 30 June 1949, the retreating Dutch forces handed-over authority over Yogyakarta to Hamengkubuwono IX.
After Indonesia's Independence was recognized, Hamengkubuwono IX served as Minister of Defense and Homeland Security Coordinator (1949–1951 and 1953), Vice Premier (1951), and Minister of Economics (1966-73). He never married, fathering a couple dozen children with four concubines, his eldest son becoming Hamengkubuwono X in 1998.