Lesung or rice mortar is more than just a pounder for rice. A philosophical value lies within. The pounding of a mortar has been changed according to the times. When the art of rice pounding is well managed, it could serve as an intermediary for brotherhood. Social conflicts can thus be prevented.
On one afternoon at the closing of 2011, it was heavy rain in Kotakan Village, Bakalan District, Sukoharjo, Central Java. Hundreds of people, young and old mingled at the Grand Gazebo of Sekar Jagad Art Studio. A spirit of harmony and brotherhood was felt when children’s laughter broke the silence.
It was a distinct event. They gathered to pray that God Almighty bless the land with fertility so that the daluang trees would flourish. The villagers wanted to restore their damaged wayang beber (wayang performed through paintings on screens). When the trees have grown, they would have good materials to make their new wayang beber.
With the poundings of rice mortars and pestles played by eight elderly women, people are flowing in happily with joyful expression on their face. The sounds of lesung caught the attention of the spectators as the players moved in a rhythmic motion while hitting the pestle to the mortar. The speed was getting faster and merrier, along with smiles from the audience.
The elderly women wore farmer’s costume, wrapped in batik cloth, with no cosmetic as what artists would wear for a sparkling performance on stage. They are peasants themselves indeed. They are local people who still preserve their traditional music. What they performed is called kotekan, a simple music performance in the style of Kotakan people, in Bakalan, Sukoharjo.
This is their manifested awareness to revive the art rooted in the village. It was a step of manifesting their spirit deserving of our appreciation. Their effort was not an easy thing to do. In the jungle of the omnipresent modern entertainment industry, it seems that traditional art has been truly forgotten. While in fact the art creations of the past are witnesses of the journey of an agricultural nation.
Joko Ngadimen, the initiator of the event and head of Sekar Jagad Art Studio as well, reminded that the lesung (mortar) is indeed close to the mind of the agricultural society for the philosophy inside. These days, in Kotakan, they still have lesung ritual for certain ceremonies.
The village celebration itself was more than just a preserving measure for the traditional art. Still, the kotekan has indirectly formed a communal spirit within the people which will diminish social conflicts in the village.
“The most important is that we can build the spirit of Pancasila (the five principles of the state) thus people will better comprehend the noble values of art and culture rooted in this agricultural country,” he said.
Time keeps progressing and it has forced the kotekan to turn its function according to the society’s needs. In the past, farmers use the art to entertain themselves while pounding the rice or it could also function as alarm when there was a natural disaster, and moon or solar eclipses.
The sound of mortar pounding is often used to invite people to come to communal event such as village cleaning or harvest ceremony. As depicted in the Village of Kotakan, the villagers performed a ritual of playing the mortar when they are having a mutual cooperation event of tree planting. (Naning Soemodiharjo)